In a city renowned for its brunches and coffee, Fitzroy, in Melbourne’s inner north, has long been a standout destination for both. The steady turnover of cafes and coffee shops on Brunswick Street is testament to that: with high rents and stiff competition, places that are just ok simply don’t survive.
I’m lucky enough to spend a lot of time in this compact neighbourhood, slowly working my way through buzzy new spots and dependable old stalwarts alike. Many of them make good coffee, but the number that consistently make a truly excellent brew is much smaller.
Having tried so many of them, I figured it was time to put together some recommendations for the best places for a coffee in Fitzroy, whether you’re after a silky flat white, a strong espresso with just the right amount of crema, or a smooth, interesting pourover made from a bean you’ve never heard of.
Most of these places are dedicated coffee shops, with perhaps just some simple food options if you’re peckish. I’ve mostly steered clear of full-blown cafes, but have included one (run by a coffee roasting company, to be fair) that makes such good coffee that I couldn’t leave it out.
Many sell beans by the bag and can grind them for you if needed, and one or two have a range of coffee equipment on offer as well.
This isn’t a long list, since it’s meant to highlight the best of what’s on offer, not just every place that sells coffee in the area. I’ll add anywhere exceptional to the list as I discover it, but given how good these places are, it’s a pretty high bar!
For the sake of comparison I’ve listed prices and included photos of oat flat whites below, but in most cases I’ve tried the black coffee options as well. Trust me, they were just as good!
Tucked away beside a Malaysian restaurant on the less-trendy part of Brunswick Street, with virtually nothing in the way of street signage, it’s easy to walk straight past AWA Cafe. I did, several times in fact, before the rows of coffee bags and takeaway cups along one wall caught my eye and I finally ventured inside.
I’m very glad that I did, as this innocuous little coffee shop perfectly sums up the Fitzroy scene. There’s not much space inside, with room for perhaps a dozen customers if they don’t mind cuddling up, and a couple of staff members.
You can buy delicious crepes, sandwiches, and bagels (they’re very good, so you should), and they’ll make you vegemite toast if that’s what you’re after, but other than that, it’s all about the coffee.
They have a few different types on offer, both espresso-based drinks and filter options like batch and cold brew. Hot and iced chocolate, chai, matcha, and a small range of tea, soda, and juice rounds out the menu.
Lauren drinks decaf while I go for the full-strength stuff, and we’ve both commented that the flat whites at AWA are some of the best we’ve ever had. We visited with her parents once as well: the prana chai also met with a strong round of approval.
Somewhat unusually for a small cafe like this, they roast their own beans. As a result, exactly what you’ll get depends a bit on when you visit, but so far so good in my experience: the flavour profile of my coffee changes, but it’s never been anything short of excellent!
They’re open every day, so pop in any time before 4pm for a coffee, a bite to eat, and a chat. Grab a takeaway if it’s busy or you’re in a hurry, but otherwise grab a window seat in the afternoon sun and simply linger over a delicious brew.
Bell Street Coffee Window
A block away from Morning Frank, on the other side of the road, is another relatively recent addition to the coffee scene that’s become a bit of an institution. Apparently believing in the power of a descriptive name, Bell Street Coffee Window is just back from the corner of Bell and Brunswick Streets, and you order and collect your drinks at the window.
There’s no indoor seating, but you’ll often find locals sitting in the sun at one of several tables on the footpath. Bringing your dog is optional but highly encouraged, and if you’re peckish, there are always a few sandwiches and baked goods on offer.
That comment about dogs was no joke: there’s literally a page on the company’s website dedicated to all the very good boys and girls that regularly show up with their owners.
The place opened as a popup for takeaway coffees during Melbourne’s endless pandemic lockdowns, but its popularity meant that it’s stayed open ever since. You’ve got the usual range of espresso-based drinks on offer, in three different sizes, and a good selection of plant milks to choose from.
