Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Coffee Culture

The coffee culture in Australia is above and beyond that of anywhere I've been in the U.S. I mean, initially, the lack of Starbucks and other drive-thru style cafes in this region really bothered me. I'm an American after all and I'm very used to my convenience! As far as convenient coffee goes, the gas stations here in town (and also Subway) have these automatic espresso machines that, for $3.50 and a push of a button, will make you a short black, long black, flat white, latte, cappucino or mocha! And you know, the coffees not really all that bad. It's not even instant coffee! Alas, being American, the cup size of these coffees is painfully small for me and I'd have to buy 3 or 4 to equal one venti Starbucks and I just don't think coffee from a machine is worth $10/$12!

So, the lack of convenience out here is, well, inconvenient! But I must say that you can buy an espresso or latte just about anywhere. Even the hairdresser! I do just pine for a brewed coffee every now and again (automatic drip machine style) and the closest I can get to it is a cafe Americano (or long black) which brings me to the final realization of why the long black was called the Americano in the first place: we like our watered down coffee. lol It is really nice though knowing that absolutely any restaurant you go to will have given all their staff barista training and can make you a fresh cappuccino or latte without batting an eyelash. Even steak houses and Mexican restaurants have an espresso machine behind the counter. This is real coffee they make!

To Cream, to Whiten

Coffee creamer--or whitener as they call it here--is not very common. When I explain to Aussies what we put in our coffee, and then the extent to which it is available and the flavor choices, they are more than intrigued. I can find Coffee-mate here, but only in those tiny little cups and it is EXPENSIVE. Not worth it. The powdered version is really easy to come by and, when I first moved here, the powdered Coffee-mate (available only in the original flavor) is what I used to whiten my coffee. Most people just use milk in their coffee, and now I do too. I used to look forward to visiting home and have my creamer again but, honestly, I'm not really a fan of it anymore. When I do have it, I miss the taste of the coffee that gets lost in the French Vanilla or White Chocolate Macadamia nonsense. I like a splash of whole milk, plain and simple, these days. It's an Australianism I think will stick with me for life, right up there with the ketchup on my eggs. lol

Aussie Coffee-isms At Home

  • Instant

Aussies love their instant coffee. I remember the first time I came to visit Chris and we stayed at the family beach house and I asked where their coffee pot was only to be told there wasn't one. REALLY?? Then he pulled out a jar of little black granules: instant coffee. Now, I'm not really a stranger to instant coffee. My grandmother calls it "sissy coffee" in the form of those General Foods International coffee mixes which were a dorm-room staple for me, and I always had some instant Folgers in my locker at work for those Saturday night shifts that would push into the wee hours of the morning. But I always saw instant coffee as something a person drinks out of necessity, i.e. when there is no other option due to space or time constrictions. Not so in Australia! I actually have a few friends who prefer instant to absolutely anything else. God bless them. ;) Auto-drip machines are not unheard of, but really are few and far between. Nescafe is an Aussie staple and, while I appreciate it for what it is, I still can only see it as a backup for when I run out of coffee and the shop is shut. Sorry Nescafe!

  • Plunger

French Press, or "plunger" coffee as the call it here, is actually really incredible in its own right. This was my first go-to coffee brewing method. Now, you may be asking why I didn't just buy an auto-drip machine. Well, I did actually! But the coffee is ground differently here and it just doesn't taste right from the machine, it's always full of grounds. So then I bought my own coffee grinder, but the coffee still just doesn't taste right. I think it might be our machine, it gives a bit of a plastic-y after taste...I've given up either way. Plunger coffee is beautiful. On particularly sleepy mornings, I love being able to just dump 3 or 4 T of coffee into the plunger, cover it in boiled water and then slump on the couch while it brews on the table next to me. No additional effort required! Just push the plunger down after about 4/5 minutes and you're good to go. This is also nice when I have a friend over because I can just set the coffee on the table while we chat and have my little cup of milk and bowl of sugar ready and waiting. There's something intimate about a plunger brew, I actually quite prefer it to drip coffee now. :) You will be far more likely to come across a plunger in an Aussies home as their way of preparing brewed coffee (vs. instant) before you'll find a drip machine.

  • Espresso

The cultured Aussies have espresso machines in their homes and they know how to use them. I'm joking about the cultured part, but really, it's not unusual for people to own an espresso machine here and use it regularly. I love going to a friend's place and, when they offer me a coffee, it comes out as this cafe-worthy creation complete with a dusting of chocolate powder across the micro-foam. I LOVE that! This is by far my favorite at-home brewing method because the result is something worth savoring. It feels special and expensive even though it costs the same to make as a regular coffee with milk, it's a really beautiful thing.

The Art of Espresso

I was considering why espresso machines aren't as common back home and I've come to the conclusion that it's because Americans do value their convenience so much. We want things as fast as possible with as little effort as possible. I also think there's this misconception that you have to spend thousands of dollars on a machine to make a good espresso or, worse, that all espresso machines actually cost thousands of dollars. (false, btw ;) ) So, in the mind of my fellow Americans, it must take more effort to brew a latte or cappucino than it does to fill the machine with water and walk away. Plus, it's got to be expensive.

In reality, I can make a latte faster than I could wait for a plunger or drip machine to brew a cup of coffee. It takes 20 seconds to pull a shot of espresso. It takes a further 30 seconds to steam the milk. So, really, it takes me less than a minute to have a latte in my hands. Cost-wise, per cup, my latte is exactly the same as my coffee with milk. The milk expands when you steam it so it feels like there's more milk there than there really is, but it's no more than you'd use to whiten a typical brew and, if you're someone who uses creamer, the milk is even cheaper than that stuff.

Effort-wise? It does take more effort to brew an espresso-based coffee. It may take less time, but, if you have a cheap machine without automatic shut-off like I do, you have to turn the dial off to stop from over-steaming the grounds and then you have to hand-steam the milk which does take practice. I used to think making espresso makes a mess, but if I clean the milk jug and wipe down the steam wand straight away, it doesn't really. I know I can't dream of converting everyone to a latte or two every morning, but I myself am really thankful that I've expanded my horizons and am able to partake in some beautiful espresso every morning. If I hadn't moved here, I'd still be drinking auto-drip Folgers with a splash of French Vanilla w/Splenda creamer every morning. I think I've come out on the better side of things. :)


  1. So you gonna fix me coffee when you get here?I got my "plunger" for Christmas, and it still seems like alot more effort and cleaning up afterwards then regular. I'm for whatever is fastest all the way ya know! Can't wait for you to get here.

  2. I never drank coffee before moving overseas - now I just LOVE it.


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