In a hidden location, in a secret suburb (kind of; Cremorne shares Richmond’s postcode), Kevin Lee decided to name his new café 3Lives after the Gabriel García Márquez theory that each of us has three different lives – our public life, private life and a secret life.
Lee has owned four other cafés, his last being Hermes Café in Collins Street, which he sold late last year. 3Lives, now three months old, was conceived of Lee’s desire to downsize and take extra time and care with food and coffee.
He’s hired Hwan “Oggie” Choi, a Korean-born chef who had been working at the Crown-based Japanese restaurant Koko, and together the pair creates modern, fusion-style café food. Lee says the corner café tucked behind Church Street, previously Chestnut Café, had been unrenovated for 15 years before he took over.
Most of the slick café design is his own, helped by a friend who owns neighbouring homewares shop Koko Lane.
Customers are architects, designers and office workers who come from
the eclectic collection of businesses in the area.
Lee is a fastidious operator, constantly fiddling with things, scrubbing and polishing items when things are quiet, and working intently when the morning rush hits.
Chinese-born barista and café owner Lee was an IT student at Monash University when he took a barista job at a friend’s café. After graduating he worked in a government department until that café-owner friend convinced him to become a business partner.
Running a series of cafés over the years has taught him much about coffee and coffee-making but Lee says it was Tolly Avgerinos, the owner of Atomica Coffee in Fitzroy, who inspired him most. When running his former city café, Lee and the Atomica team developed a signature blend but at 3Lives he’s using the roaster’s classic Dark Roast – a combo of eight beans – plus Tiger Blend and an occasional single-origin bean.
An espresso made by Lee, with the Dark Roast blend and his sparkling GB5 La Marzocco espresso machine, will be a vivid and sweetly satisfying drop, extracted with precision and redolent of raisins, toast and caramel. It’s served in a cute glossy yellow cup and saucer.
A piccolo latte arrives on a yellow saucer in a tiny glass vessel, a second quality extraction with a creamy finish.
76 Chestnut Street, Cremorne
Phone \ 9429 3628
Barista \ Kevin Lee
Coffee \ Atomica
Barista’s choice \ Piccolo latte
Open \ Monday to Friday 7am-4pm; Saturday 8am-3pm
This laneway café, decked with glossy black tiles, industrial shelving and stainless-steel tabletops, echoes Richmond chic from its polished concrete floors to the caged lightglobes that hang from yellow cables. A trio of child-size white-painted timber chairs hangs on a black-painted wall, one holding a vase of yellow daisies. There’s a timber-framed cold-drip coffee maker on one shared table and boxes of yellow-potted flowers on another. An overhead timber frame holds assorted glass containers filled with nature’s bounty – posies, tiny stones and succulents in mini-terrariums. On the counter, amber-glass medicine jars hold a mysterious collection of tea.