Melbourne’s eXpresso Cafés — Part 4

Expresso Joe Drive Thru Coffee

The furious development of Melbourne’s inner-north in recent years has made a huge impact on the food and coffee scene, but the gentrification has come at a price. Fitzroy is already ruined, Collingwood is not far behind, and since the 2013 publicity frenzy sparked by the ‘Beyoncé in Brunswick’ phenomenon, the almost total yuppification of these northern suburbs will soon be complete.

Heading north of Brunswick, though, is the still very much alive multi-cultural melting pot of Coburg. Historically, there haven’t been too many reasons to visit Coburg, apart from top-quality falafel, the Coburg Drive-In, and the Pots ‘N’ Pots life-size figurine store.

Need a life-size sculpture of Bruce Lee, Elvis, or an Egyptian tomb? Coburg’s Pots ‘N’ Pots will serve you well.

It certainly hasn’t been renowned for quality coffee, although you might recall that 200-tons of Coffico’s famous Dolce Blend is large-batch roasted in a factory here. Don’t worry, this article is not going to be a revelation about artisan coffee in Coburg, but rather, the discovery of one of the highest expressions of takeaway dining — the eXpresso drive-thru coffee.

Situated on Sydney Road, just north of Bell Street — probably considered the contemporary boundary between multi-culturally diverse Coburg (Coburgistan) and the more industrial areas — Expresso Joe Drive Thru Coffee sits on what is probably an abandoned service station against the infamous backdrop of the old Pentridge Prison’s bluestone walls.

When it comes to eXpresso, it doesn’t get much more express than this. There isn’t even anywhere to sit down. Expresso Joe’s is for people who don’t have time to waste lounging around sipping lattes, or even to get out of their SUVs. Sometimes you just need a quick caffeine hit to help dull the pain of a suffocating new mortgage that has you entrapped in a shoebox apartment inside a (most likely haunted) abandoned prison.

For $6.70 at Expresso Joe you get a small soy latte (obviously in a takeaway cup — this place doesn’t even have chairs), a Nutella muffin, and a FREE copy of Melbourne’s favourite tabloid newspaper the Herald Sun — plus unmatched prison views.

All this for just $6.70 — only in Coburg.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read the Herald Sun, and it did keep me interested for literally minutes. In that time I learned that: David Hasselhoff crashed his dune buggy; a Broadmeadows costume shop had to pull an Islamic Extremist ‘Terrorist Man’ costume from the shelves; and bogan kids ride dirt bikes without the recommended safety attire — truly groundbreaking journalism.

Here’s an idea of what you get, along with a single page of World News, in your 88-page copy of the Herald Sun:

22-pages dedicated to horse racing, greyhounds and sport; 20-pages of Local News (politics, local stories, and obviously some sort of football angle); 13-pages of Entertainment, Celebrity Gossip and TV; 9-pages of Business; 6-pages of Classifieds; plus a 6-page Advertising Liftout. And this was on a Wednesday. I shudder to think how the ratio skews on weekends.

In terms of speed, Expresso Joe is right up there with the best of them. Even though I got distracted by the street art adorning the premises, by the time I stopped the clock, only 1m:51s had passed. And that was with two cars already in line at the drive thru service window.

The coffee was probably one of the worst I’ve ever tasted, and I’ve made plenty of trips down the Hume Highway. It was weak, and what hint of flavour I could discern, was not pleasing to the palette. The soy milk tasted cheap and nasty, probably not even up to Aldi’s ‘Inner Goodness’ standard, and there was no enjoyable aroma to speak of. But as I’ve come to learn on this quest for Melbourne’s best eXpresso, it’s not about the coffee.

The Expresso Joe experience hinges on the drive- (or ride-) up window, fast service, and the fact that you can get a coffee and muffin plus a FREE Herald Sun for less than the price of a single-origin long black brewed in a whimsical contraption and served on a saucer with a collectible teaspoon in some Collingwood alleyway lit with Edison bulbs. Convenience is the major factor here, and even for cyclists, a detour through Expresso Joe on a bunch ride would certainly save time. It would also alleviate the need for shuffling about precariously in your cleats and lycra on polished concrete trying to find a vacant vintage stool — an unfortunate reality for cyclists at many typical inner-city cafés. Simply roll up, grab your coffee and keep on riding. Obviously this would necessitate riding through Coburg, so you will need to make a judgement call there about the risk and reward.

Expresso Joe overall rating: 4.5 Clooneys

Expresso Joe is clearly leading the pack when it comes to genuine eXpresso. The complete lack of a sit-down option, quick service, and one of the worst coffees that you’ll ever taste, ticks a lot of eXpresso boxes. And although I’d never really considered reading the Herald Sun before, lounging by the bluestone walls of the Pentridge Prison, reading about the lost lover who dived from the balcony of a cruise ship en-route to Sydney in 2013, I must admit to suffering more than a tinge of eXpresso-induced melancholy.

‘It was a conspicuous act of courage that should not go unrecognised.’ A posthumous Cross of Valour is being proposed for this 30-year-old man. These volatile lovers were seen playing the pokies together only hours before they both ended up in the Tasman Sea, making this a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.

Expresso Joe’s certainly provides a welcome reason to visit Coburg, and some people will need one. After all, it might be a while until a music star the calibre of Beyoncé makes it here to turbo-charge the gentrification process.