Coffee Culture Bean Boom
Down Under

Latte Art by Emily Coumbis
Latte Art by Emily Coumbis | © Lisa Carbonaro

Until the 1990s, most Australians would have only thought of instant powder when hearing the word "coffee" - even though instant coffee has little in common with the origin of this hot beverage. This picture has changed considerably since then: Today, drinking high-quality bean coffee has become a veritable ritual on the fifth continent.

The streets of Australia's major cities such as Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane are teeming with cafés offering aromatic coffee. Even in smaller suburbs, coffee lovers will find at least one within a stone's throw. Yet that wasn't always the case: While the English imported coffee seedlings to Australia on the First Fleet in 1788, the climate Down Under turned out to be unsuitable for cultivation. Not until the 20th century, in particular after World War II, did a wave of migrants arrive from Italy – bringing espresso with them, which is what baristas in Australia mainly use to brew the stimulating beverage these days. Espresso celebrated its final break-through in the 1990s: Small, Italian-style cafés opened their doors and quality coffee became accessible to the masses. Since then, Australians have developed a downright obsession with coffee, consuming more than 16 million cups on an average day. Even if two thirds of those are still made with instant powder, freshly ground bean coffee is becoming more and more popular.

Dedicated to coffee: The Sydney Aroma Festival

The Aroma Festival, advertised as the "biggest coffee festival in the southern hemisphere", is held annually in Sydney. Local roasters offer their diverse range of aromatic beans both for tasting and for sale. In addition, hobby baristas can add to their knowledge and try their skills at "Latte Art": creating fine patterns on coffee by skilfully pouring frothed milk. The possibilities are virtually endless – it all depends on the skills of the coffee artist.

The author's attempt at Latte Art The author's attempt at Latte Art | © Lisa Carbonaro Experienced baristas explain the basics of Latte Art in a five-minute crash course: Start by turning a small jug of frothed milk around its own axis, then pour the milk onto the coffee in a circular movement. Turn the milk jug again, and now it gets exciting: You'll need to move your hand back and forth quickly as you pour. Eventually, draw the milk through the middle of the created pattern once, and voilà: Here's your "rosetta", a classic amongst decorations that resembles a fern leaf and adorns almost every coffee served in Australia.

Red Velvet Latte – from cake mixture to hot beverage

Barista schools are currently springing up like mushrooms in Australia, offering courses in Latte Art, amongst other things. A course of a few hours will often set you back several hundred Australian dollars. Marcus Gorge isn't overly impressed by such schools. He runs the successful Local Mbassy café in Sydney's fashionable suburb of Ultimo. "Barista schools can only teach you the basics," he explains. "In particular with Latte Art, it's important that you're passionate and fully committed to practicing continuously over the long term – otherwise you'll lose your skills."

Red Velvet is the latest trend in coffee culture Red Velvet is the latest trend in coffee culture | © Lisa Carbonaro Gorge doesn't just know how to make coffee and Latte Art, he also has a keen eye for current trends and the ability to implement them: When he realised that so-called Red Velvet Cakes were becoming increasingly popular among his clientele, he reacted quickly. The menu at The Local Mbassy doesn't just feature Red Velvet Pancakes, it now also offers a colourful Red Velvet Latte: "It's literally based on cake mixture and cocoa powder," the native Egyptian explains. "Because our Red Velvet Pancakes were so popular with our clients, we developed a beverage from them as well – in particular now that it's winter, it will really warm you up for the day." Still, Marcus Gorge estimates that about 60 percent of his customers order a Flat White – an Australian creation.

An Australian conquers the world – the Flat White

When a double espresso is poured with only lightly frothed milk, it becomes an Australian stimulant called a Flat White. There are some regional varieties: Sometimes the hot beverage is prepared with only a single espresso. What really sets the Flat White apart is a thin layer of micro foam, making the Flat White taste strong and creamy at the same time – a combination that isn't just popular Down Under: These days, you will even find this Australian in selected cafés in major European cities. That the beverage is only authentic if the micro foam is adorned with a pretty pattern goes without saying. 
However, simple brown and white adornments don't always cut it in Australia: At the Piggy Back Café in Brisbane, Emily Coumbis conjures colourful patterns onto her customers' coffees. "It was a quiet day at the café and we found food colouring at the shop next door," she relates the origins of her colourful coffee art.

Emily Coumbis' colourful Latte Art Emily Coumbis' colourful Latte Art | © Lisa Carbonaro Coumbis colours frothed milk and then pours rainbow-coloured patterns and shapes onto her coffees, creating swans, tulips or the typical rosetta pattern in the cup. "When my boss saw the result, she immediately said: Sell that!" These days, Emily Coumbis is virtually swamped with customers, keeping her busy right until closing time. "I think the whole thing is currently developing into a career," the barista says. Her many followers on Instagram would certainly be an indication of that – and even German social media channels have shared videos of Emily Coumbis in action.

Germany: More coffee less lifestyle

The German coffee landscape isn't quite as colourful yet. While Germans drink about 30 litres of coffee more per person per year on average, Germany doesn't have a coffee culture quite the same way Australia does. For Australians, coffee is much more than just a hot beverage – the stimulant in all its variations is connected to a certain lifestyle. In particular in major Australian cities, people appreciate the privilege of being able to enjoy a good coffee in a relaxed atmosphere pretty much anywhere – it means slowing down a little in the otherwise busy urban jungle. While "barista" is an appropriate job description Down Under, in Germany their work is usually still done by fully automated coffee machines at the push of a button – even if the trend is moving away from instant machine brews and towards freshly brewed quality coffee in Germany as well.

The fifth continent hasn't made do with instant powder for a long time – coffee standards have soared. Whether it's latte, cappuccino or the Australian favourite "Flat White" – it's got to be aromatic. And when the frothed milk is adorned by an attractive pattern on top of that, the Australian coffee enthusiast is perfectly happy.