Saturday, June 9, 2012

St Ali (Melbourne) - ♕♕♕♕ 1/2

  St Ali used to be one of the cult indie cafes during its early days of opening in Melbourne,  and since then they have opened up or purchased over other cafes in town, including Liar Liar, Sensory Lab, My Mexican Cousin, Plantations, etc.    They have also started up business in the UK in London  (but that is another story to be told, as things have recently taken a reshuffling over there).    The St Ali house blend of espressi and the cappucini quality were totally addictive in the past,  it was easily one of the best in town and you would drive all the way past here just to order 2-3 coffees on the go, it was really that unique and attractive.   After 3-4 revisits during the end of 2011,  I discovered something very interesting however.   My 1st revisit during August 2011,  despite after an absence of around 2.5 years,  had the café made me espresso based coffees that were surprisingly exactly the same as I remembered them,  with a distinct Dark Powdery Chocolate note and Dark berries and Nuttiness,  but very well balanced.   Drop dead gorgeous stuff for espressos.  But during the next 3 months of coming back,  things took a downturn just due to one variable.



Sensory Lab belongs to St Ali,  and roasting wise they’re the same -
I bought this at St Ali, but it comes with a Sensory Lab label with a Japanese tag.
Sometimes you get a St Ali sticker.

Coffee Beans for Take-Away -
Beans here are divided into 2 camps (but don’t be surprised that certain close minded individuals in HK can’t seem to distinguish between them, nor know how to differentiate & order them properly).    Most of the Single Origins here are roasted lighter for drip or filter coffee levels to showcase their 3rd Waver intents,  and in fact some beans were roasted so ‘light’ here, I have heard of HK Cafes making a complaint of it being under-developed.  But since St Ali and Sensory Lab are more into Siphoning than Dripping,  I would counter to say that this suits their purpose just perfectly as I’ve drank enough from all their cafes to know it’s well tuned as a package.   But obviously the base Espresso blends are more geared towards the espresso machine,  and even then,  the Espresso blends are sub-divided into novice drinker blends such as the ones served at Plantations Cafe in the CBD,  or a more balanced blend hovering between a 2nd to 3rd Wave style served permanently here. It is rather confusing to explain in words but coffee is not a On & Off switch  ~  in between,  there are so many variables which dictates the final outcome and is complicated like a matrix!

Communal Table -



Menu -
It can be slightly Mediterranean biased in the recipes,
but also comes with some local British-Australian fare served.  The food here is generally nice,  especially their French Toast with Labna honey and yoghurt, a signature.

Visit #1 House Espresso ‘Champion Blend’ -  Synesso Pulled
This was very dark chocolaty and nutty with a hint of cardamom spice,
it was balanced and carried clarity.  As good as it has always been.  ~   9/10

Visit #1 Cappuccino -  Synesso Made
This has always been one of the most addictive milk coffees in town,  and after a few years of absence this was as good as it has always been represented.  I am not a big fan of Chocolaty coffees usually but the one served here (with chocolate powder) has always been privileged to be utterly balanced, with or without the chocolate sprinkle on top over the years.   ~  10/10

Organic and Bio-Dynamic Milk by Mark Peterson-
This is served as default with your milk coffees.  I deliberately ordered this separately because,  I have had some really great natural milk by other farmers before.  I would say this was great but not as amazing as I remember the best ones that can be!   Also used in some other cafes.  Milk really matters.   Black coffees are a different ball-game altogether.  I happen to like all styles of coffees,  because I think everything has its own market or the right day and mood for consumption?

On an earlier excursion past here (above),  they were still using the Synesso Machine. That has been for use for quite a number of years and the Espresso based coffee quality was world beater stuff.   A later few visits after around September 2011 saw the Synesso being shipped to Liar Liar the affiliated café,  and the La Marzocco Strada EP specs having been ordered and haven’t arrived in time…     During the next 2 torturing months,  this replacement La Marzocco Linear made Espressi based coffees that were so murky and weak and not suited for the Roasted Champion Blend.  Sad smile 

Visit #2 Cappuccino – La Marzocco Linear
This still carried a pretty latte art,  but it was really weak and also not standing out in its milk guise compared to the above Synesso Machine based coffee.   You could instantly tell it was weak in 2 separate areas,  especially when it is at a shop you have been visiting hundreds of times.   ~  4/10

