A mate of mine recently visited Melbourne on his first coffee tour of the city and asked me which shops he should check out whilst in town. It’s a question I often get asked yet there really isn’t a simple answer – there’s just so many good options now. Anyone that’s spent some time in Melbourne would probably have some of the big boys on their list (Proud Mary, Market Lane, Seven Seeds, Small Batch) and they were certainly amongst my recommendations, however if you ask me there’s one smaller roaster that is without doubt a ‘must see’ when visiting Australia’s coffee utopia: Wide Open Road.
The Brunswick warehouse was originally opened in 2009 by owners Jono Hill and Hootan Heyderi as a collaborative space with a focus towards film production. The guys had previously run A Minor Place but decided they wanted to get serious about roasting. Before long they moved the film business upstairs, opened the Wide Open Road café, and as Jono says “the coffee just took over”. Their coffee game has always been pretty strong but recently it seems they’ve stepped it up to a whole new level.
Speaking with their director of coffee Dylan Hewitt, it’s evident that Wide Open Road is not content with simply following the trends that seem to pass through Melbourne’s hospitality industry all too often. They’re completely focused on analysing the entire process from roasting to extraction and improving the coffee in their own way. A perfect example of this is their new milk-blend called Shady Lane. It wasn’t long ago that the specialty coffee industry had begun a shift towards an ‘omniroast’ approach. Espresso roasting profiles were getting lighter and lighter to the point that some coffee companies were roasting only the one profile to cover their filter, espresso and milky coffee bases. Lighter roasting can be great for bringing out the natural acidity and bright, fruity flavours in a coffee, however (generally speaking) you’re only going to taste these flavours to their fullest extent when you drink your coffee black. The moment you add milk to the cup you’re effectively muting the whole top end and miss out on most of this experience. Incidentally, when you roast to lighter profiles you also miss out on some of the deeper, full-bodied chocolate and caramel notes that just so happen to complement milk rather well. As a result, many coffee shops will now run separate filter and espresso roasts to combat this problem, however Wide Open Road goes a step further with Shady Lane. This new blend has been created with one specific purpose in mind – to taste good with milk. It’s comprised of coffees from Colombia, Indonesia and Tanzania, and to be honest I think it rocks. A massive chocolate body with not-so-subtle caramel and toffee undertones and a splash of cherry in there too. It’s sweet and ultra smooth in a latté. By having a dedicated milk-blend, Wide Open Road has also been able to further refine their pre-existing Bathysphere espresso blend, tweaking the roasting profile so that it tastes even better when served black.
This all might seem like a fairly simple concept to some of you, but separating black and milk espresso blends and aiming for more polarity between the two profiles is a fantastic step towards improving the quality of the coffee offered to consumers. I really appreciate the thinking that’s gone into this move and I think it’s something we’re going to see more and more of in the coming years. Well played guys.
Coffee aside, Wide Open Road also puts out some epic food. The menu is as creative as it is delicious. My pick? Try the bacon sandwich with provolone, smoked mozzarella and apple chilli relish. I think it’s also worth mentioning the beautiful branding on show here too. Wide Open Road recently did a completely re-face of their entire setup from website to packaging and every touch point in between. Graphic artist Adam Parata is the talented man behind the work and continues to produce a beautiful illustration for each new coffee that comes onto the menu.
So there you have it. Wide Open Road – one of the most focused coffee shops in Melbourne, changing the way we look at milky coffee. It’s certainly on my list.
Location: Google Maps Link
Wide Open Road
274 Barkly Street
Brunswick East, VIC,