Coffee lifer Michael Allen has achieved the dream – he’s become his own boss. But it did take more than a decade, including three years as operations manager at internationally respected Melbourne coffee roaster Small Batch.
Core Roasters, which he runs with partner Dani Sunario, has been cruising below radar for a couple of years but recently posted a discreet signal in Brunswick East, with the opening of a quiet coffee shop and bakery at the existing HQ.
The set-up is classic Melbourne – small street, small warehouse, small signage. Beyond the yawning roller door and forest-green facade, there’s a long coffee bar with a glassed-in pastry kitchen behind. And further on, some bench seating and Allen’s 15-kilogram Roastmax coffee roaster.
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So this is another standard coffee and croissant sort of joint? Not exactly.
Sunario, a former music teacher, has been honing her self-taught baking and viennoiserie skills, while leaning into her inherent creativity and Southeast Asian heritage. Alongside regular croissants, almond croissants and carrot cake, that means pandan-spiked kaya (coconut jam) squiggled on toast, char siu pork tarts and pasties filled with mushroom rendang. Coffee is also a theme, showing up in espresso banana bread and tiramisu cookies. She’s also making take-home condiments, including chilli oil, tea-infused fermented marmalade and fruit ketchup with nectarine and jalapeno.
“There will be more food coming … delicious lunches, take-home meals, lots more condiments and anything else we can think of to make your time at home just as delicious as it is here,” Allen says.
Then there’s the coffee situation. Few customers scrutinise espresso machines, as long as what’s coming out is good. That mightn’t be the case here. Core has three machines from Decent Espresso, an eight-year-old manufacturer founded by a software developer. Like many Silicon Valley companies, it has a rosy, utopian mission: build a small, affordable espresso machine that can emulate all others, from vintage piston-levers to the newest models from La Marzocco. And by many accounts, it’s pretty good at it.
The ’spros at Core taste a bit different – the long blacks especially, which are made using a lungo-style extraction, rather than filling a cup with hot water and adding a double-shot on top. “You can expect some interesting extractions, but flavour will always be key,” Allen says. “Nothing weird for the sake of weird here, just weird for the sake of better flavour.”
If you are looking for something a little unexpected, or which you haven't tried before, look to the rest of the drinks menu. That house-made kaya is turned into a latte with steamed milk and topped with toasted coconut and gula melaka (palm sugar). Teas from India and Taiwan are brewed, iced and lightly gassed, then sweetened with fermented fruit syrups. And hot chocolate is house-made, from raw bean to final powder – one of a few aspects of Core that highlights Allen’s conscientious approach, something no doubt refined at Small Batch.
He’s not yet at the level of sourcing his own coffees directly, instead relying on the city’s most trusted importers for coffees that “support local producing communities as much as possible, whether that be through social, environmental or financial initiatives that contribute positively to producer and community livelihoods”. In other words, helping coffee farmers achieve his very same dream – becoming their own bosses.
14 Barkly Street, Brunswick East
Tue to Sun 7am–3pm