On our first day here, we went to a little café down the street from our hotel, and I ordered “a coffee,” to which I was met with “Sure, what type of coffee?”
“Just a coffee.”
“But what type of coffee? A latte? Cappuccino?”
At which point I just said, “Okay, a latte sounds nice,” and I had a delicious latte rather than my normal morning mug.
After a couple days of slightly strange encounters like this one, and noticing more and more strange words on the little chalkboard menus above the counters of cafés, I realized that the coffee culture here in Australia is TOTALLY DIFFERENT from the States’.
The first difference, which I already pointed out, is that “a coffee” means “an espresso drink” here, rather than a cup of black coffee, which to my current understanding is not even a beverage that is typically offered here. I haven’t seen a single menu so far that’s had plain old brewed coffee listed on it. (But that’s fine, as long as I get my caffeine. Mama needs her caffeine.)
Some places offer “single-origin,” which is brewed coffee beans from a single location, rather than a blend of beans from multiple locations – the reasons for which would take up another post entirely. I thought for a bit that this doscovwry meant I’d found the code word for “regular” brewed coffee, but when I ordered it this morning our waitress asked if I wanted that as a latte, short black, or long black, so it’s back to the drawing board on that one. Also, when she brought me my single-origin latte, she brought it out with a tiny, tiny cup of sparkling water, which is still flummoxing me. Is it a palate cleanser? Does it go IN the coffee?? It’s a mystery, and I find that extremely charming.
I’ve also been seeing new phrases on these menus that I’ve never heard before, like “long black,” “short black,” and “piccolo.” When I first realized that “a coffee” isn’t a good enough descriptor for what I’m after, I ordered a “long black” imagining that it was a cup of black coffee. I received a tiny cup of extremely dark liquid, which after a fashion I looked up and found out was a double shot of espresso poured over 120ml of water. A short black, then, is just a single espresso shot, no water. A “piccolo” is basically a smaller version of the latte we know and love.
There are other differences, which I was actually already familiar with from my trip a couple years ago to London – a macchiato, for example, is not a big sugary drink from Starbucks with whipped cream and sprinkles and sunshine and rainbows on top, but rather just a shot of espresso with a “stain” of milk froth. Pointedly more bitter and utilitarian. And then there’s the flat white, which Americans have latched onto and are willing to pay quite a bit more for because it sounds more exotic (cough, pretentious), but actually is just a plain latte with no foam on top.
An Americano here is quite a bit less water, also. It’s basically the same as a long black, but the water is added after the espresso, to intentionally “disturb the crema” (i.e. diffuse the lighter layer of froth on an espresso shot, crema, throughout the drink rather than leaving it floating on top).
When I did some reading up on coffee in Australia, I learned that the art of espresso coffee was introduced to Australia by Italian migrants in the post World War-II era, but it really caught on in the 1990s, and now Australia is chock full of “coffee obsessives,” as one blog put it. (Many blogs even claim Australia has the best coffee in the world, and honestly, every cup I’ve had so far has been amazing, so my confirmation bias leans me to agree.)
Matt’s been sticking with tea.