Across seven years with Exchange Coffee, Jo Nguyen picked up a thing or two about great coffee. At A Place Coffee she and husband Huy Bui step out from behind the counter and into the spotlight.

“Our goal is to share the stories of really good coffee,” Nguyen tells Broadsheet.

She explains how partnering with Melbourne’s Market Lane Coffee was “a no-brainer”, thanks to their strong relationships with coffee producers and their transparent trading practices. “Those things are really important to us,” she says.

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Market Lane provides the cafe’s house blend. A rota of guest coffees comes from other leading roasters: Sydney’s Artificer and Reuben Hills, ACT’s Redbrick Coffee, and SA locals Kindred Coffee. “We want to share the love around and showcase Australia’s best coffee, and people with like-minded businesses,” says Nguyen.

The menu is to the point and strictly coffee-first. There’s espresso, pour-over and “Quick Cup” (batch brew), plus a handful of non-coffee drinks from small, local suppliers. “We don’t want to offer anything that doesn’t quite align with the quality [of our coffee] or our ethos,” Nguyen says.

A selection of pastries (baked down the block at Fold) arrives each day. And Nguyen says she’s starting to tinker with some savoury items, working with bread from local sourdough wholesaler Try Theropy.

A Place is fashioned to convey Nguyen’s love of coffee, but it’s also shaped – more than just physically – by the building it inhabits. The modest apartment block is built by Melbourne-based company Nightingale and has a 5 Green Star rating. It runs on GreenPower, collects rainwater for common area use and has a communal veggie garden on its rooftop. Half of the 36 apartments were sold at cost price to encourage first homeowners to enter the market. The other 18 are social and community rentals, managed by a not-for-profit housing provider.

The welcoming tone at A Place echoes Nightingale’s focus on community, and both share a focus on sustainability. “They gave us a brief of what they were expecting [from a cafe],” Nguyen says. The site’s rough brick and exposed concrete finishes reflect her own values: investing in quality, ethically made products, rather than flashy nonsense. “It fell in line with our own love for being as minimal as possible – not overindulging in fit-out.”

Warm timber accents, curtains and a few plants dotted about make the place feel cozy and inviting (although there are just a handful of stools in the petite space, if you want to sit in).

The groundswell of local support has been immediate and overwhelming. “Someone – we don’t know who – had a coffee and posted about it in their building’s group chat,” says Nguyen. What was intended as a soft opening was suddenly swarmed with locals keen to check out the new hotspot. Their first public cupping attracted people who had never been to such an event before.

“One person said they Googled what it was on the way in,” Nguyen says. It’s a testament to the welcoming atmosphere A Place projects. “For us, that’s important – engaging with and educating people,” says Nguyen.

A Place Coffee
37 Second Street, Bowden

Mon to Fri 7am–3pm
Sat 8am–2pm