Instant Coffee Pride
Coffee snobbery has reached epic proportions in Australia, with instant coffee drinkers regularly being shamed. It’s time to set the record straight and encourage equality in Australia.
As a child, the only coffee I knew was Moccona. It was a staple in our household and the iconic glass jars were recycled and filled our pantry, storing all manner of goods. When guests came over it was offered with pride and warmly received – a little indulgence in the Aussie ‘burbs. Like the majority of Australians, my family still loves their instant coffee. Which is why it puzzles me that so much pretension has invaded the coffee scene here – it just seems un-Australian. For a country that prides itself on being laid-back, blue collar and authentic, snobbery over barista coffee has become an ugly, and sadly, tolerated, discrimination.
Caffei-nationThe last few decades have seen the explosion of Australia’s coffee obsession, from the “discovery" of foamy cappuccinos in the 80s to today’s romance with ever more ridiculous barista brews (I’m talking about you, ‘double shot latte with macadamia milk, extra hot, not much froth, in a mug not a glass’ or Melbourne’s infamous deconstructed coffee). It has given us a reputation internationally for fussiness and fetishism over the bean. While the inner-city hipsters of Melbourne and Sydney keep hitting the headlines as they debate the merits of bean origin and critique local baristas, it seems the reputation is all show and no substance.
Regular coffeeThe loud and proud have commanded attention, but it turns out that they are just a noisy minority. The hard data shows that 70% of coffee sold in Australia is instant. We like it even more than anyone else in the world, recording the highest percentage of consumption according to international market research organisation, Euromonitor. Recent instant coffee preference and sales growth has been linked to traditionally tea-loving regions, like China, and perhaps this is what happened in Australia, only decades earlier. From the start, we’ve always liked the convenience of boiling water to make a hot drink.
Instant gratificationThe energising effects of coffee have led to its worldwide appeal and position as the second most traded commodity, outperforming everything except crude oil. Historically it can be traced back at least to the 15th century, and possibly the 10th century. However, the time, equipment and process for making coffee is an obstacle for many, and as early as 1771, the first versions of powdered coffee were emerging. This desire for a simple, ready to drink version resulted in an evolution of instant coffees, reaching the biggest innovation in 1964 with invention of freeze-dried coffee. This method, that involves freezing fresh brewed coffee and extracting the ice in a vacuum, had a finished product that looked more like ground coffee and tasted better.
Extraction processAustralia’s infatuation with coffee traces back to the American servicemen stationed here during World War 2. Although coffee houses had been around since the 1800s, tea reigned supreme until WWII. But the war took its toll on the tea industry, and prices rose due to supply issues and shortages, reducing accessibility for the average Australian. Meanwhile, the glamorous American soldiers who favoured the instant coffee that was issued with their ration packs, led the demand for coffee here. Australians followed suit, and coffee consumption doubled at this time.
Gaining groundCafes took off in the post-war Australian landscape, further cultivating our taste for coffee. Next, the advent of supermarket shopping in the 1960s, the rise of packaged foods, and the improvement in instant coffee taste and quality, meant that instant coffee became a staple in Australian households. It was convenient and modern, left no mess, and made a perfect cup in just three seconds. Workplaces started supplying instant coffee to keep staff satisfied and found that the favourite drink also kept them alert and productive. An elitism around varieties and brands of instant coffee emerged, but overall it was perfectly acceptable to drink instant coffee, with no fear of condemnation.
Bitter aftertasteAttitudes towards instant coffee seem to have shifted with the rise of the internet and photo sharing. Then it wasn’t just coffee companies seeking the ideal image of their product to arouse our senses - anyone with a smartphone could snap their morning cuppa and post it to inspire envy. The affordable indulgence of an artisanal latte with creamy artwork became the mainstay of early Facebook and Instagram, but also cultivated the pretension inherently associated with privilege. Instead of just celebrating the magnificence of their barista brews, people were actively discriminating against instant coffee. Meanwhile millions of instant coffee drinkers have quietly maintained their preference.
Expert blendCoffee drinking is now an everyday pursuit for most Australians. Whether it’s an extravagant café concoction or a convenient cup of Moccona, all coffee preferences should be accepted and celebrated with no judgment. Australia is a beautiful blend of different cultures and tastes, with room for everyone to live in harmony, respecting each other’s choices. It’s time to stop shaming instant coffee and enjoy your coffee however you drink it.