Visit #3 Cappuccino – La Marzocco Linear
On another day and we ordered some more espressi and a Cappuccino,  and I didn’t take photos of the former as it would just look the same,  this again turned out to be too uninteresting.  It is interesting,  to me at least,  how much the difference between a Synesso Cyncra vs. a La Marzocco Linear can become for this Champion Blend.  But this isn’t even conclusive at all.  As during my other visits to Plantations or Degraves Espresso when they were using a different blend roasted by St Ali/Sensory Lab,  I actually found the La Marzocco FB-80 to make better espresso coffees than the Synesso used in the former.   It convinced me finally that roasting & coffee blends vs. machines vs. grinders vs. barista skills,  are always a case by case situation.   I am still not totally convinced either way.  I could only tell by the end result.   ~  5/10

Piccolo Latte -
A smaller proportion of milk vs. a ristretto base,  still didn’t cure the problem.
This was still fairly uninteresting compared to the hundreds of cups I have taste before.
Does swapping the machine around really make such a difference?  But I am really starting to believe in it as I still carried vivid memories of my really great coffees here before they changed the set-up.    ~  5/10

Visit #4 – House Blend Espresso
They actually have more than their Champion house blend on offer here,  but to me personally, my mission was to try eliminating the variables.  On this later visit,  the beans were still the same base blend but with a different roasting date,  possibly of a different proportion or beans batch,  and it’s  possible they have re-calibrated the machines and grinders and pulling methods to suit.  But unfortunately,  the minute difference with the 1st Synesso pulled espresso was still so large in the end result,  I think I will have to write it off again.   This was still murky and unclear and also uninteresting compared to the best cups in the past.  ~   6/10

Panama 'Don Pachi' Geisha (Cold Drip) -
This is interesting because most cold or ice drips are quite flat and monotone. An exact same lot of beans at another cafe made in the same way was also flat. But this was probably one of a misnomer?    On the nose a sour, slightly salted and tingling Japanese Green Plum & Japanese apricot really dominated, with a hint of sour cherry, and there was larger than normal alcohol note in the nose. The green plum with an earthiness resonated all the way to the mouth as was quite memorable in this aspect.   Finally followed by a herbaceous almost menthol like palate. Very very complex cold drip,  but not sure if it is balanced.  But definitely very interesting.  ~  7.9/10

Honduras Finca Fernandez C.O.E. #15 (Cold Drip) -
The St Ali roasted COE cup was never really on my agenda, as the tasting note on paper wasn't that educational or exciting. The curious in me however, saw this as an available cold drip and thought, perhaps this might just work?  The whiff of bitter-sweet Chinese medicine aroma and iodine, wet paper/wood was very obvious. As a drink this was disgusting but the smell was rather unique.  Didn't like it personally as it was very much like 鐵打酒 than coffee but it was definitely an interesting experience!  


Regina Fungi – AUD $19.50
Slow Baked Swiss Brown mushroom, hand picked soft herbs, rocket, marinated fetta, poached eggs, toasted sourdough and balsamic reduction.   This breakfast dish was quite decently cooked.  But I guess compared to the best cafes in Melbourne,  this is kind of more normal nowadays.  I don’t know,  may be St Ali has improved nowadays since this was from a few months ago.  

Braised Beans -
The house baked-beans on the other hand,  are made in house and not canned in performance.  It came with a slightly fiery kick with tomato and spinach and spices.   I have a soft spot for such home made braised beans but not many people do it nowadays.   This was quite memorable actually.   ~  10/10




Price: AUD $3 to $20 per person
Coffee:  ♕♕♕  to  ♕♕♕♕♕♕  (Nowadays, one must order strong versions in Milk based Coffees,  unless they switch back to Synesso machine or the already ordered Strada EP Spec.  If you are more after Siphoned or Dripped Coffee,  probably go to sister store
Sensory Lab instead as they have more resources to make it a better cup.)

Opening Hours -
Mon to Tue 7:00 am - 5:00 pm
Wed to Sat 7:00 am - 11:00 pm
Sun 7:00 am - 5:00 pm

Address:  12-18 Yarra Place, South Melbourne
Ph: (03) 9686 2990


  1. I would like to have that biodynamic milk too. :D

  2. The milk is interesting indeed and quite fatty with floating solids (it's normal!). But I liked some other ones I have bought myself before, or say the one served in Cafe Ish in Sydney, provided you get proper service there!



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