The deep olive-green wall behind the coffee grinders at The Final Step acts as a chalkboard. Arrows point to each grinder and label its contents. Theres a Seven Seeds house blend and a daily single-origin bean.
During my visit, the daily coffee is a stunning El Borbollon from El Salvador, by Prahran-based coffee roaster Market Lane. As an espresso, it carries rich pinot-like notes, with a deep cherry body and a light black-pepper finish.
Ben Whitaker opened the café, his first as owner, in June 2009. He helped his parents set up a similar business on New Zealands south island six years earlier, and had worked in cafés in Europe and Melbourne.
For Whitaker, Melbourne has been the place to learn about coffee. He switched to the Seven Seeds blend late last year, and is using coffees from guest roasters such as Proud Mary in Collingwood and Monk Bodhi Dharma in Balaclava as daily specials.
The café was named in deference to the massive journey that coffee takes from tree to cup: processing; grading; travelling; and roasting.
I see this coffee stop as The Final Step in the long journey that is coffee, he says.
Whitakers choice of location in a suburb not regarded for its specialty coffee meant reputation had to be built via word of mouth. Eighty per cent of customers are now loyal locals.
The recent addition of cold-drip filter coffee, stored in the fridge in tiny medicine bottles and served in shot glasses over ice, is the cafés next frontier.
Daniel Sanchez was a customer just over a year ago. Now hes a talented barista, with a sharp eye and a steady, artistic hand. He mans the La Marzocco espresso machine at this Murphy Street café beside its owner and head barista with confidence and finesse.
Whitaker has taught him most of what he knows, he says, but Melbournes coffee scene is adding to his wisdom.
Sanchez, whose parents are Spanish, grew up in Switzerland and worked as a marketing manager.
Living and working here changed his focus, though. Hes fascinated by the coffee world, read God in a Cup (by Michaele Weissman) over the holidays and spends his spare time in as many specialty coffee venues as he can.
The Final Step, 1C Murphy Street, South Yarra
Phone 0414 503 248
Head Barista Ben Whitaker
Coffee Seven Seeds
Baristas choice Cold drip
Open Mon-Fri 7.30am-4pm; Sat 8.30am-3pm
From the owners antique piano, purchased on eBay and paid for by tips, to the elegant decorating theme that features a whimsical mural of a gnarly old coffee tree by graffiti artist Drew Funk, this tiny café, off Toorak Road and a short toss from South Yarra Station, is crammed with character.
Theres a central communal table, with burgundy timber stools tucked around it, and a recycled timber counter fronted by an old, cream-painted door its handle and key still attached.
An old timber ladder acts as a shelf, holding an organised array of reusable plastic cups for sale. And beside the piano sit shiny drums of coffee beans, bookended by guitars. The musical instruments get a workout on weekends.