Gifts, design and reindeers

Part three of our Christmas series

Jenny Brown at the store

Jenny Brown at the store

If you get the feeling that the collection of wares at Melbournalia are tightly curated, you’d be correct. In fact, before she was bringing us Melbourne’s loveliest gift store, owner and co-founder Jenny Brown studied curatorial studies and taught art and design.

Melbournalia sits at the top end of Bourke Street with famous neighbours such as Pellegrini’s, Grossi Florentino and Parliament House. “We’ve put a lot of time and effort in to the layout, architecture and design,” says Jenny. “The architect is Nick Williams. It was great for him because he wanted to experiment as well. He looked at the site and was inspired by the glass walls. The possibilities were endless, but in fact he took his inspiration from a building he’d seen in Norway which was a reindeer hide [where you go to watch wild reindeer]! It was a glass box with a beautiful big wavy wall. So this is a tiny version of that”.

The wall was a labour of love

The wall was a labour of love

But this concept hasn’t always been housed in architect designed spaces. In the few preceding years, Jenny and a couple of (former) business partners brought Melbournalia to us in a few different pop-ups.  “We had a few over 2 years – at the Queen Victoria Market, at Captains of Industry, in the Nicholas Building and at a café. We rented from friends and family and people that would give us good deals. We built all our displays out of cardboard boxes and milk crates. But it looked fabulous!  It had a makeshift feel – which was intentional”.

After the concept proved itself, Jenny wanted to create a permanent space, showcasing gifts and souvenirs made by locals. “The trigger for Melbournalia was that I was having the same conversation with two different sets of people. We were talking about Melbourne, Melbourne’s stories and things made in Melbourne. We decided to put our heads together – and so we did! They became my business partners, but now have moved onto other things. But we still stock quite a few of those wares from the original collection that we put together. They include Able & Gain, Otto & Spike, Hardie Grant books, Make Me Iconic and Sunday Paper.

Anything with a tram on it....

Anything with a tram on it….

The best sellers at Melbournalia are – you guessed it – foodie treats. The Melbourne City Rooftop Honey and Mork hot chocolate mixes are very popular, as are the small bottles of Kester Black nail polish. Oh and anything with a tram on it.

But which products does she like the best? “It’ soooooo hard to pick a favourite product!” says Jenny. “They’re all my favourites because I know everybody. There’s a person behind every product! Everyone has a name and a face and a story”. But there is something that features in her own house right now and Jenny gets pretty excited about it. “This body crème range by Kleins. Well – they are using some beautiful skills that they’ve picked up in the cosmetics industry. But they are so cleverly done! She has got permission from the Rennie Ellis Archive to use his imagery. He was a Melbourne based photographer who took incredible photos of everyday life…. the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s. She’s used them as the labels and the scents match the imagery. Yuzu and Sea Salt was inspired by the beachy pictures of Lorne in the 1970’s. And they’re just heaven to use!”

All sorted for Christmas

All sorted for Christmas

While no single day is the same, Jenny like to create some structure by having her daily to-do list. “It’s a combination of set tasks (like paperwork) and then an endless stream of pleasant (and annoying) interruptions.

We also have lots of regulars, such as local residents and office workers. It’s particularly lovely when international visitors come back.”

While it’s more than worth it to follow their lead and come in and visit the store itself, there is also an online store for those wanting to support local products, but who cannot make it to the city.

Find Jenny Brown at Melbournalia on the corner of Bourke St and Liverpool St, right up near Spring St. Or shop online at

Christmas shopping in Melbourne’s laneways

This is the first in my series of Christmas posts.  

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Clementine’s in Degraves Street

Melanie Ashe is one of those people who instantly makes you feel at ease. She’s naturally friendly, helpful and hospitable. You get the same reassuring feeling that you’re in good hands whether you’re one of her suppliers or her customers.

Melanie owns Clementine’s – a gift and home wares store where everything is made in Melbourne, or more widely, the state of Victoria. You’re probably familiar with the orange bicycle or scooter in Melbourne’s most famous of laneways, Degraves Street. Clementine’s turns four years old this month, so it is only fitting that Melanie a birthing a sibling store in another well-known Melbourne street – Collins Street.

“I’ve noticed a real trend in the type of customer coming into the Degraves Street store. They are a discerning tourist looking for a locally crafted gift. The new store is more for locals – apartment dwellers looking for space saving ideas.” But there’s nothing space saving about the new store – it’s four times the size of the Degraves Street store and that’s intentional. “There’s a lot of talent out there – and I just can’t fit all the stock into 28 square metres! And they don’t all come from the typically creative areas like Brunswick. There are so many makers in regional Victoria as well.”


