Vegan push into CBD coffee market

Rhonda Dredge

When a stranger arrives in town he seeks out a place of comfort where he can slowly acclimatise to the culture of a new place.

Ben Lloyd is down from Sydney and he’s staying at the Windsor. Where’s the best place for a coffee?

He follows his nose and pops into Cafe Excello in Spring St.

“I like it here,” he says. “It’s an old school kind of place like my cafe in Sydney which has signs out the front saying no soy milk and cash only.”

There would be few coffee outlets in Melbourne’s CBD that would dare to upset consumers in this way. Lactose intolerance is an affliction and there are political ramifications about animal welfare as well.

Over old favourites, fried eggs on toast and French toast, we talk about the ins and outs of hospitality. Mr Lloyd is down for the Fine Food Show at the Convention Centre and he has a particular barrow to push. 

Cafe Excello offers what other more hip places have sacrificed, he says – a cosy setting in which a stranger can reach out for advice. The staff are approachable and friendly. When I ask for brown bread, the waitress says: “Yes my darling.” 

The Fine Food Show is agog with new developments on the coffee front, some of which might appeal to vegans. There is macadamia milk that is “designed to texture and stretch with coffee”. There’s a new way of printing art scenes on your latte. Natural is the buzz word.

I meet Mr Lloyd next to a stand making pop cheese. “I like to imagine my food coming from its place of production,” he explained. “The less stages in that path the better.”

There have never been so many choices of milk. An oat milk shortage recently made its way into the news pages of the New Yorker. Coffee comes with a choice of cow, soy, macadamia, oat and almond milk with hemp milk on the horizon.

Coffee critics who recount stories about the various properties of each of the milks often sound like zealots. Are vegans using marketing tools to push their cause? Are we afraid of them?

Deakin University anthropologist Dr Gillian Tan, in LaTrobe Street for Social Science Week, says not to worry. Anthropologists look at similarities as well as differences. 

“Almond milk, hemp milk … we haven’t let go of our dependency on the idea of milk. What does this say about the individual’s search for meaning?” 

Cafe Excello is not as radical as Bar Italian in Leichardt. They offer soy milk and accept cards, which now account for 70 per cent of their business. Public servants in the city come here for their takeaways. There’s no need for marketing. The quality of a brew spreads word of mouth. A regular costs $3.50 and that speaks for itself.

With takeaways now costing up to $6, particularly at cafes that claim to be able to alter your brain chemistry, all eyes are turned on the latest coffee outlet to hit Broadsheet, Guild in the State Library, which opened last week. 

The owner, pictured in white in the lead-up to the opening, runs the Almond Milk Company. Pressure is already mounting. A refillable cup, aimed at vegan scholars in the library who might need multiple top-ups during the day, will cost $20. 

That must be a world record. 

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