Nowadays, finding a Starbucks at the end of every other lane is a common experience most of us share when stepping out of our houses. Having replaced most traditional cafes, it has become a popular space for social gatherings with friends, meeting dates, or as a convenient work spot with free Wi-Fi. Starbucks has also popularised coffees that are milk or cream-based, such as its flavored lattes, macchiatos, etc., of which social media is constantly abuzz. Yet Australia and New Zealand are two countries where the trend of flavorful coffee with milk simply hasn’t caught up. In fact, they are two of the few countries where multinational coffeehouses have failed to break in. Natives here are attached to their local cafes and are willing to sacrifice convenience for good quality coffee. Over the following sections, we’ll explore the coffee culture of these two nations in greater detail.
Coffee Culture in Australia
Australia owes much of its coffee culture to the stream of migrants who settled in the country after the end of World War II. Those of Italian and Greek heritage were both especially common among those who chose Australia as their refuge, and this influence marks Australian coffee to this day. The Italian immigrants gave Australia its love of espressos, and 60% of all coffees sold in the country today is of this type. 95% of all cafes in Australia are also independently owned as natives have held on to local coffeehouses as places for congregation.
Instead of American brands like Starbucks making inroads into Australia, the Aussie coffee culture is driving the rise of a new wave of cafes across places like New York and Denver. These cafes serve traditional Australian espressos, flat whites, long blacks, and other popular coffees that Australians enjoy. While cafes in America can often be busy spots with people going about their work, streaming in and out to refill their caffeine dose, Australians are more relaxed. Coffeehouses are spots for leisurely meetings with friends and family, not a second workplace. Natives take the time to appreciate their brews, and caffeine isn’t usually a priority while drinking coffee.
Coffee Culture in New Zealand
Coffee culture in New Zealand shares many qualities with that of Australia. They both love espressos and flat whites, a beverage both claim ownership of. Both have been influenced by migrant populations that moved there after the war, resulting in coffee becoming an integral part of the lives of its home population as well. Yet people in New Zealand drink much, much more coffee than its neighbor. While Australia is only the 42nd largest consumer in the world, New Zealand ranks 13th, ahead of even the US.
It is important to mention that a sizeable portion of this coffee is either instant or Robusta. Instant coffee has been popular in New Zealand since 1890, and about 70% of all coffee served here today is of this variant. Despite the relatively minor share of ground coffee drinkers, New Zealand has more roasters per capita than any other nation, highlighting the innovation and passion natives here have for coffee.
If you plan on visiting the country, remember that it has retained some of its practices from its time as a British colony. This means that mornings and afternoons around 3 are particularly popular for coffee. You might also find that outside the main cities of Auckland or Wellington, free and fast Wi-Fi in cafes can be a precious resource. Like in Australia, cafe gatherings are generally meant for conversation and social connection as opposed to work. This also means that cafes here can be great places to make new friends for newcomers and travelers.
The Flat White Debate
We’ve mentioned the flat white a few times so far, but in this section, we’ll explore exactly what it is and the significance it holds for Australia and New Zealand. A flat white is essentially a cappuccino with less milk froth and a shinier surface. The drink is made with an espresso shot and steamed milk and is served in a vessel that is usually smaller (175 ml) than the one used for lattes (225 ml). Both countries claim that the flat white originated in their respective regions, and the debate has become more relevant than ever due to the growing influence of coffee from these nations.
In an ironic twist, it was Starbucks including flat whites on their menu that in part caused the beverage to rise in popularity. Historically, the term has been synonymous with milky coffee, but nowadays it represents a specific preparation with microfoam on a mixture of milk and coffee. The act of sullying natural coffee beans with milk or any other adulterant can be horrifying for some purists, but the flat white has quickly become a concoction enjoyed in various parts of the world.
The antipodean nations of Australia and New Zealand are two of the few countries that have been left untouched by the Starbucks phenomenon that has engulfed much of the western world. Its unique attachment to local cafes, espressos, and flat whites make it stand out from other countries, resulting in the creation of an entirely new coffee culture. A friendly rivalry over the origins of the flat white, while relevant for the coffee industry, is emblematic of the passion for coffee held by the natives of these countries.