You don't usually expect a lab coat with your coffee order, but at the Sensory Lab in Melbourne, the making of coffee is a strictly scientific affair.
Originally we'd had best intentions to visit famed coffee shop St Ali, but on the morning of our day last in Melbourne, we just missed the tram, the next one wasn't due for 25 minutes and time was ticking down to our departure flight back to Sydney.
Billy and I head to the Sensory Lab instead, the coffee concept store by St Ali located at the Little Collins Street entrance to David Jones.
The look is retro minimalism with a dash of science lab geekiness. Jugs of water arrive in laboratory bottles, the sugar comes in squat brown glass jars, and female staff in starched white lab coats greet you with old-fashioned clipboards that detail the available drinks menu.
Decor inside the Sensory Lab
Chocolate-coated coffee beans
The coffees are an impressive list of blends and single-origin beans. Four types of brewing methods are used here, and a handy chart helps cutomers identify which methods are recommended for which beans. Espresso machines and pour over (drip filter) methods are reasonably common to most consumers. Cold drip involves a slow-drip of water through premium coffee grounds for 3-7 hours. Like moths to a flame, we're immediately drawn to the spectacle of the syphon method.
Hario coffee syphon
The coffee syphon was invented by Loeff of Berlin in the 1830s. In recent years, the coffee syphon, or vac pot, has experienced a resurgence in popularity, particularly in Japan. According the barista on duty, this intensive brewing method was identified as an ideal way of extracting the most flavour out of the low-quality coffee beans available in post-war Japan. Today, the siphon is being embraced as a means of preserving the purity of beans and minimising bitterness.
The syphon consists of two glass vessels, with water in the bottom and coffee grounds at the top. As the water is heated and approaches boiling point, the building pressure forces the water up into the top chamber containing the coffee. The brew is stirred briefly, the syphon is removed from the heat, and as the temperature cools, a vaccuum forces the liquid back down into bottom chamber, ready to drink.
The process looks complicated but it only takes five minutes. It makes an impressive spectacle regardless.
S-2 blend and single origin Ethiopian Yirgacheffe
We try two coffees brewed by syphon method, the S-2 blend and a single origin Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. It's strongly advised to drink syphon coffees without sugar or milk, to appreciate the subtle nuances of flavour. Both are described as having citrus notes and as we drink them we do note hints of sourness - an odd encounter until you remember that coffee beans are actually the seeds of a cherry-like fruit.
The S-2 blend has a marked lemon tang whereas the Ethiopian Yirgacheffe is slightly more intense, although still fruity with lemon and peach notes. I'm not sure I quite yet appreciate the joys of coffee with a sour aftertang, but it's an interesting learning curve in recognising that coffee can be more than robust and nutty and bitter.
Don't forget today is the last day to enter the Freebie Friday competition to win a Royal High Tea package for two at The Victoria Room worth AU$135 (Entries close 5pm today!)
Grinding coffee beans
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Sensory Lab by St Ali
David Jones entrance
297 Little Collins Street, Melbourne, Victoria
Tel: +61 (03) 9643 2222
Monday to Wednesday 9.30am - 6pm
Thursday to Friday 9.30am - 9pm
Saturday 9am - 7pm
Sunday 10am - 6pm
Monday to Friday 7am - 6pm
Saturday 8am - 7pm
Sunday 9am - 6pm
A limited cafe menu is available.
Grab Your Fork visited Melbourne as a guest of Tourism Victoria for the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival. Sensory Lab was visited anonymously and coffees were paid for personally.
> Read the next Melbourne post (Degraves Espresso Bar and Roule Galette)
< Go back to the first Melbourne Food & Wine Festival 2010 post
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Melbourne - Abbotsford Convent Bakery
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Melbourne - MoVida Aqui
Melbourne - Red Spice Road
ADDED AT 00:40 27/04/10
GYF FREEBIE FRIDAY WINNER
Over 50 amazing entries were received for the recent Grab Your Fork Freebie Friday competition to win a Royal High Tea for two at The Victoria Room. Congratulations to Emma M - I am sure you will enjoy an amazing afternoon!
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4/26/2010 03:01:00 a.m.