Iced coffee is also available, along with batch brew if you’re more into filter coffees, plus tea, hot chocolate, and cold brew.
It’s a friendly and relaxed kind of place, without a lot of pretense, but that doesn’t mean slow service: even at busy times, when there’s a line of people waiting to order, it’s never taken more than five minutes to get a coffee into my hand.
I order from here regularly, either to linger in the sunshine when the weather is behaving, or to take away when Melbourne is living up to its reputation. Like many coffee shops in the area, it’s an early-open and early-close place: the tables and chairs are packed away and the window closed at 3pm. Be sure to time your visit accordingly!
Down a side street in a comparatively quiet section of the neighbourhood, it took me a while to discover Thieves Coffee. The retail arm of a local coffee subscription company, it’s a small, calm space filled with plants, chill vibes, and of course, great coffee.
I was hooked after my first silky-smooth flat white, but of course had to return several times. Just in the interests of research, you understand, not because I have a caffeine problem.
The beans change every month, but they’ll always be from Australian roasters. Last time I visited, they were from Standing Room Coffee, a local Melbourne company also based in the city’s inner north. I went for the seasonal blend, and it was delicious: rich and robust, without being overpowering.
Unsurprisingly given the subscription-based origins of the place, bags of coffee are available to buy instore. Just ask if you need them ground.
Batch brew is usually available, as is decaf, plus a small range of coffee equipment and a few pastries. The cafe is closed at weekends and shuts relatively early in the afternoon, but just to make sure you don’t go home disappointed, there’s a vending machine outside with iced coffee and other cold drinks.
There’s a table at the back and a counter with a few seats along the front window, but don’t expect to always be able to find somewhere to sit at busy times. Still, whether you get your coffee to drink in or take away, rest assured it’s going to taste great. That’s the main thing, right?
- Name: Thieves Coffee
- Address: 36-38 Kerr Street
- Hours: 7:00am to 2:30pm weekdays, closed weekends
- Price for a flat white with oat milk: $5.50
- Decaf available: yes
- Beans available: yes
Leaving Brunswick Street behind and heading for Fitzroy’s (other) epicentre of cool, Gertrude Street has some great cafes and restaurants that are well worth a visit if you’re in the mood for brunch. If you’re looking strictly for exceptional coffee, however, look no further than Calēre.
The space is split in two: a coffee shop during the day and a fine-dining restaurant at night, and you’ll likely see the sign for the restaurant (Gaea) before you spot the coffee window. It’s worth doubling back if you miss it: Calēre serves up some of the best and most interesting coffees I’ve ever drunk.
There’s usually around three coffee varieties on offer for espresso: the house blend and a couple of others. The house option is very tasty in its own right, but it’s the rotating cast of specialty options that really makes this place shine.
On my most recent visit, for instance, I was recommended Big White Rabbit. From the Yunan region of China, the tasting notes mentioned “a vanilla Kit-Kat in liquid form”, which is the kind of thing I usually roundly ignore. In this case, however, it genuinely tasted like it. It was amazing, and I’ve never had a coffee quite like it!
You’ll pay a bit more for the specialty options, usually around a dollar, but it’s worth doing now and again just to have something that you almost certainly won’t find somewhere else. As well as the espresso-based drinks, there’s a batch brew option, along with some very high-end filter varieties with prices to match.
Iced coffee, chocolate, and mocha round out the drinks list, and there’s a small selection of baked goods and toasties on offer if you need more in your stomach than just a great coffee. On a sunny day, try to grab one of the four tables on the footpath outside, otherwise there’s limited seating in the entranceway or you’re up for a takeaway.
If any of the coffees particularly take your fancy, you can buy bags of beans instore, or online to be shipped out to you as needed. Beautiful presentation, friendly staff, and delicious coffee, plus longer opening hours than most places in the area. What more could you ask for?
Sila Espresso Bar
If you’ve walked down the west side of Brunswick Street at any point in the last 60 years, there’s a good chance you’ve passed Sila Espresso Bar. While the neighbourhood has changed beyond recognition all around it, this old-school Italian cafe has been in the same spot since 1959.
