In 2016 Sensory Lab opened a coffee shop – its third – akin to a retro-futuristic diner, with no wood or tiles in sight. The coffee specialist’s latest outpost at the base of the Rialto is a little different; it has suspended bunches of bay leaves and recycled-timber parquetry floors.

Sensory Lab’s first store opened in David Jones in 2009 and focused on design alongside coffee. Its latest beaker-free space, designed by Studio Esteta (Lune, Workshop Brothers), is “a little bit more masculine,” says general manager Lachlan Ward.

That means tan leather, burgundy panelling and bronze finishes alongside Sensory’s trademark white-marble countertops.

“We’ve tried to turn the design on its head – the coffee machine isn’t front and centre, the food is in front of everyone,” Ward points out. “We’re putting equal weight on the food and coffee.”

Chef Daniel Dobra, formerly of Royal Mail, Bedford Street and The Beaufort, has filled the grab-and-go counter with items that show the group’s lab-like, regimented precision. Bowls of mueslis topped with cubes of fruit are laid out neatly beside rows of breakfast sandwiches ready for a toasting and 5 & Dime bagels with symmetrical smears of whipped maple ricotta, and blueberry and apple jam.

Come lunchtime the shelves get a costume change; bowls of salads and six sandwich options. Ward recommends the cheeseburger salad: ground beef, grilled onion, crispy cheese bits, pickles and lettuce with Thousand Island dressing. “Think of a Big Mac, but a salad.”

Coffee will focus mainly on filter brews and espresso, with filter beans rotating seasonally. Sensory Lab has also expanded its tea selection thanks to a new tea buyer who travels to China and other parts of Asia to source leaves. This is all part of the brand’s evolution, which has seen its approach change.

When Sensory Lab first launched “it was very experimental and experiential,” Ward says. “It was about giving people a tasting experience.”

“Since then the market has matured and customers and coffee have become much more sophisticated. For us now it’s about making perfect coffee for everyone … We still have the same values and we love making specialty coffee, but we want to do it for as many people as we can. We’re not afraid of being a big business.”

Sensory Lab Rialto
525 Collins Street, Melbourne
(03) 9686 2990

Mon to Fri 7am–4pm

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