We all have a chip on our shoulder. Brits (silently) seethe at being called Polite To A Fault, Americans loudly reject being cast as loudmouths, Spaniards yawn at your lazy tropes, and the French sneer when you call them arrogant.
Australians? We’re desperate to prove our sophistication – something particularly on show when we visit Europe.
Full of a rabid desire to prove the Foster’s swilling, criminal ancestor having, goon sack skulling stereotypes false, we do our utmost to show we can wear multiple hats (and not just Snapbacks).
The result? Pretension. Speaking from experience I can say sitting in a cafe and ordering a ‘noisette’ for the first time in France made my heart tingle.
Then there was the moment I started saying espresso not expresso.
Finally, when I learned to enjoy burnt “cortados” from a cracked glass in Spain it instantly went to my head. That was it: I was a coffee connoisseur.
I then returned to Australia, looking at my friends’ Cappuccino and Mocha orders in the same way an Instagram model might look at a cream cheese bagel (disgusted, but longingly).
I continued in my ‘espresso and long black only’ ways for a good three years (on my darkest days secretly slurping Soy Flat Whites), railing against grown men who order piccolo lattes ‘to go’, tourists who take photos of their coffee, those who refuse to enter anything but the highest Tripadvisor rated cafes and of course those heathens that take their coffee with milk.
Then, recently, in an attempt to validate my deepest feelings of insecurity – to lend a sheen of expertise to my amateur socio-cultural theory that, unless you drink espressos or long blacks, you are a ‘basic’ coffee drinker, I got in touch with the reigning Australia barista champion Matthew Lewin.
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Lewin (kindly) set me straight. Apparently drinking coffee without milk doesn’t make you a better person. Say what?
On top of that, Australia’s espresso culture isn’t necessarily lagging behind Europe as much as you might think. Again – say what?
As Lewin puts it, “Without comparative data I can’t say I agree [that Australians drink fewer espressos than Spaniards and Italians], as Australian coffee culture is built on espresso with 1 in 10 drinks being espresso.”
“USA however is driven by filter coffee heritage seeing minimal espresso culture. Overall espresso is a 10 x stronger drink than filter coffee, so they are worlds apart in terms of black coffee.”
“Yet milk base coffee drinks are familiar, comforting stemming from us all being babies totally reliant on milk as food. Inherently we all at some level are deeply connected to milk via this default so I feel it’s a strong reason why milk coffee out-ways espresso. Also espresso is a strong short drink that typically packs a punch, not for the faint hearted and definitely not for kids.”
The more I listened to Lewin, the more I realised, thinking back on it, I probably met more Cappuccino drinkers in Europe than I did Espresso drinkers (and created a snobby European espresso culture in my head, more from a neurotic reading of Culture Trip than from real-life experiences). But I digress.
On my idea that cappuccino drinkers are ‘basic’ for spoiling the ‘pure’ taste of the bean, Lewin raised another interesting point, telling us cappuccinos in fact may give you a ‘purer’ taste of the bean than another Australian favorite: the flat white.
“Cappuccino originated in Italy, named after monks with their robes. Typically in Italy the cappuccino is characterised via thick dense layer of foam continued here in Australia – difference is we’ve added chocolate sprinkles on top. Choci on top has become a staple identifier of cappuccino in Australia yet more specialty coffee roasters & shops are refraining from this addition.”
“Easily understood it can mask the nuance of what makes the coffee ‘special’ with subtle elements from the farm overshadowed by after-market chocolate dusting. Yes sprinkles are delicious, yet the question is does it speak to specialty coffee’s truest core values and message…? We’ll let customers, roasters, baristas decide that one.”
“Cappuccino is a stronger drink than a flat white when compared in same cup, as a cappuccino traditionally more foam equates to more real estate in the cup (mostly air space) hence less milk resulting in stronger espresso to milk ratio = stronger drink. A flat white is then more easily understood by contrasting composition with less foam, more milk = weaker drinker. Flat whites are drinkable, smooth easy crowd pleaser, cappuccino is richer, more coffee forward expression for bolder milk base drinking experience.”
I stand corrected.