When Sensory Lab opened its first outlet in David Jones in 2009, it was riding the crest of a Melbourne’s “third wave” of coffee. It’s opened more outposts since then, but only just opened its first standalone store in Melbourne on Collins Street.
Tucked away in the recessed thoroughfare of an office building, it feels like a secret uncovered. The design by Foolscap Studio is very much a nod to Japanese efficiency, with no wood or tiles in the space. Instead, Foolscap opted for materials that gave a sense of the “high-tech”. Huge slabs of stainless-steel benches gleam like an Ajax ad, while a healthy dose of cork adds texture. Technology has also been incorporated into the design. Sit-down patrons can get their morning news fix from iPads that are placed along the bar-style counters. The overall effect is calm – a rare feeling in the middle of the CBD.
Takeaway coffee is a major focus here, so a service window – designed to emulate a “vending machine” – keeps service quick and efficient. But as Melbourne is not quite Japan, the window is manned by humans rather than robots. Sensory Lab’s retail manager Lachlan Ward describes the effect of this rounded, port-style facade as a futuristic Japanese-meets-1950s-American diner.
In keeping with the theme of efficiency, the food is all about toast and it’s taken as seriously as the coffee. A huge, conveyor-belt style toaster dominates the counter, through which passes some of the best bread in Melbourne. Choose between slices from Irrewarra Sourdough, Dench Bakers or Tivoli Road Bakery. “And then we’ve got hero spreads from all the best condiment humans,” says Ward. These include Rooftop Honey, Jam Lady jams and 99th Monkey nut butters.
While Sensory Lab is all about the coffee for now, tea fans can look forward to an upcoming tea program. For this, Sensory Lab has collaborated with Australian tea-brewing champion (yes, it’s a thing) Ayden Graham for a series of ceremonies that will celebrate the deeper history of tea. As with everything at Sensory Lab, there’ll be no cutting corners.
Sensory Lab Collins Street
Shop 1, 30 Collins Street, Melbourne
(Entry via Collins Street or Ridgway Place)
Mon to Fri 7am–5pm