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.
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.
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Bryant of Melbourne’s Market Lane Coffee: “Is it possible that the Aussie stereotype of bad North American coffee is outdated?”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.”