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Op-Ed: Australian Coffee Culture

by Eliza Sullivan

Photography by Eliza Sullivan

I needed coffee—just coffee. What I hadn’t realized is that mass batch drip coffee is as rare in Sydney as a wallaby in Manhattan. So, after wandering into the nearest shop, I ordered a flat white and was on my way.

Many of my most formative years were spent in cities where distance is only a measure of space between different Starbucks. What I didn’t know before departing for Sydney was this iced skinny vanilla latte-addicted girl was going to be living in the only city where Starbucks had failed.

In general, Aussie culture is more relaxed than in America. People in the US love knowing that they can go to any Starbucks in any part of the country and order the same drink. However, in Australia, craftwork is essential. Sydney has no shortage of coffee shops, but it hardly any coffee chains. Aussies have a passion for coffee that goes far beyond the American ideal of coffee as a caffeine fix. In Australia, coffee is an enjoyable and relaxing part of the day.

After a week spent in Sydney, I was on the road again. A group of us were travelling down the New South Wales coast. Our guide included coffee stops as specific parts of our daily itinerary. We stopped in Kiama, a place where the coastline seemed to stretch forever along sparkling blue water, while on our way to the famed Kiama Blowhole. Kiama was the first sight of non-urban Australia we had seen and much more like the Australia I had imaged.

After deciding that I was determined to embrace the Australian attitude toward coffee, I ordered a cappuccino and banana bread. Here I learned about the Aussie custom of serving banana bread toasted with butter. From that moment on, my mornings in Australia were changed for the better with this new dietary staple. But I was still at a loss when it came to coffee.

This all changed when we stopped one morning at the Mossy Café in Mossy Point, New South Wales. This small-town shop was a staple for locals who came in droves over the next hour we were there. My coffee took far longer than any US standard—but it was well worth the wait. My cappuccino (which at this point had become my signature order) had notes of cinnamon in the rich coffee flavor, and it was topped with chocolate.

Since our bus was a coffee-free zone, all our beverages had to be finished in the coffee shops. This added to my impression of coffee shop culture in Australia. There’s something very pleasant about sitting in a coffee shop with a great group of people, enjoying a warm beverage.

Later in the trip, we spent an afternoon in Central Tilba, a small, quaint town. It was here that we found the Tilba Teapot, an adorable little building that had great food and coffee. Now fully confident in my coffee choice, I ordered yet another cappuccino.

One of our last stops on the road was in Bermagui, where we found Mister Jones coffee shop. The shop was open, with just a table, a coffee machine and a pile of cups. This shop was at the heart of the relaxed Australian lifestyle.

The coffee shops I visited during my trip shaped my perception of Aussie coffee culture. I found that the Aussie coffee culture equated to the Australian culture and way of life. Frankly America, we’re doing it wrong.


Long Black: In Australia, a ‘long black’ is the same as an ‘Americano.’ It’s made up of about 1/3 espresso with hot water. It’s generally the closest to a black coffee you can find in New South Wales.

Flat White: It gained fame in the U.S. when Starbucks introduced the drink to their menu. It is a shot of espresso topped with steamed milk and no foam.

Espresso: Self-explanatory—lots of caffeine in a little cup.

Latte: The latte is a staple of any coffee shop in any city. In Australia, it is a shot of espresso and steamed milk with foam.

Cappuccino: The difference between a latte and a cappuccino in Australia is the amount of milk used. A cappuccino has equal parts steamed milk and foam.

Macchiato: In Australia, a macchiato is an espresso shot topped with foamed milk.

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