Living the last fifteen years in Seattle, the center of coffee snobbery in the States, I was intrigued to hear that the Aussies had a similar love affair with coffee. Coffee is a way of life in Seattle. The beans, the brewing method, the vessel, the additions: everything is scrutinized. It goes beyond what you get from the barista, it’s what you brew at home. “Oh, you use a Mr. Coffee? Well, I guess that works, but my French press makes a perfect cup.” Espresso is one thing, but Seattleites love their drip coffee as well.
While Seattle is the height of coffee snobbery, everywhere you travel in the States you know you can get a cup of coffee. Every hotel has a coffee pot, and every restaurant has drip coffee. Believe me, I’ve had some horrible cups of coffee over the years, the topper being the Worcestershire sauce posing as coffee at a Huddle House in Olive Branch, Mississippi. But through good and bad, I’ve remained a black coffee drinker. Don’t get me wrong; I love a latte, but the norm is just a cup of black coffee.
My first inkling that I was going to have a problem was on the flight to Sydney. The flight attendant asked if I wanted coffee. Being that I was up at 5am and needed to function, I said yes. He asked how much cream and sugar I wanted. I said, “just black.” To which he laughed, and said something along the lines of, “Ah yes, you’re American. You’re used to bitter coffee.” I chuckled back, and drank the passable cup of coffee, not knowing that this was just the start.
The my first Australian coffee shop, the menu board said “Coffee – $4.” I went up and ordered a coffee. The barista looked at me, waiting. With a heavy sigh, she said, “What type of coffee?” and then proceeded to rattle off several drink options quickly. Getting a little flustered, and not yet in complete sync with the accent, I just stared dumbly at her. She just looked and me and said, “How about a flat white? Yeah, let’s go with a flat white.” After another silent moment, “Sure, that sounds great.” I paid, and meekly joined my daughter at our table to wait for our drinks.
I don’t like feeling like an idiot. This was one of those moments when it happened and it was all because I assumed that coffee was the same every where. Coffee is a drink. You drip some water through ground beans, and this magical black liquid comes out. However, coffee in Australia is a category; it means nothing without clarification of what type of coffee you want.
Our first apartment in Sydney, a lovely Airbnb in Kennsington, had a Nespresso machine. This was a nice break-in period for me, as I continued to have brewed coffee every morning, ignorant to what a luxury this was.
Once on the road, it turns out drip coffee is not really a thing here. This isn’t to say it is non-existent, but it is far from the norm. What was more perplexing was that while the typical Aussie enjoys their espresso, if they have coffee at home, it’s INSTANT! Really? But it’s there in every hotel, and on all the TV ads: instant coffee.
The real question for all you coffee drinkers out there, when faced with the reality of drinking instant coffee every morning, what would you do?
My answer? I have a flat white when I’m out, but in the mornings, I have tea. And just to really blend in, I have it with milk. And you know what? I like it.