Stand & Sip: Italy Inspires Australian Espresso Bars

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Tuesday, January 14th, 2014
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A wave of stand-up espresso bars have are popping up across Australia, with the country’s coffee infused capital, Melbourne leading the trend.

The coffee product itself is the primary focus of this urban retail concept that typically serves premium coffee in a space with limited or no seating. The coffee machine and baristas are usually at the heart of the bar that would traditionally house a long counter and perhaps a small display case of pastries.

The space aims to create a collaborative environment that encourages patrons to drink, converse and get about their day. Many of the latest openings across Melbourne also feature interiors that reflect European design features – Italy, being the original home of the espresso.

The first of these stand-up bars dates back to 1898, where Caffé Manaresi opened in Florence, Italy and was nicknamed, “Caffé dei Ritti” meaning a standing or elevated café.

Caffé Manaresi

Caffé Manaresi

While the concept is still fairly new to Australia, cities including New York and London have already begun embracing the new retail format which is moving from the comfort of a café design to one that is a coffee bar.

In 2010, architect Matthe Schnepf spoke to the New York times in an article titled The New Coffee Bars: Unplug, Drink, Go discussing the concept: “I spent a semester in Rome when I was in college, and coffee there is: you come in, you pay, you get it, you drink it, you slam it and you’re out the door. “It’s not such a precious event.”

Even Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz initially opted for “no seats” opening his first chain as a stand-up coffee bar. However, he soon realised that American patrons preferred to sit down and enjoy their product.

First Starbucks Store - No Seating

First Starbucks Store – No Seating

Schultz then shifted his focus on store ambience putting that still placed the coffee bar and barista at the centre of the store while using a warm colour palette of coffee tones and wooden furniture that in some cases offered communal seating.

This in turn evolved to an American culture of cafes being utilised as portable offices for freelancers, encouraging people to connect their laptops to WiFi and stay a while which is now beginning to shift once again.

Even British coffee house, Costa Coffee recently launched Costa Espresso: a takeaway space with no seating and limited food offerings.

Costa Express Self-Service Coffee

Costa Express Self-Service Coffee

Using the same coffee they blend in their stores, Costa even went a step further to create a digital version collaborating with Intel to develop a self-serve espresso bar. The coffee “vending machine” is aesthetically sleek and ergonomic while being designed by Pininfarina, an Italian design form renowned for car design with clients including Ferrari and Maserati.

However in Australia, human staff, quality service and premium coffee remain key to the espresso bar experience.

Seven Seeds Coffee Roasters in Melbourne who run three urban coffee spaces in the CBD, Carlton and one soon to open in the Docklands precinct unveiled Traveller, a stand-up espresso bar in Crossley Street last September.

Traveller, Seven Seeds

Traveller, Seven Seeds

The small frontage of Traveller leads you to its European-inspired warm wooden interiors and vinyl red countertops complemented by glass point of sale casing and a takeaway coffee window. The bar spans mere 28 square metres without a stool in sight, but there is of course places to lean and enjoy your short black.

Also in Melbourne is Sbriga (an Italian word which translates to hurry in English) who aims to give patrons “the best 15 minutes (their) day.

Sbriga, Melbourne

Sbriga, Melbourne

“In Italy, typically this kind of place would sit under an apartment building, everyone would come down for a quick shot of coffee, a bit of banter and something sweet then be set for the morning.” Owner Mario Simeone told Three Thousand upon opening.

Located on Little Lonsdale, Sbriga opted to provide a few stools on the pavement while inside there is plenty of standing room, counters to lean on which feel like you’ve been transported back to Italy. Inside,  curved spaces, warm timber walls and light fittings handmade and 3D printed by Simeone himself reflect the shape of an artichoke – a vegetable native to the Mediterranean.

Sbriga Artichoke Lights

Sbriga Artichoke Lights

While Melbourne remains at the forefront of standing espresso spaces, Sydney has Workshop Espresso located in the basement level under Australia Square Tower with standing room or a take-away option while Perth unveiled their first stand up espresso bar called Standing Room Only in 2012.

Along with the absence of seating, there is a similar aesthetic featured across these espresso bars which clearly links the product back to its European roots. Wooden clad interiors, an inviting counter for ordering and warm colour palettes that encourage patrons to keep their digital devices at bay and savour their coffee purchase – stand, sip and be on their way.

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