The Playbook For The Modern Man

The Coffee Skill Australians Think They Know But Really Don’t

Think you’re a cluey coffee drinker? Think again.

Australians consider their coffee world best. And it’s not just Surry Hills hipsters that slurp this illusion – ask anyone down your local and they’re liable to agree.

Yes: we have world-beating baristas. But the same can’t be said for us. Nowhere is this more obvious than overseas, when we immediately flounder at the suggestion a Flat White isn’t a drink.

Not to mention: most Australian coffee drinkers wouldn’t know a good bean if it stripped naked and sent them a DM. Now, before you throw your skim latte at me, hear me out.


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Things started well enough: back in the 1940s and 50s, after Achille Gaggia, a cafe owner in Milan, birthed the first modern espresso machine (and a wave of Italians immigrated to Australia by the tens of thousands), Australia’s coffee culture was looking bright.


As Eater reports: “The emergent Italian-derived, espresso-centric coffee culture was epitomized by Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar, which opened on Bourke Street in Melbourne’s Central Business District in 1954, and has been described as ‘the beginning of Melbourne becoming what it is.'”


So far so hip.

“From Auckland to Sydney to Melbourne, cafes like Pellegrini’s developed a rhythm and a culture that fit seamlessly into Australia and New Zealand’s ‘no worries’ vibe, one that was distinct from the stand-up-and-slug-down-a-shot culture of the original Italian espresso bars or the grab-and-go model that American cafes have adopted – with table service, real food, and most luxurious of all, genuine niceness.”

Again: no problems there.

The trouble begins when, sometime between Nicole Kidman and the Hemsworths, we began naming our coffee differently to everyone else, and assuming this made us special.

“Over time, a distinct language, built on local slang and divorced from its Italian cognates, also evolved – instead of ordering ‘an espresso’ or ‘an Americano,’ you’d order a ‘short black’ or a ‘long black,'” (Eater).

Which brings us to the Flat White – an Australian invention Europe refuses to recognise, and one whose Antipodean success has turned us into a nation of milk drinking babies who judge coffee by how well it is integrated into the milk, rather than on the bean itself.


While a Macchiato is a Macchiato, a Capuccino is a Capuccino and a Piccolo translates to a Cortado, the term Flat White defies translation across Spain, France, Italy and much of America.


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While some say a ‘flattie’ is a Capuccino without the chocolate sprinkles, any hardcore Australian coffee drinker would spit out their beverage with disgust at such an idea.

According to them, a true flat white is steam wanded in such a way that the air is massaged (instead of jackhammered), resulting in a delicious microfoam of perfectly textured and integrated coffee-milk, which lies flat across the cup’s surface.

This is a far cry from Spain’s cafe con leche, which masquerades as a flat white (but which is actually burnt espresso with long-life milk, served in a glass) or France’s cafe au lait (which really is a Cappucino without the milk).


Before you call them heathens, consider this – Australia’s impeccable Flat Whites are holding us back from coffee enlightenment.

Take me, for example. I grew up in Australia and drank coffee from 15. I graduated from Mochas to Cappuccinos to Lattes to Flat Whites and then… nowhere. Between the ages of 18 and 21 my coffee evolution stagnated, as I found nothing could beat the perfectly brewed Flat White (extra hot and with a spoonful of sugar).

I even went on exchange to France during that time, and loudly proclaimed their coffee was shit.


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However, after moving to Spain for two years, I’ve realised my Flat White kink was severely limiting.


Firstly: I’ve realised a true coffee drinker doesn’t turn their nose up at singed milk or a lukewarm espresso – they’re so hooked they gulp it anyway.

Secondly: I’ve realised a true coffee drinker savours the coffee bean itself, not just how well the coffee has been integrated into the milk. In other words: if your go-to order contains milk, you don’t know shit.

Third, and finally, I’ve realised that not only does taking your coffee with milk limit your ability to judge the bean, but it’s also causing a gastroenterological epidemic in Australia.

How so? Stubborn Flat White drinkers go one of three ways. One: you do your best to ignore the explosive diarrhea that comes with lactose intolerance (which most of us get in our 20s). Two: you start ordering stupid-sounding ‘three quarter’ coffees. Or three: you turn to soy milk which – ironically – can cause you more stomach problems than cow’s milk.

