Could coffee be an Aussie advantage?

Australians (well, at least inner-city Melburnians) have embraced coffee with abandon in recent years.  There is much talk about a third wave of cafes and consumers.  On the bean sourcing and roasting side the shift in mindset and approach is one where:

“the bean is not a commodity business based on volume sales but something precious, sourced directly from Third World farmers in small batches and treated with respect.”

On the consumer side, we’re seeing a more boutique/connoisseur appreciation of subtlety and nuance in flavour, more akin to the expanding palates in wine and microbrewed beer.  I guess once you’ve educated folks about lattes and macchiatos, this is a logical next step.

An International Business question to ask is whether this shift might translate into some sort of competitive advantage for some of the players in the Australian scene. One pioneer certainly seems to think so.

Salvatore Malatesta, one-time barista at a Melbourne Uni sushi bar, and recent acquirer of the very hip and groovy St.Ali cafe(s) (which he bought from the now proprietor of the closest third wave cafe to my office – Seven Seeds) has spoken of bold plans to take this new approach to Tokyo, New York and London.

He won’t be the only Australian brewing beans in NYC.  This story reports on various Aussies introducing New Yorkers to ‘real coffee’, and, not surprisingly, London is proving a target too.

The challenge, as always, is establishing an advantage beyond the highly localised retail and service experience we see in the cafe scene.  I’m not necessarily suggesting the pursuit of a Starbucks approach (which we know was scorned by most Aussie sippers), but building a capacity to deliver a high quality, distinctive coffee drinking experience in multiple locations across one or more cities.

Thinking about the transfer of cuisines and food experiences, there are a surprisingly few examples of a firm or firms building any big advantage from the take-up of a new dining experience beyond fast food, however.  Where are the Japanese sushi giants, Italian pizza brands, an international winebar chain etc?


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17 Responses to “Could coffee be an Aussie advantage?”

  1. Ben Says:

    Favourite quote in relation to third wave coffee:

    “More than a trend, the third wave is something of a subculture led by coffee geeks whose natty dress sense and penchant for tattoos and fixed-gear bicycles has led some second-wavers to dismiss them as a bunch of pretentious twats.”

  2. Liadra Says:

    I moved to continental Europe over a year ago (from Sydney) and was appalled by the terrible coffee here. Most of it comes from a push-button machine if you’re lucky to get an espresso-based coffee at all. Those that are done by hand are not so great either: I’ve seen the same grounds be used for several coffees in a row, for example. I had to time my order so I got a fresh grind! The only good coffees (i.e. up to my Aussie standards) I’ve had were in Milan at a very top coffee shop and the top-of-the-range degustation restaurant in my city (in Belgium)! I’ve travelled a lot since I got over here too.

    It got to the point where I decided to buy my own machine. But the ones you can buy in shops here for reasonable amounts are all the push-button stuff with substandard heaters etc. So I asked my boyfriend to bring one over from Sydney (just a cheapie Sunbeam one with a boiler) when he came to visit, and since then (and after acquiring a very expensive grinder locally) I’ve managed to make decent coffees. So much so that my local friends/colleagues continually ask me when I will be inviting them around for coffee next. I even had a bunch of Italian colleagues tell me that it was one of the best espressos they’d had. And I’m not a fully trained barista either, I just learned from my dad 🙂

    Really though it makes me sad that I’ve had this experience, but it means I can really see the potential for good quality coffee making over here.

    • Luc Says:

      The whole Italian espresso culture is something quite recent in e.g. Belgium. Twenty years ago it was all drip coffee, and a cappuccino was a drip coffee with a dollop of Chantilly cream on top. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that especially, it’s just a regional variation.

      A coffee salesman once told me they had to use different way of burning the beans between the Flemish north and the Walloon south (generally the more south you go in Europe, the more bitter the taste, according to him).

      Also, Caffenation in Antwerp is pretty good.