Melanie Ashe

You’ll spot the sign for the new Clementine’s store from Collins St as you cross the street from the Novotel into the Centreway Arcade. But you’ll have to do the typical Melbourne thing and find the staircase up to level 1 to visit the new store.

Melanie opened the shop with a really good head on her shoulders, having been a CEO in the private sector for years before that. “I certainly wasn’t wearing any rose coloured glasses. I had pretty realistic expectations of the stamina and backing needed. I had a clear plan and I gave myself five years to reach certain goals – luckily I achieved those in three and a half years.”

So what motivates someone to leave a senior corporate position to open a gift store?  “I suppose you get to a point where you cannot really go any further in the corporate sphere and you realise it isn’t giving you want you thought you wanted”.

“It is really difficult to find things that are crafted locally – not just in Melbourne. I find I have that problem when I travel. So this store is about providing the option for the customers. Also it provides an avenue for the makers to get their wares out there.”


Hand made gifts for the little ones

As you may have picked up, Melanie refers to her suppliers as the makers. “I’ve always been passionate about the local food makers and I knew quite a lot of them before opening the store. This has also given me an opportunity to look at ceramics and other things as well.”

Like any small business person will attest, there’s no typical day and Melanie takes on a number of different roles. When she’s not in the store, she’s sourcing product. But her favourite part of the job is matching the customer to the right gift. “I love seeing people get what they want and on the other end of the spectrum I also love seeing the makers succeed”.

Melanie has seen herself take on the unexpected role of mentor to a few of the makers who might not initially be what she calls ‘retail-ready’. “I see some great product that might need a tweak. Like a delicious food product that needs new packaging or a product that is great, but needs a proper box to sit on the shelf correctly. And lots of the makers don’t realise now tricky it can be to get proper labelling that meets legal requirements. But one thing I’ve learned is to only offer advice of that nature if I’m asked” she says with a wry little smile.

When it comes to Christmas gifts, it’s a great place to shop because you know that you’re supporting two local businesses – Clementine’s and the maker. And it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. “I try to keep everything under $100 and most things in the store range from $20-$60”.

And as with the inevitable problem with Christmas shopping, you’ll probably find something for yourself as well.

Find Clementine’s at 7 Degraves St and Level 1, 259 Collins Street (entry though staircase in Centreway Arcade).

Roasting coffee with Rob


Green beans – as the farmer delivers them.

Most of you will know that I’m very interested in coffee. Both the problem and beauty of this is that the world of speciality coffee is infinite. You cannot taste every coffee. You cannot know everything there is to know about every part of the supply chain. It’s impossible – but trying is fun!

Which is why I wanted to hang out with someone who roasts coffee and start to learn a bit more about that part of things. Enter Rob Savage of Rex Tremendae. Rex Tremendae is Rob’s small café in the very ‘now’ Katherine Place/Flinders Lane precinct – except that Rob has been there for the past 12 months, quietly and happily doing his own thing.

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The coffee roaster

While there are lots of small roasters in Melbourne and even more baristas, it’s not that common that one person is both of those things. Rob is a micro-roaster, barista and all round nice guy, so I thought I’d hijack one of his roasting sessions to learn about the end-to-end process. Rob, like many microroasters, rents time at a bigger roastery once a week (or fortnight) to use their machines. Of course, there’s a lot to know about coffee roasting, but here’s what I took away from a couple of hours with Rob.

1. Pre-heat your roaster. This takes about half an hour and (just like baking a cake) you can do other parts of the prep while that happens. Roasting machines come in many sizes. The three I saw at the roastery were 5kg, 22kg and 60kg capacity. But let’s stick to the 5kg & 22kg machines. The big one is different kettle of fish.

2. Get your green beans ready.

3. Set up your laptop. That’s right – to roast speciality coffee you use a computer. The software is

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Ready to roast

called Cropster and any self-respecting coffee roaster will use this. It’s connected to the roasting machine, it tracks things like how long the roast has progressed (like a stopwatch) and how hot the beans are getting inside the roaster (like a thermometer). But that’s a MASSIVE simplification and we’ll elaborate on that later.

4. Pour the green beans into a funnel at the top of the roaster.

5. When you’re ready to begin roasting the beans, release the gate that pours the green beans from the funnel into the charged (ie pre-heated) roasting chamber and, simultaneously, click the mouse to start the software.

