Plantation is an espresso bar and retail shop infiltrating the coffee wasteland of Melbourne Central. Head barista Andy Todd describes the newest outlet from the St Ali team as “ 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.”
Smack bang in the middle of the food court, the space is the opposite of intimidating. Faux brick walls made from product boxes and tagged with street art carve out the seating space where mallrats can wander in and almost accidentally become educated by Todd on the finer points of coffee extraction. “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 gives them the opportunity to experiment in 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. What you end up with through cold extraction is almost like a liqueur. It’s very complex. We’ve had sommeliers taste about 30 things in the single cup.”
Plantation aims to give people who might not otherwise step out of their comfort zone the opportunity to try something new, and to join the ranks of Melburnians who live and die for a shot of the good stuff.
Meet the Barista: Andy Todd