A Way of Life
“G’day mate, toss another cup of coffee on the barbie!” Despite what you might think, this is in fact sadly NOT how Australians order their coffee. Nonetheless they ARE ordering it, and a lot of it, from more than 6500 independent cafes around the country, adding up to over $4 billion in annual sales.
But there’s something slightly different about the “lots” of coffee that Australians drink in comparison to the “lots” that Americans drink. An Australian named Nick Stone moved to New York in 2010 and opened up a rather successful chain of cafes inspired by Melbourne’s coffee culture. He was sure that the City That Never Sleeps could benefit from a bit more laid-back culture. In Melbourne, where Stone is from, coffee isn’t considered fuel as much as a part of a healthy and active lifestyle, and grabbing a coffee is an opportunity for meaningful conversation and relaxing.
The Cultural Background
How did the culture develop like this? Its roots are steeped in history and geography. The overwhelming majority of Australia’s 25 million people live within striking distance of the beach, and surf culture is embedded in the Australian way of life. Another advantage is found in a strong resistance to chains, so most coffee shops are mom-and-pop style establishments that are tightly connected to the neighborhoods they’re in.
The other significant historical factor is Australia’s strong Italian immigrant population. They didn’t just bring their families with them when leaving Europe, they also brought their love of good, strong coffee, which is still reflected in the visibility of some of the most popular brands down under, like Lavazza and Vittoria.
Keeping It in the Neighborhood
This combination of a culturally-ingrained taste for high-quality coffee, the preference for fun and funky coffee shops, and the slow-paced lifestyle aspect to Australia’s coffee culture have made it nearly impossible for large chains to take hold. In fact, since the 90s Starbucks had opened up over 80 shops throughout the country; today just 20 of them remain in business, after years of operating at a loss. Native Australians will tell you that even those 20 remaining shops are frequented only by tourists ;)
At the Counter
In terms of the drinks themselves it seems Australians prefer a dairy-heavy brew, with lattes and the Australian coining “flat white” (a shot of espresso with slightly frothed hot milk, but without the pure foam at the top like a latte) comprising the overwhelming majority of all cups ordered. Despite the enthusiasm that ‘Straya has for coffee and the vibrant cafe culture, though, the country is surprisingly not in the top 10 coffee consumers, coming in at 28th in the world. Just goes to show that down under coffee is about enjoyment, not about powering through the work day.
Stay tuned till next week when we take a look at coffee in Germany, or as they call it Das Kaffee!