Donuts. When asked about my relationship status my answer is ‘I’m in a very complicated relationships with donuts’. Why? Because I’m acutely aware of how frustratingly bad they can be for you. ‘Cold fats. It’s because they are cold fats’ Vlada, my partner for my trip to Shortstop Coffee & Donuts explains. The blank expression on my face probably informed her that I had no idea what she meant. This was probably confirmed when it took me about 5 seconds to finish the Banana and Hazlenut donut in front of us.
There is a huge hype behind Shortstop Coffee & Donuts for a place that has only been open for all of 3 months. I’ve seen it tagged multiple times on the five people I regularly stalk but don’t follow on Instagram as well as almost all of my friends. It was also recently bought to my attention that even before Shortstop had even opened its doors it had amounted some 16,000 followers on its instagram. Such a place warrants a visit so I may crack open its skull and consume its power, I mean eat its donuts. Vlada and I ventured there for its last day of operation for 2014.
$5. The price jumped out as probably the first thing I noticed, which is a shame because that little price text was below eight mighty fine looking donuts that were laid out in the open on the counter so you can choose. ‘These better be the best damn donuts I’ve ever tasted’ my inner monologue demands before we order 3, a flat white and a cappuccino. The aforementioned Banana and Hazlenut, a Cinnamon, Cardamom and Sugar and Peanut Butter and Rhubarb Jam, all of which are promptly delivered to our wall mounted counter. The coffees though looked the same.
‘Hey, which ones which?’ We ask.
‘Oh! We serve all our white coffees the same. It’s just so we can ensure the consistency is the same across what we do.’
What? That… actually makes sense.
Also, they’re pretty good donuts.
In case you can’t tell, I’m underselling it here trying to play it cool.
‘Did you get some good photos?’ The man behind the counter asks as we stand up to leave. He introduces himself as Anthony, shakes my hand and engages me in some banter about specialty donuts in Japan. I find out later while researching this article he’s the owner.
I forgot about taking photos to be honest, part of the reason I chose to come. Donuts have caused me to once again become distracted.
‘I think we need to talk about our relationship.’ I whisper to the last bite of my donut.
Shortstop Coffee & Donuts is located at:
12 Sutherland Street, Melbourne (map)
+61 3 9642 0807
The rain on the day we visited Assembly in Carlton was, in a word, unseasonable. For November it belted down heavy and caught my partner for the day, Rachel, and I out on a few occasions. We had spent a good two hours traversing to various cafes around the inner city of Melbourne only to find that all the ones I had on my hand written list, now damp and lightly fraying from the rain, were all shut.
Except for Assembly.
I almost tripped on the front step as we skipped through the front door on the right after a dash from our car we were greeted with a very carefully curated speciality coffee shop. Assembly operates delightfully though, a little different to a lot of other emerging cafes in Melbourne. It seems to be a coffee store first and a cafe second.
A 2×2 stove with four percolators sits up against at the mirrored wall in the back with a neon sign flickering ‘Coffee & Tea’ that hung over staff compulsively watching the coffees preparation. Milk must be a certain temperature, only a specific number of beans must be used, brew times must be to military efficiency. There’s a mad science going on here that the staff are very proud of.
Three years they have occupied the space in Carlton and inspired by Japanese design, the space is very stark with an excellent combination of black metal and natural timber.
We stepped back outside, hugged the awning and went into the door on the right. A blond haired barista greeted us warmly, his man-bun tied neatly to match his short back and sides. I whispered to Rachel ‘Man, I wished I had the wherewithal to grow my hair long.’ We ordered a flat white, a cappuccino and a blueberry tart. As we were the only ones in the cafe late in the afternoon just before closing time both coffees came out promptly.
The cafe struck me as an after thought. It didn’t have the same level of polish as the retail space next door. The stark dark color palette of the seating area and narrow space struggled to encourage either of us to feel entirely comfortable, especially when it was just the two of us. A steady stream of regulars ordering take outs verified that this place is about good coffee, not a cafe experience. We both agreed that we kind of liked that.
‘I’m really sorry. Was I meant to bring a tart on a plate for you?’ The blond barista tentatively interrupted as we both looked up from reading the variety of magazines that we had picked from the rack. We said yes and he apologised profusely before shortly returning with the tart. ‘Have some filters on the house’ he offered and placed two black coffees either side of the dessert.
They were better than the flat white. Smooth with a fruity mix and probably the best coffee I’ve had since I left Tokyo five months ago.
‘It’s nice to have something in Melbourne to talk about.’ I mentioned to Rachel. She smiled and went back to fawning over the publication she was reading.
It’s fairly easy for me to look back fondly on all the minimal coffee stands and design conscious places I visited while in Tokyo, but let’s be realistic here. I spent a total of 10 minutes at Be A Good Neighbor Coffee Kiosk in Sendagaya, Shibuya. Despite this, such was the pleasure in such a thrifty, thoughtful coffee experience with a humble message attached to it that I fell for it and it is one I can’t wait to revisit.
The original of a trifecta of coffee stands by owner Mashiro Kajiwara, editor of one of my former favorite Japanese publications RELAX mag, it’s plain to see his training and foresight for the future of specialty coffee wasn’t misplaced. The others having been opened on the other side of Tokyo at Skytree and in buzzing Roppongi are testament to this vision. True to the stores name, there’s a warm casual welcome when you enter, which is always acknowledged as a foreigner in Tokyo. There’s no pressure to order and vacate despite the closet like size and standing at the thin timber ledge on the window to gather your thoughts for a few minutes felt normal. The stand is being as good as it can be to you.
There’s a choice of 3 single origin beans from the understated Kagoshima based, Viola Coffee brewed anyway you prefer. There’s no seating but if you linger you won’t be rushed out and the staff are happy to talk espresso. If coffee isn’t your thing there’s also a small selection of teas, cakes and scones for you.
‘A New Day Starts Here’ is the mantra at Be A Good Neighbor with it being on a wooden v-board out the front and above the espresso machine and I visited when it actually held some relevance to me. Being the last coffee kiosk I visited before I jetted off to Korea and said goodbye to the current incarnation of living in Japan Be a Good Neighbor left me with enough of an impression, even after only ten minutes, that I could see myself coming back and being welcomed with ‘Usual?’ as if I were a living next door myself.
© 2014 Carey Ciuro