Australia and Thailand:
Witnessing the Infancy and Youth of a Café Culture
Australians have come out of the home with their coffee consumption, and are joining the café culture that has become so popular in other areas of the world.
As you might expect from what was originally a colony of England, Australia has been traditionally a tea-drinking country. Australians consumed 3.1 kg of tea per head during World War II, and only .3 kg of coffee.
After the war, Australia became the new home to many refugees and immigrants. Predominately Italian and Greek, and later Hungarians, Poles and Czechs, these people yearned for the food and lifestyle of their native country - for the wine, the cheeses, the social atmosphere of cafés, and good coffee itself.
In 1947, the Cantarella brothers, Orzio and Carmello from Italy began importing Italian cheeses, wines, pasta, and mineral waters, in addition to coffee, to satisfy these transplanted Europeans’ cravings. They began roasting coffee in 1958, specializing in roast and ground coffee for espressos. Their brand, Vittoria, has since become the largest pure coffee company in Australia.
The development of the espresso market in Australia coincided with a new general awareness of gourmet food and wine. The more affluent Australians had begun to travel. When they returned from their trips, often from Europe, their palates were ready for “quality foods.” They got their fix at gourmet restaurants and cafés that were beginning to sprout up.
Today, the field has become competitive. For instance, in Newtown, an inner suburb close to Sydney, there are 170 restaurants and cafés, and four roast and ground outlets in the once working class, now newly gentrified 2.5km shopping strip.
Campos coffee is just one of the many coffee shops. Proprietor Andy McArthur serves 22 varieties and blends of beans roasted on-site, as well as espresso coffee. He roasts up to 18 tons of coffee each year.
“My customer base has increased tremendously over the last 12 years,” he told Tea & Coffee Asia (our sister publication). “Where once it was a small group of local Greeks and Yugoslavs, and some Australians, it is now people of all ethnic mixes from all over Sydney.”
Baristas are even in demand here. Most of the larger roast and ground coffee businesses are now operating barista courses where students are given an overview of coffee roasting machine maintenance, and taught the art of espresso-making.
Australians still say the consumption of whole bean and espresso coffee is still somewhat limited to the more affluent people and ethnic minorities, but with so many gourmet roasters with a high level of expertise, many Australians have learned to expect quality coffee.
Perhaps inevitably, along with this increased interest in coffee has an interest in origin - and Australian-grown coffee has in recent years become a choice for retailers to offer their customers.
Australian coffee is grown is a very sunny and clean environment, and since coffee is not indigenous to the country, it does not have to contend with some of the pests and diseases usually associated with coffee from other parts of the world. For example, coffee lead rust is unknown in Australia.
Jacques Coffee and High View Estate coffee plantations are located near the rodeo town of Mareeba in Queensland on the northeastern coast of Australia. Outback coffee Estates grow coffee further north in Lakeland in the Laura Valley. The Australian Coffee and Tea Exporters (ACTE), based in Cairns, markets all three of these estates’ coffees, supplying a line of green and roasted beans. Roasted coffee is available in four packaged blends of 100% Arabica coffee with a uniquely Australian taste - Sydney Opera House Blend, Down Under Blend, the Ayers Rock Blend and the Outback Blend. The flavor of the Australian coffees have been compared with Kenyan and Hawaiian Kona coffee.
Meanwhile, in Thailand there has been a coffee retail boom, where not too long ago there was no such market. Coffee hasn’t been a very popular beverage in Thailand, except for in sweetened and iced drinks, made with far more milk, sugar, and other ingredients than coffee - and often soluble coffee at that.
Along with a recent awareness of specialty coffee and espresso, exemplified by the availability of espresso at restaurants and whole bean coffee available at supermarkets, comes a café culture that has fully arrived in the capital city of Bangkok.
Starbucks has already been a presence here since mid-1998. Black Canyon, a Thai operation, is expanding rapidly and operates “x-press” shops in stations of the city’s newly opened rapid transit system, Skytrain. Other chains, including Coffee World and Japan’s Ueshima Coffee Corporation (UCC) are growing chains here as well. Many independent stores are also constantly springing up.
Coffee World started in 1999 with four outlets and ended the year with 10. According to the company’s general manager, Choompot Tantisoonthorn, business increased during the year by over 200%.
And this phenomenon is not limited to the big city. Black Canyon also operates in the north, northeast, and in the area near Pattaya, and Coffee World has plans to add outlets in provinces outside of Bangkok.
While iced coffee is still Black Canyon’s largest seller in the hot and humid country, other specialty coffees, particularly cappuccino drinks, are gaining in popularity.
Perhaps more successfully than Australia, Thailand is another country that uses locally grown beans in their cafés. Black Canyon and Coffee World both use coffee from the northern part of the country. Black Canyon uses these crops for as much as for 60-70% of its coffee. While Starbucks currently imports all its beans, it is very expensive because of the high duty rates on imported coffee. In the future the chain hopes to be able to use Arabica beans grown by hill tribes in the highlands of northern Thailand. Starbucks is currently working with Thai farmers to increase the quality of their beans.
There is no doubt that Thailand is modernizing and its people are going through significant changes in their lifestyle, but whether this will result any long-term trend remains to be seen. With all the money and time they are putting into the industry, retailers certainly hope so.