All this when the solution is simple: start drinking Long Blacks.


Not only is this far classier (and opens you up to a whole world of new orders), but it will make you a more skilful coffee drinker and help you earn the snob moniker you so covet.


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Oh, and it has significantly fewer calories and tends to be cheaper.


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Sold? A brave new bean awaits.


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  • Brad Warland

    Wankery, pure and simple. Have your coffee how you want it. Who cares? Besides, you take sugar….. Snigger..

  • Chris

    I sort of get your point(s). I work in the coffee industry, sometimes as a roaster sometimes as a barista, delivering beans for wholesale, you get the idea. As Brad put it- ‘who cares’. It pays the bills and keeps the lights on. The part I find most offensive is that saying the best way to taste a brewed coffee in all its rawness is a Long Black. That’s a pure slap in the face to almost any roaster I know. We all say the best way is a filter, either as a batch, V60/Chemex, aeropress, french press, the list goes on. These are methods we use to ensure QC (cupping). A Long Black just tastes like mud. But you know what? As I’ve already said, I really don’t care, it keeps the lights on. Oh and I agree, the French don’t really know coffee it’s all mostly burned beans from my experience there besides they’re tea drinkers like the Russians.

    PS I lived and worked in Surry Hills for a good part of my life, they aren’t quite so hipster as you make them out to be. There’s good reason why most of the best coffee shops in Sydney are in that area.

  • James Walker

    Flat white is the missionary position of coffee drinks.

  • Ash Kuss

    Try the beans with and without milk. Clean the palate with water between sips. Problem solved.

  • Tom Smith

    This actually hurts my soul. You take a trip to Europe and find some astonishing enlightenment about black coffee and come back preaching like your some kind of Messiah. Talking about silky Australian milk, but then saying you order extra hot! With sugar!? Where does this authority come from!? Have you spent time behind the machine? Have you roasted coffee before? Have you been to a cupping? Do you actually know anything? Leave this wanky bullshit to those who know what they’re talking about. And let people drink their coffee how they like it. And most of all, get over yourself

  • Andrey Fedoseev

    I’d say tastes differ, and find the whole filter trend from US a complete wankery – it does taste plain and watery to me, regardless of beans and method, suggesting the filtering time is not enough to extract all the oily goodness from the bean which I personally like. I do my own cold drip though with the big tower, which is technically filter too but takes 3-5 hours, and has enough time to extract all the goodness.
    And with hot, nothing can beat a lightly roasted double espresso or a long black with hot water on the side (you choose the amount of water), with all the amazing oily foam on top of the cup, which is the smell I can die for, which would never be extracted from any filter method. Tastes differ! Agree with you though that the average take away long black from a dodgy coffee shop tastes like mud.

    The author should learn the difference between Americano and long black though, completely opposite things!

  • James

    You can make a Long Black with a French Press can’t you? Doesn’t need to be bought from a shop. And yeah: say what you like about them – hipsters make good coffee.

  • James

    *****pre evolution 😉

  • James

    Tom you sound like you could really use a trip to Europe. People can drink their coffee how they like, they just shouldn’t pretend to be connoisseurs if they only ever drink flat whites.

  • Brenden Clark

    Who actually drinks flat whites these days other than boomers? The number 1 coffee order these days in Australia is a Cafe Latte or is this what you are referring to by a flat white??

  • James

    Same deal, milk hides the taste

  • Brad Warland

    Why do you care is a more important question? You really think coffee styles comes down to generational
    demographics? It’s a simple fact that different people like different things, age not dependent. FFS certain generations are more likely to be seen drinking Starbucks abominations. I’d never make a dumb stereotype though.

  • Brad Warland

    What? The sugar part?

  • Brad Warland

    Not as much as sugars and syrups and crap. If only a little milk is used there’s nothing wrong with a flat white if that’s the preference. And it’s nobody elses closeminded business. I alternate between them and piccolo, no additives. I understand the taste difference.

  • James


  • Brad Warland

    100% agreed

  • Darren Pauli

    Lactose intolerance in Australia was 6.2% as of 2015. Hardly ‘one in two’. Soy is not ‘worse’. We have the greatest ever collection of human knowledge freely and easily accessible via Google and writers still resort to firing from the hip.


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