They say one habit of a highly effective person is the ability to focus on goals. Ken Taing is living proof of this notion. Ken started his journey in the Melbourne hospitality industry in 1988, the same year his son Brian was born, who by the way is also a successful business partner at Workshop Bros. He forged his way onto the coffee scene in 2006, opening a tiny café in South Melbourne. By 2011, Ken and business partner Karen opened Oak Room, in Ashburton, and etched his name into Melbourne’s Coffee Scene. It was there that I met Ken, who displayed a passion for coffee Id not seen before. His unremitting quest to craft that perfect cup was evident, yet he unpretentiously shunned the limelight, instead focusing on the humble beans. That focus still remains, and now at Focus on Balwyn, Ken not only demonstrates his respect for his loyal and new customers, but shows the utmost respect for the bean.
Focus has a contemporary fit out, with soft timber features, and fresh white walls. It’s the kind of café you can spend 3 hours in, and think only 20 minutes have passed. The menu uses fresh produce, and has a selection of Korean inspired dishes. Breakfast includes the Matcha green tea waffles topped with coconut ice-cream & fruit compote; House cured pork jowl with potato rosti and poached eggs; and the Smashed Avocado with Persian fetta on Pumpkin toast. Lunch features Pan-fried duck breast with warm pearl couscous; Wagyu Beef Burger with Kimchi puree; and Fried Chicken & buttermilk waffle with garlic soy sauce dressing, and spiced maple syrupy.
Coffee is the cornerstone of Focus, and Ken has all the right tools to extract the best out of his beans. There are not many cafes in Melbourne where you will find 4 Panama Gesha offerings from the Ninety Plus collection, a natural Ethiopian, 5 Tanzanians, 4 Colombians, and 2 Costa Rican single origin beans. Ken executes his skilful methods at his faithful 3 group Slayer machine; as well as a comprehensive row of pour over brewers, 2 Siphons, and large cold drip tower.
Predictably, I opted for the Ethiopian Nekisse, a long-time favourite of mine. For those who have not heard me wax lyrical about this coffee, the Nekisse was originally named as “Nectar from Shakisso” in 2009. Its profile is defined by a creamy mouthfeel and heavy berry jam flavour, with outstanding tropical fruit notes. My first espresso shot of this stunning Ethiopian natural permeated the palate with that fruity goodness I hold so dear. My second shot was of the Panama Perci, another Ninety Plus offering which takes its name from the work “Perspective”. This coffee certainly puts things into perspective, and delivered a complex array of fruit flavours, with a big juicy body.
The team at Focus embody the finest qualities of Melbourne’s Coffee Culture. My visit left me reflecting on a quote I once read from Lin Yutang. “No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” Visiting Ken after month of traversing Melbournes vast café scene, is like returning home after a long trip. The familiar pillow serves as a fitting metaphor for the comfort one appreciates, for the extra mile Ken goes to keep his customers happy. Which reminds me- never lose Focus.
439 Whitehorse Road
Balwyn VIC 3103