As an Australian living abroad, there are two experiences in life that give me the wonderful, unrivalled and instantaneous sense of being home. The first experience won’t surprise a lot of people. It’s that moment when you touch down on a Qantas flight in Melbourne. Climbing out of the seat, disembarking the flight and making eye contact with the security personnel outside the cabin door. ‘G’day mate’. These two words, above all others, are synonymous with being home.
The second experience is a little more personal. It’s when I sit down in the sun, on the wooden bench outside Market Lane coffee in South Melbourne. Admittedly, my sense of homecoming has nothing to do with the beverage itself. Rather, it’s the sense of sitting outside a famous Melbourne-made establishment that drives that a sense of warm familiarity.
You see, I’ve been blowing the trumpet of the Melbourne coffee scene for close to a decade, telling anybody would could be bothered to listen that Melbourne coffee really is the best on the planet, and that Melbourne coffee shops wrote the blueprint for the contemporary third-wave coffee industry.
Truth be told, whenever I shout these lofty confident statements from European and American rooftops, it’s Melbourne’s Market Lane that I have in mind.
At least in my mind, Market Lane wrote the book on how to orchestrate a local coffee empire.
Let’s start by specifically writing about their shopfronts. You see, Market Lane is a franchise that isn’t a franchise. Their flagship Prahran store maintains a community market vibe, with double sliding-doors connecting the cafe to the ever-bustling Prahran market. The South Melbourne store offers a residential vibe, so much so that it wouldn’t be out of place if the baristas started slinging loaves of bread and fresh eggs alongside your morning coffee. On a seemingly different planet, the Melbourne CBD store takes visual cues from the business district and has a completely different feel.
The South Melbourne store offers a residential vibe, so much so that it wouldn’t be out of place if the baristas started slinging loaves of bread and fresh eggs alongside your morning coffee.
This differentiated business framework is a difficult thing to get right. In the US, once-bespoke chains like Blue Bottle Coffee have lost their local vibe, to the point where walking inside their downtown Manhattan stores feels just like going to an upmarket Starbucks. Well done to Market Lane for not losing their unique local footprint.
And then there’s the coffee itself, which offers a dedicated remix of consistency, crossed with a diversified footprint of sourcing across the coffee belt. I’ve been using their espresso blends in my grinder at home for the past three years and I’ve found the consistency of roast to be remarkable. That is, between batches of beans, my grinder requires very little adjustment. Bean number one is the same as bean number one thousand. And that’s a very difficult thing to get right.
Gradually, Market Lane are becoming more adventurous too. Their typical processing type is washed, but I’m starting to see some more natural and honey-processed coffees appear in the mix, as local clientele begin to expect it
Market Lane ship coffee all around the world, and if you’re based in Australia, you can sign up for their coffee subscription which delivers fresh beans to your letterbox.
These photographs are taken from the Market Lane Coffee branch in South Melbourne, which is located at 305 Coventry St, South Melbourne VIC 3205, Australia.