Celebrating Centuries of Australian Coffee Culture

The twenty-first century coffee drinker has developed a taste for single origin and light roasts; we’ve come to learn terms such as terroir, crema, microfoam; we read tasting notes and understand what different roasting profiles actually taste like in the cup.

The average Australian consumes almost 2 kilograms of coffee per year, and 33 percent of all coffee is consumed as a latte. 42 percent of all lattes consumed were in Victoria, a hint at Melbourne's (Prana Chai's hometown) indelible mark on the espresso based coffee scene nationwide.

The Early Days

While our love of coffee has developed and expanded over the past couple of centuries, coffee first arrived in Australia with the First Fleet. While the seedlings didn't survive, the new migrants love of coffee persisted. During the Temperance Movement in the late 1800s, coffeeshops boomed as a replacement to the tavern.

But it wasn't until the 1950s and 1960s that Australia experienced a coffee boom that birthed a coffee culture based on espresso, now respected worldwide. This era of espresso was focused around the Italian and Greek communities that expanded after the post-war immigration boom in Melbourne and Sydney.

The Loukissas family pictured outside their cafe in Gundagai in 1986. Photo: Effy Alexakis

The story goes that they were appalled at what passed for coffee in Australia at the time (it was often padded out with chicory or made from a reconstituted extract, the forebear of today’s instant) and set about bringing the machinery, coffee beans, drink styles and those friendly neighbourhood cafés from their homelands.

A number of cafes in Melbourne vie for the credit of importing the first espresso machine into Australia, but regardless of who brought in the very first, the Italian immigrants who served the coffee of their homelands to the Australian public should be credited with beginning a coffee movement that has captivated our nation in the decades since.

The Coffee Scene Today

Innovative Australian businesses are now launching exciting new ventures, often using the latest technology as a tool to ensure quality and efficiency. Some artisan roasters have begun making ‘high-end’ coffee pods, and a number of upmarket cafés who previously reintroduced and championed brewing coffee by hand have begun to adopt efficient precision brewing machines.

As the coffee scene changes, the introduction of sustainable and ethical practices as a force for good, or simply the development of new brewing methods, machinery or logistics, are all ways in which new thinkers are guiding an impassioned and proactive industry into the future. Instead of growing competitive as the industry expands, the coffee scene and the people who have built it are community driven, passionate about social issues, and excited about what the future holds for their community.

Small artisan roasters have now grown, and yet maintain their ethics and philosophies: many now offer their facilities to newcomers to help them roast their own beans.

First, Second and Third 'Wave' Coffee

Looking back over the history of coffee drinking in the West, we often refer to a first, second and third ‘wave’: three American-origin movements integral in developing our current coffee culture. ‘First wave’ coffee is described as the making of coffee an everyday commodity. Starting in the 1800s, American brands such as Folgers and Maxwell House started packaging, supplying in bulk and, as a result, increasing consumption of coffee at home.

‘Second wave’ refers to the proliferation of espresso, the beginning of a keen interest in quality, and an emphasis on Arabica beans: one of many varietals, known for producing a superior flavour. The rise of the coffee chains that grew from the west coast of America in the 1990s – particularly Starbucks and Peet’s – are usually included in this ‘second wave’.

‘Third wave’ coffee – the most recent coffee ‘movement’ – is thus defined by those independent coffee shops, baristas and roasters who focus on the inherent natural flavour of the bean, and a stripping back of syrups, flavours and sugar.

Lighter roasts bring out unique flavour notes and levels of acidity. A focus on provenance and terroir has spawned consumer interest in the crop itself like never before, and many companies are now using this awareness to make a positive impact on farmers’ lives and plantations in various ways.

A Chai for the Specialty Coffee Industry

Prana Chai was born in a third wave specialty cafe in Melbourne Australia. Wanting to offer a specialty chai that matched the specialty coffee experience, we began hand blending and mixing our sticky chai - just to serve at our cafe.

It was an immediate hit, with other cafe and coffeeshop owners asking to buy and serve our chai in their cafes too! Over a decade later, we are now blending our chai in the same way we always have - but it's now served in the best cafes and restaurants worldwide. Coming from the coffee industry, we know what our cafe partners are looking for, and we are constantly innovating and expand to serve our F&B partners better. Looking for a non-coffee option to serve in your cafe? We've got you covered when you're not drinking coffee. Get in touch today for a sample