This is when a roasting professional’s knowledge comes to the fore – and where I learn the most. Almost immediately the software is tracking – in real time – two key things. The actual temperature of the beans (increasing over time) and the rate of temperature rise (essentailly diminishing over time). While the beans are heating up, they are heating up at a slowing rate. And we want that slowing rate to be smooth. This is important – because its letting us anticipate how hot the beans will be. A smooth line means we

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Rob pours the beans into the roaster.

can predict it and not overroast. This is the chart that Rob is paying most attention to on screen. To keep that chart moving smoothly, he manually regulates the gas temperature and the airflow valve into the roaster.

Keep in mind that we’re talking about 0.1 degree C variations at any one time. And each coffee will behave a bit differently. Precision.

I ask Rob “how did the roasters of the 1950’s get a consistent roast, before the software existed?” His response? “They didn’t. It was all by feel.” This very much aligns with what I’m discovering about the rest of the coffee industry. Increasingly, coffee professionals see the movement towards the use of technology for consistency and precision as a good thing, as it removes the human element. ‘Handmade’ and ‘artisan’ are romantic words, but can also mean lots of mistakes and inconsistencies.

Back to the beans. There are different stages that the beans go through while roasting. The first main stage is called the primary development. The beans are absorbing heat energy – they are endothermic. Then something happens and the reaction kind of inverts. The beans start to give off energy – they are exothermic. You can hear this – it’s called the first crack and it sounds a bit like popcorn popping. In fact, popping corn goes through the same reaction when heated.

Rob marks the time of the first crack on the Cropster chart. We will save this ‘roasting profile’ later and if we like the result of the beans when we taste them, we’ll aim to replicate it as closely as possible.

After the first crack, we move onto secondary development. In Rob’s words “this is where the deliciousness happens”. If you are in specialty coffee world, it takes the majority of the roast time (about 75%) to get to the first crack. And then they watch it very closely after that, as they may only be in the roaster for 1-2 minutes thereafter.

We only touched the very tip of this as a topic, but there are different schools of thought as to how primary vs secondary development time should look to get the best out of the coffee. Some say a longer primary development is better. Others prefer a longer secondary time, to extract more flavour. Either way – a properly developed coffee should be ripe, sweet and balanced. I’m interested in learning more about this, so I’ll peg it as a future topic.

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Finished! Its time to cool to beans

6. After secondary development is finished, the roast is stopped and the beans are quickly emptied into the front tray of the roaster. Cool air is quickly sucked over them to cool the beans as quickly as possible and minimise further roasting from any residual heat.

7. The batch is weighed and packed, ready to rest for 48 hours before quality control (that’s tasting).

Something Rob is clearly excited about is to have a variety of stock rotating through the espresso bar at Rex Tremendae. “If we’re always using the same coffee, we’re not learning”. Roasting in small batches allows Rob to change coffees regularly which is something his customers love and he says gets to the heart of what speciality coffee is all about – talking about the coffee. “I want to get people using more words than just ‘smooth’ or ‘bitter’ to describe it”. He thinks that the average speciality coffee consumer is ready to use a better range of coffee vocab. Coffee roasters and baristas taste so many coffees, it’s sometimes hard for them to remember a time when ‘coffee’ had a generic flavour. Of course, the best way to develop your palate to understand this is to drink lots of different coffees – and more importantly – talk about it!

You can meet Rob and talk to him about coffee at Rex Tremendae, 547 Flinders Lane (between Spencer & King Sts).

The Happiest Valley in Collingwood

If you’ve read Devouring Melbourne, you’ll know that I really like the stories behind our ‘food treasures’. They include baristas, owners of cafes and dumpling houses and sommeliers. Well, since Devouring Melbourne has been released, I’ve come across another group of consistently lovely people – the proprietors of those little gift stores that support local artisans in Melbourne. The kind of store you just love to browse in, find something to chuckle at and normally pick something up as a gift for a lovely friend.

Generally, these people are passionate about the bits and pieces they’re selling. Why else would you open a retail store filled with an eclectic array of goods?

Monique Bayer

Chris Couch

One such person is Chris Couch – owner of Happy Valley on Smith St in Collingwood. There he is in the pic. You may recognise Chris from his previous ventures. He owned Polyester Records for 11 years and ran independent record label Candle Records for 13 years.

But since last November, he’s been at Happy Valley. “I missed having a retail space and over the years thought of owning a design space, book shop and art gallery so I’m made a combination of three to create Happy Valley. It took 18 months from the start to get the shop up and running. In that time I’ve traveled interstate and overseas a lot. Gone to a lot of local markets and spent way too much time online researching. But it’s paid off in the end”.
The first thing I noticed when I entered the store was how on-trend it was with the local area. Chris agrees. “I had the concept for the shop and I had exact requirements. I wanted timber floorboards, high ceiling and a double fronted store. Luckily the shop has all these and more. My friend Harley Vincent is an architect and he helped pull all my ideas together to make the space extremely functional. As there’s a large design element to what the shop stocks I had to make the space inviting”.

