The people need coffee. This is a cultural imperative of our age, perhaps. The folks at St ALi have taken it upon themselves to bring their knowledge and expertise into the middle of ‘Main Street’ with the opening of Plantation at Melbourne Central, the first of many Plantations in similarly high-profile locations.

The idea behind this new venture is to provide an opportunity for the broader coffee drinking public to enjoy the best coffee, where previously the most handy and obvious options might have been Starbucks or Gloria Jeans. Plantation is sagely aware of an increased recognition amongst Melburnians of the vast difference between the brown hot water served bountifully in malls and on city corners, and the carefully prepared drink of the New World called ‘coffee’.

Plantation is headed up by the crew from Sensory Lab (also by St ALi) and is designed to be a coffee-craving worker’s introduction to all that can be known and done with coffee beans. This is an expansion in the coffee market from the top down, rather than the bottom up, a la Starbucks, Nescafe et al, who disingenuously endeavour to assure their customers that all their coffees are made by a barista and all their beans are Arabica.

This expansion of the company behind the project sees a three tiered coffee hierarchy with the flagship, the iconic St ALi , at the top. On a second tier one can find several Sensory Lab outposts, near and far, which service the brand and its value in established premium commercial locations. Plantation marks the launch of the third tier, aiming to introduce a premium product into locations that typify the market status quo.

The front of shop appearance almost conjures the image of the coffee merchants of a century ago; at the end of the long counter is a small shop where one can buy small bottles of cold drip coffee, assorted blends and single origins, the finest home-brewing paraphernalia from Hario and even some tea. Sandwiches, pastries, and espresso cheesecake also make appearances.

Technically, it is a coffee station in a shopping centre, but at heart, Plantation represents a new opportunity for more people to drink and appreciate quality coffee, with an ultimate goal to elevate the entire market in the long term. It’s a significant gesture of St ALi’s notable cafe ethos.

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