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Aussie Columnist Trashes American Coffee, then Wonders if His Perceptions are Outdated

australian long black coffee

A long black from Melbourne’s Dr. Jekyll Cafe.

North American drip filter coffee is weak and ineffectual, while no one on the continent can prepare a proper long black. This is the opening premise of a travel piece in today’s Sydney Morning Herald, one of Australia’s most widely read newspapers and its longest-running.

With the headline “How to survive North America’s terrible coffee,” the piece is certainly meant to raise eyebrows, but it also sheds some light on the popular culture divide between American and Australian coffee consumers. Naturally, columnist Tim Richards begins the piece by suggesting that a Starbucks-brand franchise in the Las Vegas Tropicana hotel and casino is representative of all American coffee. (Notably, franchise-heavy Australia proved too difficult a market for Starbucks, which in 2008 closed the majority of its dozens of Australian locations after eight years operating in the country.):

I was desperate for a long black, not the big weak watery Americanos you usually end up with in North America when ordering black coffee. So I decided to see if I could create one.

One thing I’ll say for Starbucks: they hire friendly staff, willing to accommodate the eccentric requests of an Australian traveller. I ordered the double espresso with extra water, but not too much. They obligingly marked a level on the paper cup.

What emerged was not unlike a long black. I repeated this procedure in cities across the USA and Canada with varying success; sometimes there was too much water added, other times the beans were clearly inferior to start with.

(more: Free Coffee, Anyone? Lessons From a Cross-Canada Chemex Tour)

For the rest of the piece, Richards interviews numerous Aussies, several of whom have professional coffee experience in Canada and the United States, who inform him that there is in fact a thriving and experimental coffee culture being spearheaded by numerous Third Wave coffee companies operating primarily in larger metropolitan areas like New York, Chicago and Seattle. While this may sound obvious, it is a revelation to Richards. Several of his sources even told him that they’ve managed to not go insane drinking American coffee, despite the inability to get a proper long black.

(more: The 10 Most Popular Coffee Shops in America)

With this, he asks the following question to Jason Scheltus and Jenni Bryant of Melbourne’s Market Lane Coffee: “Is it possible that the Aussie stereotype of bad North American coffee is outdated?” Their replies:

“I think it’s a limited concept of what coffee is,” says Bryant. “There can be delicious filter coffee, but a lot of people might still not like that, because it’s not what they think it’s meant to be.”

“I would say that every country has bad coffee,” adds Scheltus. “I don’t know that America has more bad coffee than Australia, or any other country. There’s a lot more new stuff going on over there; maybe it’s evolving a bit quicker as well.”

 

Comment

12 Comments

bluntbroscoffee

Cmon over to Blunt Bros Coffee and you’ll never complain about coffee in the USA except that you have to travel to Gallup NM to get it lol we have GERMAN and AUSTRAILIAN hardcore coffee drinkers that LOVE our stuff and yeah we can NAIL a long black easy 🙂

Alan Cooper

This sounds like a joke but it’s true. Whilst travelling in Australia with my family we stopped at a roadside store which had tables and chairs outside.I walked in, still uncertain whether it was a cafe and asked the portly gentleman if he served coffee. Yes, he said, we do cappuccino and mugoccino. What, I asked, is a mugoccino. Well, he said, it’s like a cappuccino but it’s in a mug. (you’ve got to say it in an Australian accent). From that experience I am surprised to hear an Aussie complaining about anybody else’s coffee!!
Alan Cooper – a Limey

James

An establishment that offers Mugaccinno is not known for its great coffee,
James – Sydney, Australia.

PS. Don’t worry, it’s not uncommon for Aussie journalists to not know what they are talking about. Top marks to Market Lane coffee.

Delta Bravo

Australia is the France of the Pacific. They complain about all of our stuff while secretly wishing they had our style

Blake

As an Australian who travelled through America last year.

It is hard to find a good cup of coffee. Like a really good cup.

And it’s not because there isn’t good coffee! There is! But I found it far harder to find coffee culture there and as such it’s hard to know where to go. When I was there, you get told, “Jim likes coffee.” This means Jim drinks a lot if coffee. Here my friends ask me, I’ve got friends coming in, where should I tell them to go.

But let’s look at the article. This article is about a guy who wanted a long black from Starbucks. It’s not an article about good coffee. It’s an article on how to order a long black in America.

One of my baristas recently went over there and did a bit of tour through Vancouver, Seattle, Portland and LA. He firstly agreed with me and added three things.

Firstly most placed are pulling ristretto rather than espresso. Which isn’t necessarily bad, just that not many are doing it.

Secondly your supply chains are seriously good.

Thirdly, your roasting isn’t quite up to par (which is what I agreed with also) with what is happening in Australia.

Shin

America is nutorious for bad coffee, it’s true. But the majority of cafes in Australia aren’t very good either. We do have some very nice cafes but I found our average coffee here is still drinkable. Whereas the average coffee in America wasn’t. I remember when Starbucks opened here, I got dragged there one afternoon. It was the worst coffee I had ever tasted. But we have to keep in mind that it is a franchise. Some of the franchises here like Hudson and Gloria Jean make horrible coffee as well, they are selling a brand, not a quality product and most of their customers are drinking it for the image and know nothing about coffee. Also it’s not uncommon for some of the baristas here to burn the milk or serve you a long black with no kremer or a latte with giant milk bubbles instead of micro foam. If they did that in Italy the customer would throw the coffee in their face, justifiably. It should be noted that in Italy it takes four years of training to become a barista. In the long run, Aussies visiting America need to do some research to find those niche cafes. And Americans need to acknowledge that their coffee is below par and either learn to accept the criticism or start taking positive steps to improving their coffee. It’s no use jumping up and down trying to defend an inferior product. To those Americans reading this, look on the bright side. China also has pretty shocking coffee. Unless you are in Beijing or Shanghai, you have no hope.

Tom V

Most things in america are pretty poor quality–they (citizentry) like the perception of “quality,” however, not true quality. They are good at PR, propaganda, and puffery. Most american citizens want the cheapest stuff, and think it is great. Forget kaffe and most everything else. You want true quality, look elsewhere.

BullHead

Agreed. Travelled almost the whole globe during my lifetime. Coffee pretty much stinks in the USA. And not only coffee…The worst thing is they think they’re the best in everything. LOL…Poor natives. Blame Columbus.

Cameron

I get this is a pro-American post, but come on now, American coffee IS terrible. The process of grinding and pouring shots of coffee and the right amount of milk/froth/water/chocolate and flavoring is BEYOND the VAST majority of American stores my family have encountered.

Source: A barista

Kevin

As someone who grew up in America, I can attest to how bad coffee is. When you have to add all kinds of cream or sugar to make it drinkable but oncredibly unhealthy, that’s pretty much a sign something is terrible

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