      • Liandra Says:

        I’m in the south so Antwerp is a bit far to go for a good coffee 🙂 But yeah, it’s definitely an expansion area here I’m sure. I don’t know about regional variations on bean roasting between the north and south but you’re right on the bitterness: the stuff I’ve bought locally is quite bitter! But I found a shop that sells a reasonable blend that’s been freshly roasted, so I enjoy my good coffee at home 😀

  3. Bootload Says:

    “… Australians (well, at least inner-city Melburnians) have embraced coffee with abandon in recent years. …”

    Try 60 years.

    • Weeksie Says:

      Bingo. The big reason why coffee sucks in the US is that the Italian immigration wave hit before the espresso machine was invented. It hit Oz afterward.

      And, leading from that, coffee in Oz has been pretty damned good for a long time. I’ve never been anywhere that takes it as seriously as we do save for a couple pockets in the pacific northwest of the US, and even in those places it’s nowhere near the consistent good quality you’ll find in any Aussie Capitol city.

      • Maw Says:

        I left Melbourne in 2002, and finally visited again in 2009. The effect of seven years of sustained prosperity was palpable in many ways, but none more so than the number of new cafés. I guess it’s the sort of change you don’t notice so much when you see something every day.

        (I’m subscribed to a Melbourne photo blog, and it nearly brings a tear to the eye at least once a week. Melbourne’s easily my favorite city in the world.)

  4. alecthomas Says:

    And it’s definitely not specific to Melbourne. Sydney has great coffee.

  5. matrix Says:

    While I’m proud to see the cafe my sister manages get held up as an example to be exported elsewhere, I’m skeptical. The fact is, when scaling up a food or beverage franchise, food quality takes a distant back seat to consistency, supply chain management, leveraging economy of scale, and all kinds of unglamorous factors like that. The truth is, on average, people don’t care as much about quality as you might think they do. Starbucks, McDonald’s, Chill’s, Olive Garden… the examples of mediocre, but consistent winners go on.

    • liadra Says:

      Who says anything about scaling up a franchise? It sounds like they’re talking about a few small cafes rather than a new Starbucks. They’re already doing that in Melbourne, so I don’t see why it’s particularly different.

  6. cubicle67 Says:

    For those of you in Australia who like good coffee at home, I have to recommend 5 Senses (good example of how to make a great website without Flash, too)

    Place your order, and they’ll roast your coffee the next morning, ready for you to pick up after lunch. It’s some of the best coffee I’ve ever had, and is all FairTrade too.

    [I have no affiliation, just a regular customer]

  7. anarchitect Says:

    When I moved to London from Adelaide, Australia six years ago there were very few places you could get a reliably good cup of coffee.

    Over the following years, Flat White opened in Soho and slowly but surely more cafés with a focus on coffee followed. It has to be said that the baristas in most of them are often Australian or Kiwi.

    • goatforce5 Says:

      I was once waiting for my coffee in Flat White and got to overhear a conversation between the barista and someone with a backpack who had just come from Heathrow. It went something like:

      “Bruno just got a X300 espresso machine for his Fitzroy location, but – get this – he’s put a G2 filter on it!”

      “A G2?!”


      “Wowww. That’s mindblowing!”

      If your barista is geeking out about hardware modifications to their espresso machines, you know the coffee is going to be good.

      Every Australian I know who lives overseas misses the cafe culture from there. I spent a couple of years living in West End in Brisbane, and you couldn’t move for all the awesome indie coffee joints on Boundary St (having said that, West End was looking a little sketchy last time I was back there).

      • Liadra Says:

        I’m about to move to London… I’ll have to check it out! Also it has a fab name, nowhere else knows what a flat white is, and the cappuccinos they make here in Belgium have fake whipped cream on top! 😦 😦

  8. Australian Coffee | myninjaplease Says:

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  9. Steve Sammartino Says:

    Nice post. I find it amazing that this product category has developed so far after being a stagnant supermarket category for 30 years. I wonder which tired supermarket category is next up for renovation.


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