Instant gratification - the myth of Australia's coffee culture

Wake up and smell the coffee, Australia.

The latte-sipping residents of inner-city Sydney and Melbourne may be proud of our growing reputation as a "caffeination", but the data tells a vastly different story.

Flat white coffee war

A barista in New Zealand claimed in January that he invented the flat white coffee in 1989 but Sydneysider Alan Preston says he coined the name four years earlier.

Australia ranks a lowly 42nd in the world in terms of per capita coffee consumption, even after the boom of the past two decades.

Australians consume just 3 kilograms of coffee each per year, only marginally higher than the tea-obsessed United Kingdom (2.8kg), according to the latest data.  

Giuseppe Lavazza, one of the heirs to an Italian coffee empire.
Giuseppe Lavazza, one of the heirs to an Italian coffee empire. Photo: Wayne Taylor

That annual consumption lags well behind our neighbours across the ditch in New Zealand, who go through 3.4 kilograms of coffee per person per year. It also lags Japan (3.3 kilograms) and the much-maligned coffee culture of the United States (4.2kgs).

To make matters worse, Australia is also one of the few countries in which instant coffee consumption far outstrips that of freshly brewed coffee.

Almost 75 per cent of Australia's annual coffee consumption is instant.

It's a far cry from the "developed"  coffee cultures of Italy and France, says Giuseppe Lavazza, one of the heirs to the eponymous Italian coffee empire.

In Lavazza's native Italy, individual consumption is 5.9 kilograms per year, and instant coffee sales account for a small fraction of the market.

It's a similar story in France, where average consumption is 5.4 kilograms of coffee per year.

Those numbers were behind the Lavazza family's move to buy back the Australia distribution rights from Melbourne's Valmorbida family last year.

"There is no doubt that Australia has seen an incredible growth in its coffee culture over the past 20 or 30 years, the country is now our fourth-biggest market in dollar terms, but we still see Australia as an immature market," Lavazza told Fairfax Media.

We still see Australia as an immature market.

Giuseppe Lavazza

"You walk the streets of Sydney and Melbourne and you see good quality espresso machines everywhere. They make me happy, they are our company's lifeblood, but the coffee culture still has a long way to go. There is tremendous capacity for growth, but now the demand for instant coffee is so big [in Australia] we plan to launch our own brand of instant coffee here this year."

Giuseppe Lavazza is in Australia with his cousin, Marco Lavazza, to bed-down the repurchase of the Australian arm of the family empire. The company has become a major sponsor of the Australian Open, and the cousins have spent considerable time in the country since November last year.

"We are enjoying discovering your food, your wine, your coffee," he adds. "You seem to be very experimental here in Australia and we see this in the coffee culture.The flat white, we know this is an Australian invention, but it's a universe away from the terrible milky coffee they drink in America, with half a litre of milk."

According to the Lavazza's, the blend of coffee the company sells in Australia is closer to the Italian style than any other country they export to. 

"Maybe this is your Italian coffee heritage," he suggests.  

  

41 comments