As college students we are always looking for the next caffeine boost to get through morning classes, late night study sessions, or the post lunch slump. Some people turn to tea, while others look for soda or energy drinks. In Australia I have found that there is only one source of caffeine: coffee.

Milena Alappatt

What Coffee Means

This is not to say that energy drinks, soda, and high tea are not relevant in Australia, but the large majority of Australians gravitate towards coffee which has allowed coffee culture in Australia to blossom. Unlike most college students, Australians are not always in it for the caffeine. Focused more on the quality of the bean, the silkiness of the crema, and the shape of the foam, Australians take their coffee very seriously. Consumed at breakfast, lunch, or as an afternoon treat, coffee is a ritual in Australia. Coffee is a break from work, a chance to connect with people, and is rarely something you chug to prevent sleeping through your next class.

The Barista

As part of my journey to immerse myself in the coffee culture, I took a barista class to learn about what is takes to be an Australian barista.

Apparently, a lot.

Through a five-hour certification course, which is necessary for most baristas in Australia, I learned how to turn home brews into café quality experiences by making everything on the coffee menu along with some latte art. Making over 60 cups of coffee in five hours, the course trains you to be able to make a perfect cup of coffee in your sleep. This is because coffee is so important to Australians that they are able to taste subtle differences. That is why it is essential that a barista must apply the right amount of pressure to the packed grounds, set the grind right so that that the coffee drips for approximately 25-30 seconds, and steam the milk to the right temperature to preserve the foam and serve the customer a warm, but not scalding cup of joe.

Milena Alappatt

The Coffee Menu

You won’t find a lot of specialty lattes, flavorings, or fancy frappes in Australian coffee shops. Australian coffee culture has a simplified menu that is identical in almost every cafe. There are four milk-based coffees: cappuccino, latte, flat white, and a mocha and a variety of black coffees including a long black, espresso, ristretto, and a piccolo. Although tasty, I find that the most famous of these drinks, the flat white, is not anything special. It is an espresso shot, with a greater proportion of steamed milk and no froth. Australians however love flat whites and have an ongoing debate with New Zealanders over who invented the flat white.

Milena Alappatt

Starbucks and Other Coffee Chains

Chain restaurants and coffee shops are relatively uncommon in Australia. Although a few Starbucks coffee shops exist in Australia, most Australians would tell you that they have never tried or that they do not enjoy this global chain. There are two reasons for this commonly held opinion.

1) Australians prefer coffee to be pure with very little sugar or flavoring added. Starbucks serves the opposite of that.

2) Part of cafe culture is connecting with the barista and giving back to local business. As a global chain, Starbucks does not align with those ideals and is therefore not very successful.

Having lived there for almost three months, I understand this sentiment. After all, why would I go to Starbucks when I could go to any of the hundreds of cozy cafes around me that more accurately represent the local coffee culture.

The Highlights

I can’t write this article without telling you about some of my personal favorite coffee concoctions that I have had in my time in Australia.

Milena Alappatt

Industry Beans

This modern and simplistic café served me the best latte I have ever tasted. Usually, I cannot tell the difference in the notes of a coffee. I chose their winter blend which contained notes of butterscotch and fig and I could actually taste these two contrasting flavors in my oat milk latte. Creamy, not bitter, but still retained a unique coffee flavor.

Milena Alappatt

Dutch Smuggler

When in doubt, my go to coffee order is a mocha. I never need to add sugar, and although most cafes use chocolate powder, it is without fail, never a bad option. But Dutch Smuggler does not use chocolate powder, they instead use melted Lindt chocolate. The mocha was rich, but not overly sweet and easily takes the crown for the best mocha in Sydney.

Milena Alappatt

Paramount Coffee Project

Iced coffee is not very common in Australia. This was a shock to me considering that Australia is generally quite warm. However, as previously stated Australians don’t like to add anything that tampers with the taste of coffee, which includes ice. However, Paramount Coffee House seems to be the exception. I had the maple iced coffee which was sweet and not at all diluted in flavor. And the dusting of cinnamon on top really elevated this memorable cup of coffee.

Advice to Coffee Lovers

Australia is a place heavily influenced by the many immigrants and backpackers who have come from around the world to embrace the Aussie lifestyle. Although the flat white is an absolute classic for Sydneysiders, I recommend perusing cafes inspired by different parts of the world. Rest assured, if you ever find yourself Down Under, you will find a home amongst the thriving Australian coffee culture. 

Milena Alappatt