Most of us are familiar with the long tradition of Italian espresso bars and Parisian bistros. But how much do you know about the coffee culture in Australia?
The coffee-crazed city of Melbourne has more cafes per person than any other city on the planet, which is one of the reasons the city has been nicknamed the coffee capital of the world.
What makes the coffee culture in Australia so special and where does it come from? This article will give you all the reasons you should put Melbourne on your coffee destination list.
How It All Began
Coffee was first brought to Australia by Italian and Greek immigrants after the second world war. With their longstanding passion for coffee, they also brought the new, freshly invented, espresso machine.
While the rest of the world was slowly adapting to this revolutionary highly pressurized brewing system, the Australians were one of the first nations brewing espressos from the very start.
In the 2000s, the coffee industry started booming with a rapid rise of coffee shops in Melbourne and the rest of the country, establishing the roots of coffee culture way ahead of the rest of the world.
This rapid growth was possible due to the Australian high standard of living, where most people had time and money to enjoy their daily cup of coffee in a cafe. Quickly, the newly-established coffee houses became the new epicenters of social life.
Third Wave Coffee at Its Finest
While the Italian coffee culture is grounded in tradition and remains quite static, the Australian one took the advantage of being free from European constraints and started developing very quickly.
The coffee culture in Australia embraced the third-wave coffee movement, focusing on developing every stage of the coffee-making process, with cafes providing cutting edge sourcing, roasting, and brewing techniques.
Today, more than 4 million coffees are sold in Australia every day and the entire island of Manhattan has fewer coffee places than Australia’s third-largest coffee mecca, Canberra.
Melbourne: The Coffee Capital of the World
Out of all the cities in Australia, it was Melbourne residents that fell in love with coffee the most.
For Melburnians, coffee is an integral part of their identity. They identify as coffee snobs and almost every social interaction is acceptable to happen over coffee.
There are over 1600 cafes in the city, out of which 95% are independently owned. The high concentration of passionate cafe owners drives innovation and standards of taste.
This is reflected in the city’s coffee landscape. In Melbourne, cafes are scattered all around the city in laneways, station underpasses, or office lobbies. The old milk bars are converted to cafes, and unique coffee spots are set up in warehouses or postmodern apartment blocks.
With such high standards and a wide range of choices, Melbourne locals can recognize good coffee and everyone knows where to get the best coffee within their 2 km radius.
Apart from the number of cafes in Melbourne, here are some of their unique features:
- Neighborhood Vibe: the cafes in Melbourne tend to take on the character of the neighborhood. Whether it’s a chic apartment block or an area with a trendy art scene, the decor and vibe of the cafe reflect the environment it’s set up in. This creates places with unique character, makes the coffee spots integrated into the neighborhood’s identity, and makes locals feel at home.
- Communal tables: long communal tables are a common feature for most Melbourne cafes. This establishes a sense of community and sets the cafes up as shared spaces where everyone is welcome to join and feel comfortable, even when they come by themselves.
- Local businesses: there is a strong start-up culture within the Melbourne cafe scene. This means that cafes are more individual and the experience is more personal.
- Brunch: the specialty coffee is paired with delicious food and innovative breakfast dishes. Going out for brunch is very common and most cafes are booked out every weekend.
- Accessible specialty coffee: most cafes offer filter, cold drip, and different single origins as regular menu items, meaning that most locals have refined taste and knowledge of coffee beverages that are not limited to cappuccinos or lattes.
- Best baristas in the world: Melbourne cafes pay great attention to the brewing process and this city is the home of some of the best baristas in the world, including Dave Makin, Matt Perger, and Craig Simon.
Home of Coffee Innovation
The rich coffee culture, an abundance of cafes, and world-class baristas make Australia one of the leading coffee innovators. It is the birthplace of now widely known coffee beverages such as the flat white or long black.
The term ‘flat white’ was first coined by the Australian Alan Preston in 1985. Starbucks added the drink to the menu in 2015, and then it was adopted by the rest of the world.
Taste the Difference
How does this rich coffee culture translate in terms of taste? Compared to the rest of the world, Australians prefer smaller sizes, stronger coffee and lighter roasts.
Compared to the coffee in the US where dark roast is preferred, Melbourne coffee favors lighter roasts, resulting in smoother, brighter coffee with more nuanced profiles.
In comparison with Italian cafes, where it is a common practice to mix Robusta into their blends, the cafes in Melbourne use solely high-quality 100% Arabica beans.
And because of the large number of Australian roasters, most coffee in Melbourne is locally roasted. This ensures supreme freshness and a peak flavor profile. It means that locals are very familiar with what freshly roasted coffee tastes like, and won’t settle for less.
Failed Starbucks Model
Nothing speaks of the refined taste of Australian coffee drinkers as the fact that it is the only country where the Starbucks model failed.
With the strong established coffee culture, Australians refused to get their daily caffeine hit Starbucks, knowing that they can get a better-quality cup from an independent cafe.
As a result, the coffee giant lost more than $105 million within the first seven years of operation and was forced to close more than 70% of its underperforming locations. To this day, less than 23 Starbucks remain open in the whole continent.
With their innovative coffee culture, enthusiastic local coffee drinkers, and their unique cafes, Melbourne is a coffee lover’s dream and arguably the coffee capital of the world.
What are your favorite coffee destinations?