Coffee Around the World: Australia

International Coffee Quest

A kangaroo silhouette with the Australia flag within it

It was never so much an outright statement or conversation when I worked at various coffee shops, it was more an understanding: Australians do coffee well. Or, at the very least, they do coffee distinctively. I remember Australian tourists praising one of my coffee shop’s brews with flabbergasted voices; they’d yet to find anything in America that matched their standards. I also remember when the “Flat White” trend began trending, an Australian-original from what I heard that we had to have customers try to explain to us because it wasn’t in our repertoire; there were several different versions that all tasted like a latte to me and I wondered what was so special about this supposed Australian invention that was making people seek it with risk and confusion.

I’ve since learned that both Australia and New Zealand claim invention of the beverage and that, technically, it’s supposed to be a smaller amount of steamed milk poured over espresso, like a cappuccino but with microfoam instead of microfoam. [Insert indifferent shrug here].

I remember one customer saying when I asked why he preferred us to try to make a flat white when we apparently didn’t know how, that he just thought it tasted better, sweeter almost. I swear, it always just tasted like a latte to me, though perhaps a little more watery? That being said, I am not downplaying the influence of Australian coffee in the least; nor am I denying that Australian coffee culture has inspired American coffee culture in distinct ways recently. The flat white, as a phenomenon, is just my reference for Australian coffee; but, I knew that couldn’t be the great Australian influence. I obviously haven’t had a legitimate flat white because its influence has gotten far enough to now be on the official menu at Starbucks; that tangible signal of Australia’s coffee influence.

It turns out that influence may be less about the content of their coffee shops and beverages and a whole lot about their coffee vibe. Whatever it is, Australians definitively love their coffee. As of 2015, they were recorded to consume more beans per capita than any other in the world. Coffee makers worldwide draw some type of inspiration from Australia; Singapore shop owners note that they trained in all things coffee shop down under, calling it the land of coffee gurus. In 2014, an Australian coffee shop won the World Barista Championship in Seattle.

Reportedly Australians have been in the espresso cafe game since much earlier, putting its flood of Italian and Greek immigrants to use after the second world war, and benefiting from the development and perfection of Italian espresso makers. Perhaps because of this early start, Australia has been ahead of the trends when it comes to single-origin, organic, fair and direct trade, and specially trained baristas. It’s not just that there’s a lot of coffee there, it’s that every coffee drinker has high standards because every coffee shop has high standards. Apparently, you have to really try hard to find a bad cup of coffee in the island nation.

One of the most unusual characteristics of Australia’s coffee scene is that it is not, as in the US (especially in the metropolitan areas) linked to work and productivity. Many Australian coffee entrepreneurs have expressed surprise at the coffee culture here that involves laptops, headphones and seemingly never-ending espresso refills.

In Australia, coffee is a part of leisure, well-being, mental and physical health, and even going surfing on the weekends. While I’ve seen the more leisurely, social vibe in coffee shops in my small, southern hometown (where coffee for work is made at work or at home before work) and in some more eclectic shops off the grid in New York, the overall coffee culture here has become linked with our need to be constantly going and producing and squeezing every minute for all the juice it’s got.

Coffee is more experiential in Australia, meaning that they’ve internalized a classic Italian mindset about it; Starbucks took that away from espresso bars a bit in America, turning them into assembly lines of caffeination. With the advent of latte art, pour-overs and specialty brews in the third/specialty wave, we are definitely starting to embrace that more. It is likely that the Australian influence has had a hand in that as well.

Australia was also said to be influenced by the British Empire’s presence there for so long; the British are known for long, almost luxurious breakfasts (though stereotypically they enjoy tea over coffee) and it seems that this luxuriousness extended to the cafe scene. Coffee shops in Australia are where friends gather for extended hours, or even where one makes friends while sipping any of the typical but superb coffee options. You can see this influence in the rising number of independent cafes that encourage no electronic devices, have no public WiFi, and even have cheeky, condescending signs like “Just Talk To People.” It makes sense that as our society swings toward over-productivity and over-caffeinated, they’ll be a matching swing toward slowing down and finding luxury. It’s a welcome change not only to the emphasis on industriousness and capital-earning but also to the frenzied political and social dynamics that feel on the verge of simultaneously imploding and exploding every single day.

So, be Australian; whether you order a Flat White or a Long Black (an Americano), try sitting at a coffee shop with friends and forgetting about Twitter, politics, global warming and student loans. Use that caffeination to form genuine bonds; after all, those are the ones that are more likely to survive when the grid inevitably goes down or when you need a team to help you survive the zombie apocalypse.

Cheers!

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11 Comments

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  1. Nice post. I often notice different groups. You have those who sit and talk to each other, and then those that are absorbed in themselves; their electronic devices. Usually sitting alone or in pairs, each doing their own thing.

    Yep, Australia sounds like a nice place to visit and regain a ‘human-ness’. 😀

  2. I agree with you!
    There is actually no difference between lattes and flat whites, a latte just has slightly more froth.

    But still Australian coffee is the best average quality of coffee in the world, it’s hard to find a poorly made espresso.

  3. Oh wow. I never actually viewed Australians as such big coffee consumers. It reminds me of my country, since we drink coffee often, not just to wake up, but also in our leisure time, or when we go out with friends.
    Coffee shows once more that it’s engraved in many cultures, not only as a consumable, but as a part of everyday life. When you think about, coffee is something that connect every country in the world, and something that every country consumes. Whether its Australia or America, we all wake up with a cup of coffee.

  4. I believe people in Australia is so kind. Though, I havent been there. They are the warmest they say.
    Please correct me if im wrong I thinkt the top/best barista came from Australia? If my memory still serves me right. 😀

  5. I haven’t had a flat white yet, but I am interested in trying it out. I’m not very fond of black coffee, so I prefer sweeter and creamier versions. I didn’t know that Australians invented the flat white, so that’s really something!

  6. I had no idea about Australian coffee, so reading this article helped me learn something new about the coffee origin. I haven`t tried out a flat white yet, but I will definitelly do so in the future. I guess I am more of a black coffee or a frappuccino type of person….:D What can I say, one keeps me awake, the other just puts a smile on my face when drinking it…especially by the sea…:D

    When it comes to going out with friends out for a coffee, I always insist that we put our phones aside and just enjoy each others company for a while. My time is precious and I am not willing to waste it to go out for a coffeewith someone and be on the phone, when I can do that at home all by myself. If I can make time to go out with someone, the only thing I want in return is to respect my time and just be present, not absorbed in an electronic devise.

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