Meet Your Barista: Aucuba Coffee Roasters

Each week we’re interviewing a new Melbourne barista to discover the person behind your morning fix. This week we met with Mark Knapp, owner of Aucuba Coffee in South Melbourne.

Mark Knapp, owner of Aucuba Coffee in South Melbourne.

New to South Melbourne, Aucuba Roasters have taken up residence on Bank Street and quickly established themselves as the ‘go to’ café for those keen on something a little less typical than your latte and smashed avo on toast.

Set in the relatively unassuming back streets, but filled with a funky fusion of Finnish meets Japanese interior styling (blue pineapple wallpaper, anyone?), here you’ll find a killer coffee selection with roughly 10 different blends of coffee available at any time across numerous brew methods. You’ll also get everything from cold drip to batch brew to straight espresso, milk coffees and everything in between.

“At the moment, my favourite would be the Guatemala Santa Isabel from the beautiful region of San Cristóbal Verapaz. It is bright and clean on the palette, with soft butterscotch mouth feel and notes of cherry and almonds. Perfect for spring as a pour over,“ Knapp tells Local Eyes.

Knapp’s had a solid career in hospitality with about 15 years under his belt (most of them as a barista) and says he had an ‘ah ha’ moment after taking his first sip of speciality coffee. It was from there that he knew the direction his career would take him.

Aucuba takes its name as a tribute to one of the many legends surrounding the discovery of coffee, which involves a certain goat herder, a monk and some very energetic goats (you can read it on their website!). The Aucuba menu is heavily influenced by Japan and is also plant-based, with a seasonal menu featuring the likes of purple potato rosti with pickled ginger, or coconut black rice pudding with compressed chilli pineapple. Carnivores fear not, the option is there to add in meat should you require – it’s organic and ethically sourced too.

It was a goal, says Knapp, to “create a totally unique plant-based menu that was so good that our customers didn’t notice the meat was missing.” And admittedly, they’ve done exactly that.

“Some of our current dishes include nashi and ginger tempura apple pie, a kale and cauliflower veggie dog, and an umami omelette. We also work with some of the best suppliers in the industry including Mörk Chocolate, Melbourne Coffee Merchants, Greene Street Juice Co and Strange Love,” he adds.

Mark says it was also incredibly important that they were able to help visitors “love and understand speciality coffee the way we do.” It’s something they do incredibly well, through their dedicated brew bar where patrons can pull up a chair and learn more about coffee than they ever thought possible, as well as an espresso bar where you can sip away at some of the finest blends you’ll ever try.

‘[We wanted to] create a totally unique plant-based menu that was so good that our customers didn’t notice the meat was missing.’ – Mark Knapp

The beans are roasted in-house and Aucuba sells both retail in-store as well as wholesale to cafes around Melbourne.

“Being able to roast our own beans was a huge part of why we started Aucuba. After I completed my Q Grader (a professional cupping accreditation), roasting was a natural progression, so I had to find a space that would accommodate a café and roastery. Roasting is such a subjective science and I wanted to share my take on some of the world’s best coffees.”

So with the café up and running, and grinding beans for the city that loves coffee like few others, there’s much on the horizon for Aucuba involving educating Melbournians about the beans they adore.

“We’d like to make Aucuba a coffee education hub of sorts, for both industry and the general public. We already use our brew bar as a platform to talk to customers about brewing methods for filter coffee, and in the coming months we’ll start running regular coffee cupping sessions and brewing master classes in the roastery. We’d also like to host other industry events such as ‘smack downs’ (barista competitions), and collaboration events with like-minded businesses,” he adds.

So what’s Knapp’s drink of choice when he’s all ‘coffeed-out’?

“I’m not sure I’m ever ‘coffeed out’, but at the end of a long day I love a nip of whisky – I’m currently drinking a Hibiki 17 year old,” he adds.

Visiting Aucuba is certainly worth the trip plus it’s just a short walk from St Kilda Road. Inside it’s relaxing and welcoming, and the menu is unlike anything you’ll find in most Melbourne cafes.

“I wanted everything at Aucuba to be very considered. From the way we roast our beans, to the food we serve and the space you sit in, we’ve made choices that we believe will change the way you enjoy eating out.”

Aucuba Coffee Roasters is located at 108 Bank St South Melbourne, and is open Monday – Friday, 7am – 4pm, Saturday and Sunday 8am – 4pm.

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