“I’m at Romeo’s,” (as in Juliet), says the young woman into her mobile phone. The café she’s at is named after its owner, Stefano Romeo (Ro-may-oh). But he doesn’t mind the mistake a bit – it makes the place sound more romantic.
He set up the café in 2004 after a career as a roaster with Grinders and ownership of a small café in the city.
“I wanted a place where I could roast my own coffee, so I sold Centro Espresso and came to Balwyn,” he says.
Romeo’s a local. So are most of his customers. And the love is apparent. The coffee he roasts and serves is his “premium blend” – a combination of beans from Brazil, Cuba, Guatemala, India and Honduras that varies according to availability and season. Its profile remains constant though; rich, dark and very Italian.
An espresso will be delivered with pride and served in a warmed white cup. It will bear an excellent crema, boast a powerfully built body and feature bittersweet notes of cocoa, red fruits and a hint of liquorice. The 15-kilogram red Vittoria roasting machine meets the needs of the café, including a selection of high-end beans available only for home consumption, while at the factory in Heidelberg Romeo operates a matching 30-kilogram roaster (red is his lucky colour) that supplies city cafés and restaurants. He says it’s almost time for a second café, somewhere close by.
Owner Stefano Romeo is the head barista and quality controller at his eponymous café, but Daniel Ficco and Andrew Burgess are the faces most often behind the machine. Romeo trains his baristas himself and says it’s all about persistence. “I can see straight away how good they will be,” he says. “They must be fast, on the ball and prepared to learn and practise.” Ficco has been at the café for about three years and has a background in hospitality. He greets locals like an old friend and remembers to ask after the wife, the baby or the job. Burgess, who began with the café just over six months ago, is a talented newcomer, says his boss.
Caffe Romeo, 319 Doncaster Road, Balwyn North
Phone \ 9857 6444
Barista \ Stefano Romeo
Coffee \ Caffe Romeo
Barista’s choice \ Espresso
Open \ Monday to Friday 7.30am-5pm; Saturday 7.30am-3.30pm
The petrol-blue espresso machine on the counter and the fire-engine red roaster tucked in the corner reveal much about this Italian-born-and-bred coffee house. Locals congregate at this suburban oasis for a serious caffeine fix and relaxed conversation – either with their own companions or perhaps the energetic baristas. Outside, a glass-walled courtyard cuts across the pavement and red chairs sit at dark timber tables. Inside, the minimal fit-out – more dark tables, a timber banquette and curved avocado green or black chairs – pays additional homage to the bean. Drums of roasted beans are stacked behind the baristas, silver bags of them line shelves on a rear wall and paraphernalia for their preparation is scattered around the room. Sumptuous photographs of coffee being tamped and extracted are the final visual devotion.