Pretty soon, there won’t be any houses or apartments left in Collingwood. Just street after street of coffee shops. Tour the two blocks bound by Smith, Wellington, Stanley and Langridge Streets. You’ll find Proud Mary, Aunty Peg’s, Two Birds, South of Johnston, Mina-no-ie and Mr Peel Cafe.
You need a certain level of confidence to enter this crowded arena. The six partners at Plug Nickel have it. “We want to take things to the next level here,” says co-owner Pete Walsh. “We want a specialty coffee bar that sets a new standard for Melbourne.” That’s a tough ask in a city already seen as a world leader, in large part thanks to Small Batch, Seven Seeds and other world-class roasters.
Plug Nickel bypassed all of them and went to … Canberra. Our fine capital is home to Ona Coffee, a roasting company owned by Sasa Sestic, the 2015 World Barista Champion. Walsh grew up in Canberra and signed on as Sestic’s second-ever wholesale customer almost a decade ago. When he moved down to Melbourne and started Dr Morse, with Anth Daniel and Jon Costelloe (also co-owners at Plug Nickel), the relationship held. Dr Morse and Plug Nickel remain Ona’s sole accounts in Melbourne.
In line with doing things differently, Plug Nickel doesn’t use the ubiquitous La Marzocco brand espresso machine, or even the equally respected Slayer or Synesso. Sestic made sure it was the Sanremo Opera, a machine he and several other World Champion baristas helped design. It’s packed with technology, such as built-in scales for consistent extractions, and a bluetooth-enabled tablet for adjusting every conceivable parameter.
Behind the machine, co-owners and veteran baristas Chris Graham and Lucien Kolff blend seasonal beans with milk from cows, macadamias, cashews or almonds. There’s also batch brew, cold brew and frothy nitrogen-charged coffee on tap. Cascara is a cold tea made from coffee cherries – it’s also on tap. Most orders are passed out the window onto the street.
The menu, by sixth partner Tyler Preston (Dr Morse), is all about food you can fit in your hands: breakfast roti, noodle salads, house-made sausage rolls, daily soups and pies.
Inside there’s just a few stools and high benches. In the next room DJ Ginger Light is cutting and dyeing as Ginger Hair. Cycling-wares company Northside Wheelers will soon move into the last room and use it as a shop. If it doesn’t get turned into another cafe first, that is.
7 Peel Street, Collingwood
(03) 8415 1425
Mon to Fri 7am–4pm