Coffee culture: A history

Australia’s love affair with coffee is stronger than ever; it’s become a way of life. But exactly how did a beverage manage to shape our country’s culture?

The Australian palette is vastly appreciative. Our multicultural makeup, as well as our close proximity to Asia, styles our national cuisine: a unique medley of cross-cultural flavour and flair. We'll sample the new, revisit the old and trial the new with the old. But however experimental and diverse our dishes may be, when it comes to coffee, we know what we want: the best.

And why shouldn't we? Legend has it the origin of the coffee bean dates back to the 9thcentury. With more than a thousand years of exposure to different cultures, the ol' cup of joe has had plenty of opportunity to reach perfection. If Australia can count its contribution to the global coffee scene in flat whites (or was it NZ? The controversy continues), the Middle East can claim its influence in coffee shops. The first recorded coffee house was in Arabia during the 15th century, used as a place for men to meet, drink coffee and enjoy music, games and conversation. The idea caught and coffee houses began to spread to Egypt and Turkey, before India, Europe and beyond.

Centuries later, the Italians followed suit, adding their own gusto to the coffee narrative. First finding success in Venice via trade, coffee swiftly spilled over the rest of the country; many extravagantly-designed coffee houses were erected for public enjoyment. Built in Milan's Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in 1867, Caffé Zucca was one of the first coffee houses in the Italian capital. Still open for business today, the café was frequented by 19th-century musicians, Giuseppe Verdi and Arturo Toscanini, who would enjoy a coffee after performances at La Scala. In 1901, Milan's Luigi Bezzera invented the espresso, the city changing the coffee game forevermore. 

Sub out Milano's Zucca for any one of Melbourne's crowded café lanes today, and you'll find that the enjoyment of quality coffee has transcended centuries - the art of coffee still reigns supreme. Coffee 'palaces' began populating Melbourne in the 1880s, before the first espresso machine came to town in the 1930s, calling Café Florentino (now Grossi Florentino) on Bourke Street, home. A specialty at first, the post-World War II influx of Italian migrants saw espresso's popularity soar, and Australia's obsession begin.

While today we may take our espresso under a frothy coat of chai latte (read: the dirty chai); coffee has proved it's here to stay. We're continually evolving and we're taking coffee with us. The crescendoing hustle and bustle of life's daily grind has led to an abundance of caffeine-coated hangouts. Melburnians claim top position with 63.3% of people paying at least one visit a month to a coffee shop, followed closely by Hobart (62.7%) and Sydney (61%).

We're self-proclaimed coffee snobs, seeking out a favourite coffee shop in all the postcodes of our life. Thanks to the introduction of at-home espresso machines, our love for quality coffee can continue to grow alongside our swelling schedules. Nespresso's newly released Tribute to Milano Limited Edition blend takes us back to the original espresso heyday, in true 21st-century style. With a push of a button, the blend delivers refined flavours of traditional Italian coffee; smooth, intense and with a hint of fruity aroma - just as Verdi liked it.

But it's more than the bitterness of the brew we're checking off our criteria list. Now more than ever we're, interested in the sourcing and manufacturing of our goods. It's a public awareness that's seen a shift in our coffee culture once more. The terms 'certified-organic', 'fair-trade', and 'sustainably-sourced' are now frequent occurrences on Australian café menus and at-home espresso labels alike.

"Coffee is the second-largest raw export in the world, after oil. The importance of sustainable practices across all stages of operations is paramount," says Nespresso ambassador Mitch Monaghan. "This means how the coffee is grown, how it is packaged, produced and transported, and, of course, how it is disposed of after consumption."

Australia's love affair with coffee is only intensifying. Like any enduring relationship, compromise has seen its survival. It seems whatever the unimaginable future holds in store, coffee's deep-rooted culture will continue to thrive. 

This article is presented by Nespresso.

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