The History of Australia’s Love Story with Coffee

Posted on August 10, 2017 by Ash Bennett

Around the world, everyone knows that Australia is obsessed with coffee. Indeed, we’ve perfected flat whites and long blacks into an art form! But have you ever wondered how café culture sprung up in this country? After all, this flavourful brew isn’t native to Australia’s shores. Find out below how coffee stole the country’s heart–and never gave it back.

1880s: The Reign of Coffee Palaces

Prior to the 1880s, there’s no record of coffee in Australia. We have no evidence that indigenous Australians drank coffee before colonization. Meanwhile, when exiled British citizens arrived on Aussie soil, the Crown sent crates of tea along with them.

Coffee’s origin story in Australia is actually a surprising one. Back in the 19th century, Melbourne was known for its love affair with alcohol. Rum was the drink of choice–and Melburnians in the 1880s were infamous for overindulging! As a result, there was a temperance movement that formed, where Christian ladies would campaign ardently to clean up the city’s party-hearty reputation.

Consequently, Melbourne ruled to implement dry suburbs and a 6 p.m. closing time on its bars. But the city’s fine gents and lovely ladies still needed social establishments to spend their evenings! So, guess what sprung up? Coffee houses! Known as “coffee palaces”, these luxurious venues were famous for their stunning architecture and elegant interiors. Most of these palaces even contained hotel rooms to facilitate their guests’ alcohol-free socializing.

1890s to 1920s: The Passion Fades… Slightly

The temperance movement blew over in 1891, when Melbourne was rocked by economic collapse. Times were tough that decade, and pocket money was being spent on stronger drinks than coffee! So, many coffee palaces applied for liquor licenses by 1897, as a means to supplement their dwindling incomes

But coffee never disappeared completely! Russian immigrants, like Ivan Repin, kept coffee culture alive in the 1920s. Repin’s first coffee shop popularized the practice of roasting coffee and selling take-home bags of beans. His fleet of cafés later expanded to serve delicious filter coffee at locations in Bellevue Hill, Lane Cove, Paddington, and Palm Beach.

1930s to 1960s: Espresso Lands in Australia

From 1930s to 1960s, the course of Australia’s romance with coffee was changed forever. Around WWII, droves of Italian and Greek immigrants moved to Australia. Can you guess what they’d stowed in their baggage? Stove-top espresso brewers! Indeed, this influx of Europeans was the first group of people to introduce Australia to espresso shots.

That being said, it wasn’t love at first sip for Australians. Up until the 1950s, espresso was only popular amongst immigrants, because the drink wasn’t widely available outside of European grocers and restaurants. But once the Italians started opening up their own specialty cafés, roasting businesses, and distribution networks, Australia fell head over heels!

Ever since the 1960s, espresso drinks and filter coffee have continued to capture the country’s imagination. We’ve earned a worldwide reputation for excellence, as our baristas, roasters, and café owners continue to push the limits of creativity and taste. Now, in the 21st century, this love affair between Australians and their beloved brew shows no signs of cooling down.

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