Monique Bayer

Yep. Happy Valley stocks this.

All that flows through to what we find on the shelves as well. “I would say 80% of the stock is from Victoria. I’ve made a conscious decision to support local designers and makers. It’s great to see the success of the shop helping helping local artisans. I’ve been able to stock exactly what I planned to. [One of my favourites is] the Wes Anderson book. It’s beautiful and it’s difficult to find great books on film directors.”

While I fell in love with the wallets by Status Anxiety, what are the other customers loving? “The trophy wife ‘trophies’ always get a laugh. Surprisingly, people love our card selection. I get so many comments. People love their cards”.

Perfect to go with the small thing you’ve picked up for your friend.

Visit Happy Valley at 294 Smith St, Collingwood. They stock ‘Devouring Melbourne: uncovering a delicious city‘.

Fish curry at home

People often remark that I must eat out a lot. Yes, but truth be told, I like tinkering in the kitchen even more! Normally, I get my inspiration for cooking from whatever looks great at the market. Cookbooks and cooking shows are great, but rarely do I head to the market with a shopping list for a specific dish.

But recently I was inspired by a label. When I launched ‘Devouring Melbourne‘ last year, I invited the food treasures behind The Hidden Souk to the party, but they couldn’t make it. So they sent me a couple of samples of their spices in apology. I thought that was a nice gesture!

Adrian Kennedy and Lucy-Ann May have been telling the stories behind spices through their Melbourne based online spice store The Hidden Souk for a few years.

Monique BayerThey sent me 2 samples from their new collection – Yucatan Red from North American and Berbere from Ethiopia. I know almost nothing about American spices, so I took the advice on the label that it went with fish. I picked up some nice firm rockling and chose to pair the blend with a tomato based sauce.

So I sweated off some onion and garlic and added a good tablespoon of the spices. I was delighted by the colour it gave the onions. Of course, the aroma was amazing. What struck me was the smoky, savouryness of it. After the

Monique Bayer

The spices gave the onions good colour.

onions were softish (I still wanted them to have a little crunch in the dish) I added a can of tomatoes, some peas and spinach. I wanted to keep the flavours simple so that the spice blend would come through. I let this simmer for an hour or so to let the tomato reduce down.

When it was time to eat I added the fish for 10 minutes.

My friend eating with me is gluten free, so I made a set polenta to serve along side. She had brought a Cab Sav from the good people at Bress in Harcourt. My friend really liked the fish dish and I was pretty happy with it as well. The smokyness of the blend held its own against the cooking time and the big wine.

Monique BayerI really don’t know much about blending spices, but I do like complex flavours, so it’s nice to have people like LucyAnn and Adrian to help out.

Devouring Melbourne with Cathie Robertson

We’ve taken out over a thousand people by now, but no one has experienced our tours quite as comprehensively as Cathie Robertson.

Monique Bayer

Upstairs at Koko Black is a great escape from the city bustle

Cathie received a Walk Melbourne Gold Package for Christmas from her son, Craig. This was 2 tickets for The Melbourne Experience and signed copy of ‘Devouring Melbourne’.

Cathie saw this as an opportunity for her and her partner Ray to treat Ray’s brother, Gilbert, to a new look at the town he used to live in …. a long time ago. These days Gilbert lives in what he described ‘a village in Western Australia of just a couple of thousand people’.

It was a hot day (40 deg+), but we took it slow and finished on a rooftop sipping champagne under an umbrella.

Monique Bayer

Parisian delights at La Belle Miette

Cathie then decided to treat her fiends Ange, Judy, Julie to her new found knowledge of the city by taking them out on the chocolate walk from Devouring Melbourne. Cathie said that “my friends and I had a great day out in the city. We followed the suggestions for the Chocolate Walk and naturally included some retail therapy in the shops that were on the way!”

These ladies visit the city pretty regularly but still mentioned that their favorite part of the walk was “discovering some hidden treasures, such as the lane ways and interesting shops.” They

Monique Bayer

Retail therapy!

hadn’t realized that there were so many chocolate shops in such a concentrated area, but didn’t have any problems picking favorites – La Belle Miette and Chocolait.

Cathie left me with the following message: “Ange, Judy, Julie and I had a lovely day in the city and plan to try the Wine walk or Rooftop bars with our partners!” Watch out Melbourne!