Melbourne is a city with many different facets—while the Central Business District can tend to feel like any other metropolitan center, the moment you travel a kilometer or so out of the city center, distinct and characterful neighborhoods come into focus. Take, for example, South Melbourne—just a short stroll out of the city (past the towering Crown Casino) there are multiple restaurants, the iconic South Melbourne Market just off the main stretch, and cafes as far as the eye can see. Wander off the busy street and into the neighborhood's residential pockets, and you’ll find a mini suburbia and very few cafes or restaurants—this is where Mark Knapp saw a niche to open up a bright little cafe/roastery called Aucuba Coffee Roasters.
Opened by Knapp last April, Aucuba sits on an unassuming suburban corner, quietly roasting in-house and serving up all sorts of tasty things. Upon entering, the interior of the cafe is quite striking—everything is bright and white with splashes of greenery, with the espresso machine and grinders powder-coated white to match. International coffee fans might recognize the distinctive pineapple wallpaper behind the brew bar, made famous by Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters in San Francisco.
Chatting to Knapp, he outlined his original intentions for the space. “I wanted a cafe where I could roast, and highlight different brew methods as well as celebrating plant-based meals,” he tells me. The food offering is Japanese-inspired and quite unique—all the meals on the menu are technically vegetarian, but meat can be included as an addition to complement any meal (opt-in omnivore, if you will). Bircher takes on a new life with umeshu-soaked muesli alongside coconut cream with fuji apple and passionfruit pulp, while teff with an onsen egg, mushrooms, miso foam, and kale crisps front up the savory side.
While the food offering is seriously strong, coffee takes its rightful place at Aucuba. Espresso coffee is served through a custom three-group La Marzocco Strada EP, with a Nuova Simonelli Mythos One Clima-Pro grinder and two Mazzer Robur grinders. Filter coffee is brewed through either Hario V60, a Technivorm Moccamaster, or Hario Syphon, with the all-familiar Mahlkönig EK 43 as the grinder. While syphons were a common sight four years ago in Melbourne, they’re a bit of a rarity these days, so I asked Knapp his reasoning. As he explained, “I’m a huge fan of filter coffee. I’ve got three syphons often bubbling away and that certainly attracts a bit of attention. I believe the syphon will make a comeback as it created a wonderfully developed cup that has an exceptionally clean taste if done right.”
Coffee is roasted in-house on Aucuba’s five-kilogram Proaster by Knapp himself and comes sourced from a roster of green coffee importers that includes Melbourne Coffee Merchants, Minas Hill Coffee, and Silo Coffee. The offering is diverse but solid, from fruity, light Rwandas to chocolatey Brazils. One of Knapp’s goals is to bridge the information gap between the customer and the barista—a task which the presence of his roaster and dedicated brew bar definitely assist in.
Aucuba isn’t re-inventing the wheel in any sense, but Knapp knows how to make the most of his beautiful well-lit space and delivers a refined but welcoming menu, alongside a considered coffee offering. There’s a refreshingly humble nature to it and a genuine warmth of service that is (oddly) unique in the saturated Melbourne cafe world.
Eileen P. Kenny is a Sprudge.com staff writer based in Melbourne. Read more Eileen P. Kenny on Sprudge.