First published on 4 Oct 2011. Updated on 20 Jun 2012.
Andy Todd has a sleeve tattoo, a degree in film, and a masters in coffee from the St Ali school of awesome. As the head barista at The Sensory Lab, the Kiwi raised Melburnian was the obvious choice to take on Plantation, an espresso bar and retail shop infiltrating the coffee wasteland of Melbourne Central. “This is a really accessible store whereas St Ali, is almost a cult - it’s a destination, and people travel there to try specialist coffee. Here, we’re in the city, everyone can find it, and everyone can get to it. The more ‘exclusive’ a place is, the more intimidating it becomes and then fewer people are going to go and try it.”
Todd doesn’t believe in preaching to people, or making them think that milk is daggy or that their latte with one makes them a loser. “Generally, I drink everything. If I go for breakfast, I’ll have an espresso and then a latte and usually a filter as well. I like different beans, prepared in different ways.” And that’s what you get at Plantation. “We’re doing more than just good espresso here. We do pourovers and cold drip which is an 8 – 10 hour extraction. Just a drop of room temperature water passes through a coffee pack every second or so. It gives a very compact and highly developed profile.” For a lot of places, this tedious process falls into the too hard basket, but that’s the beauty of the Ali Empire. The multiple outlets and their reputation give them the opportunity to use techniques that are too time and space consuming for small cafes to support. And it is something worth doing. “Heat speeds up the extraction process, but it can also damage the structure and flavour molecules. A cold extraction is almost like a liqueur. It’s very complex. We’ve had sommeliers taste up to 30 flavours in a single cup.”
Todd knows his coffee, and wants to give people who might not otherwise step out of their comfort zone the opportunity to try something new. This attitude has given the laid back barista a great ability to get people excited about their daily hit, and a constant caffeine induced hand tremble. “I’m actually the master of pouring a rosetta with shaky hands.” It’s a bit worrying, but we’re willing to let him continue risking his health as long as we can keep getting a hit of the good stuff. And Todd agrees. “I was always jittery as a kid anyway.”