Friday, September 4, 2009

Espresso, Auction Rooms, North Melbourne

So I've finally made it to Auction Rooms after numerous recommendations, and spotting it on many must-visit lists for coffee in Melbourne. It took me a while to get here for a few reasons:
  1. I don't quite get how North Melbourne works, in terms of how it connects with other suburbs, and
  2. The place used to really be auction rooms, and auctions make me nervous.
Standing in a stranger's backyard watching your dreams slip away as other strangers, happy to spend over $100,000 more than you can justify, keep on bidding for twenty minutes after your absolutely-do-not-exceed limit? That's an auction, and they make me nervous. I had a competitive bone in my body once, but I think I must have fractured it pretty badly that time in grade five when I ran into a goal post during circular relay baton-changing practice. Thankfully, the process of ordering coffee at Auction Rooms bears little resemblance to an auction.

You have the opportunity to make this 30ml short black your own today. As you're all aware, and I've seen many of these faces before in the last few months, there's not a lot out there at the moment. I've had so many people come up to me and say, "If only..." Don't be one of those people. Don't walk away with any regrets today. This cup of coffee will go to the highest bidder. Make sure that bidder is you. The vendor bid is set at $2.20. Can I get $2.25? Two twenty-five! Do I hear two thirty? Two thirty! Two thirty-five? Two thirty-five!

You'd just go somewhere else, wouldn't you? Not only was there no bidding involved at Auction Rooms, the experience read like the first half of a How To Impress Ryan With a Café how-to guide.
  1. Service. Not just good service, but adding something to it that I've never seen before.
  2. Coffee. Showing that you really, really, really care about the coffee you're serving.
  3. Improvising. The kind you find in your grandad's shed. Something interesting involving milk crates, or gaffa tape, or both.
Let's start with number one. Getting a glass of water when you sit down, without asking, is common. Getting a small glass of water with your espresso is always welcomed. Getting the latter when the former is already on your table is very rare.

But this is where they kicked it up a notch: the water that accompanied my espresso was sparkling. That is unheard of. Sparkling water is one of the few ways people can easily justify either paying for, or charging for, a glass of water. Getting it for free on the side just doesn't happen. My jaw dropped. It really did.

That brings us to the coffee. With a rotating guest coffee list and a syphon-of-the-day, and a white (!) La Marzocco (which could have been fashioned by Ewoks from stormtrooper helmets), it was clear they meant business. They also roast on site under the name Small Batch.

Sourced from everywhere, roasted over there (just to the right of that poster), prepared right here. I dig it. It's friendly to the beans, if nothing else.

"Look, you guys have travelled a long way already. Stay here for a while. You don't have to go anywhere."

I had the Ethiopia Yirgacheffe in a short black so short and black that light can neither limbo under nor escape its surface. It convinced me to take 250 grams of it with me. Sorry beans, you've got one more journey yet.

This brings us to number three: using what you've got. Not only was the sugar on my table in the kind of jar your dad used to keep nails in (see the first photo), but there are also a few dozen milk crates suspended in mid-air outside:

It's DIY shadecloth made from milk crates. That's impressive.


  1. <3 auction rooms... my mate Marcus owns the joint. Top bloke :D

  2. Oh hurrah, you finally visited Auction Rooms! Glad it impressed you. Will let Andy know.

  3. Really glad you liked the coffee and the sparkles Ryan ... our bit of extra love.

    A wee update on the Small Batch side of things: we've moved our roaster offsite but the beans are still not trekking much further - just up from down the road. And as for improvisation: there's a bit more of that plus a heap of coffeegeektech being applied to an old roaster we are rebuilding to have as a second roaster. Our coffee will get even better.

    And Deviant: it's just me now.