Run by the same family the entire time, Sila is about as far from industrial-style hipster chic as it’s possible to get. Warm and cozy, it wouldn’t be out of place on a back street in a small Italian town. Go there at the right time and you’ll likely think that’s where you are, with tables full of older Italian men discussing, well, whatever older Italian men like to talk about.
Old newspaper cuttings and photos of family members dot the walls, while the counter is dominated by the gleaming chrome of the same beautiful lever-action espresso machine that’s been there since opening day. Sila couldn’t be more different to any other coffee shop in the area, and I love that it’s still here.
While I get the distinct impression that cups of espresso are by far the most common order, one of the few nods you’ll find to modernity at Sila is a range of alternative milks. I half-expected a disappointed look when I ordered a couple of oat flat whites after midday, but instead I just got a smile and, a few minutes later, two tasty coffees delivered to our table.
Now, to be fair. they were much more of a latte than a flat white. Flat whites aren’t specified on the (hand-written) menu, so I suspect that the barista just decided, in true Italian nonna style, that I was going to get what was best rather than what I thought I wanted. In any case, I was very much not sad about my drink as we sat out on the footpath and watched Fitzroy life walk by.
If you’re not in the mood for a coffee, the hot chocolate at Sila comes highly recommended as well. It’s definitely not a full-on brunch place, or anything close to it, but there’s a small range of toasted sandwiches and baked goods to keep the hunger pangs at bay. Or, of course, you could just order another espresso.
- Name: Sila Espresso Bar
- Address: 189 Brunswick Street
- Hours: 8:00am to 4:30pm Monday-Saturday, closed Sundays
- Price for a flat white with oat milk: $5
- Decaf available: yes
- Beans available: no
From humble beginnings as a small coffee roaster, Industry Beans has had quite the growth spurt. They started a cozy cafe in Fitzroy about a decade ago, which I loved and used to visit regularly, and since then have opened outposts in Sydney, Brisbane, and two other parts of Melbourne as well.
They also outgrew their original Fitzroy location, and when I heard they’d moved to an “architecturally designed warehouse conversion” a few streets away, I was worried they’d lose the vibe that had made them special in the first place.
The new space is definitely a big change, all white brick walls and gleaming stainless steel, but I like it: it’s light, modern, and has far more space than the old spot. There’s now an onsite roastery that you can see operating from your table and a small shop selling beans and equipment, plus a better chance of finding somewhere to sit at the weekends.
Industry Beans operates as a full cafe, but if you’re only interested in the coffee, you’ve got plenty of options. As well as their regular Fitzroy Street and Rose Street blends that I often also buy as whole beans, there’s always a seasonal blend on offer, plus a few interesting single-origin varieties that change each month.
Along with the standard selection of hot black and milk espresso-based drinks, there’s a filter (batch brew) option, iced versions, cold brew, and even a slightly-odd bubble coffee with tapioca pearls and your choice of flavourings.
Like anywhere else, though, consistency is key: I don’t want to go to a coffee shop where I have great coffee one day and terrible the next. That’s never been the case here: the flat whites have always been smooth and silky; the pourovers perfectly-extracted and delicious. I can’t ask for more than that.
If you like the coffee here, keep an eye out for it elsewhere in Melbourne and Australia: many other cafes buy their beans from Industry Beans (clue’s in the name, I guess). If you want to buy direct, you can order from their online shop for shipping across the country and around the world.
- Name: Industry Beans
- Address: 70-76 Westgarth Street
- Hours: 7:00am to 3:30pm weekdays, 8:00am to 3:30pm weekends
- Price for a flat white with oat milk: $5.70
- Decaf available: yes
- Beans available: yes
Found a new place for coffee in Fitzroy that you absolutely love and think we should check out? Let us know about it in the comments!
All images copyright Everything Victoria