I was watching a show on television last night about the world’s 100 best gadgets and inventions. I missed the part where the narrator gave the time frame that the gadgets were invented in, but I’m not sure it mattered. I watched with interest as he presented some whacky, some useful and some incredibly inefficient yet fashionable devices. I was growing a little distracted when suddenly I realised I was looking at a few variations of what has come to be known as the domestic coffee machine.
My ears pricked up with interest as I became aware of the fact that the coffee machine, albeit a domestic one, was considered amongst the top 100 gadgets of the world! How fascinating, I thought. My ears pricked up once again when I heard the narrator rattle off some statistics about how much coffee people in Britain drink, per day. My ears started burning. Did I hear correctly – thought? Did I hear that some 70 million cups of coffee are poured, per day? I took a few moments to digest the figures and then thought about it again. If you consider the population size of the UK 70 million is not so many cups of coffee after all. And then I remembered – London and surrounds have some of the worst coffee on record.
Listening to people talk about coffee has become a pastime of mine, for various reasons. The one subject that has recurred lately, without any real resolve, has been the issue of bad coffee in most parts of the world. For years I have heard people complain about coffee in the UK and USA. Lately, the complaints have been coming form other less likely parts of the globe – those areas that give you warm and fuzzy feelings about everything to do with culture and art, and food, and all beverages. Yep…apparently the coffee in Europe really is not so good at all. I found this hard to believe. I mean, if they can’t make good coffee in Europe, and we know about the UK and the USA…well, what’s left? Hearing about bad coffee in places like Paris and Hungary started to unnerve me. I began to have thoughts like – well, what is good coffee actually? What does good coffee really mean? Is there such a thing as good coffee?
Paris and Hungary was one thing. Amsterdam was another ,because after all they are pretty well sorted in lots of other areas that would still make it well worth the trip up there, or down there de[pending on where you’re coming from. One day over brunch some friends started talking about this very subject – the bad coffee problem in most parts of the globe – when suddenly someone mentioned Italy…w-w-w-w-what did you say? I said. What did you just say? Did you say that Italy has bad coffee? Can’t be. Are you sure? Have you tried it yourself? Do you really know what you’re talking about? I left the table to gather my thoughts and have a few moments alone with them (my thoughts).
Slowly but surely the news about the global problem of bad coffee became a reality. Apparently it’s true. Italy is no exception. First of all there’s the anti-milk issue. All over Europe drinking coffee with milk is a concept so foreign that it is actually despised. How dare we attempt to dirty their golden drink with dairy products! So if you do insist on having milk with your coffee it is served cold, on the side and with a snarl. But that is not enough of a reason to give the coffee that is served there a bad name. Secondly there’s the style with which coffee is drunk. This usually excludes seating of most kinds. Coffee is consumed standing, with haste and in one go. There is no fuss about what to have with the coffee; breakfast, a snack, something sweet, something savoury, something lunchy. Coffee is drunk on its own and in a hurry. But again, that is not any sort of reason to claim that the actual coffee is bad.
So what has been the cause of this disreputable reputation that coffee around the globe, excluding Australia, has gathered? Is it a case of arrogance on our behalf? Is it all about attitude? Is it to do with difference in taste buds, or water? After thinking about it for sometime I found it increasingly difficult to believe it was true – that Australia, and in particular Melbourne, houses some of the best coffee in the entire world.
And then I heard a story that I couldn’t really ignore the fact of. Someone told about two Australian girls who travelled to Paris on holiday. When they arrived they assumed –as I would- that they would simply do a hop and a jump to the nearest great café for a cup of great coffee. When this wasn’t the case, time and again, they vowed to one day return to the city to open up what they believed would be the first decent coffee house in Paris’s history. The two girls apparently kept their promise and have recently moved to Paris permanently where they are in the process of setting up their new business.
When you hear these sorts of stories, of which there are a few, it is hard to deny that there must be an underlying problem somewhere when it comes to coffee, coffee beans and coffee machines around the world and how we do it better over here. If you think about it – it’s not rocket science we’re talking about! If we can do it in Australia, why can’t they do it elsewhere as well?
I recently received an email from the fundraising department at my children’s school. The letter started with a bit of a blurb about encouraging kids to take initiative etc etc. And then the new initiate was introduced – a barista course for all Year 9 students. The course was not compulsory however they wanted it to be available to as many students who wanted to partake. In some twenty years between when I finished school and when my children began top go, something incredible had happened in Australia, so significant it had now managed to infiltrate the education system and find time where there is no time in an already overcrowded curriculum. Coffee had entered the schools, even though caffeine as a substance is classified as an illicit drug in some parts of the worlds. But that’s irrelevant here- what is important is what it reflects about the rest of us. If our Year 9 students are learning how to make great coffee, by the time they enter the work force and are using commercial coffee machines their skills will be refined. And by the time they contemplate opening up their own cafes, the quality of their coffee will be world renowned – enough for any café culture vulture to be impressed by.
So, in trying to put two and two together I came up with this: it’s all in the way that you see it. Australia, suffering out here on our lonesome, far away from the glamour and excitement of Europe, never associated with it at all on the world stage, being mixed up with Asia on many occasions, tries in all intents and purposes, to be more European in their outlook. Call us Europe-wannabes if you like. The fact is we would rather be called Europeans than Oceanic anythings. So, in the coffee stakes, we strive for higher than the top. Our cafes are so European they end up being better than theirs! Our coffee machines are so good they can press coffee better than any café you’ll find throughout Europe. So don’t you dare go calling us Asian, or New Zealandish…or any other ocean we might align with. And if you really want to compare us to anything – try Europe!
Did Europe envy really make the difference in Australian coffee standards so that they became world-renown? I think so. Europeans hardly have to try to appear to be Europeans…Australians on the other hand – see where I’m going with this? If Londoners consume coffee cups in the millions, we can’t be lagging too far behind with our world class beverage…
And so that is how coffee took over Australia.