Australia has become a world leader in coffee, with Melbourne often cited as an international hot spot for the best baristas in the industry. But how exactly did coffee become such an elaborate and debated topic in the world of hospitality?
The story of coffee started well before sidewalk cafes or hipster baristas were invented. As legend has it, many thousands of years ago, an Ethiopian goat shepherd named Kaldi begun to notice a change in his herd. Jumping and dancing around, he discovered his goats had been munching on a strange plant with red berries. Intrigued, he tasted some for himself, and was so energised and awake he was able to walk his herd all through the night.
A god-fearing man, Kaldi decided to take these magical berries to the monks in a nearby town. Deeming them the devils work, the monks threw the berries into the flames, only to be met by a delicious roasting aroma. Unable to resist, they ground them up and warily tasted the concoction. Alas, the monks were now converted, adoring of their new discovery that enable them to study and pray longer than ever before. And so, coffee as we know it came into existence.
In the years since Kaldi and his dancing goats, coffee has become more than just caffeine. The flavour, the origin, the roast, the presentation, and the aroma have all become crucial elements to creating the perfect cup of coffee - a dream that has founded whole careers, created a billion-dollar industry, and driven many men to madness.
At this year's Fine Food Expo in Sydney, we listened to world expert and coffee legend Michael McCauley talk about his view on the burgeoning trends within an already lucrative industry. As a 'small time' business owner in America, who eventually found 'big time' commercial success in Europe, Michael shed some light on the micro vs. macro fight that seems to be constantly playing out on the international stage in the coffee industry.
In the time since Kaldi, coffee became an integral part of many European cultures. Depending on the country (even the region) it was prepared in vastly different manners, and was given little more thought than a pre-breakfast and after-dinner beverage.
Fast forward to the 1960s on the west coast of America, and coffee is about to begin its migration into a commercial entity. A Dutchman begins to import fine European coffee to his local cafe, and is surprised to forge a loyal following of fans. Word travels fast, and in the 1980s, Howard Schultz of New York travels to Italy, discovers new way of making coffee, and brings it back to America. Starbucks is born.
McCauley points out the 'big guy versus little guy' mentality has therefore been present from the very inception of commercial coffee in the Western world. A game of push and pull has existed from the start, as the constant pursuit of the finest quality is matched only by the unrelenting retail ambition for quantity.
It is the artisan roots of the coffee movement that has attracted coffee lovers for decades to the cause: whether it's seeking out the best roasts or the most exotic origins, there are blogs, television series, books, and even degrees dedicated to finding the perfect cup of joe. Driving forward these discoveries into mainstream culture, in turn, are the multinational faces of commercial coffee: Starbucks, Gloria Jeans, Caribou, Costa Coffee, Lavazza, and many more. Other 'at home' ventures like Nespresso have also joined the movement, taking artisan coffee right into our own kitchens.
For McCauley, looking forward into the future of world coffee is just as exciting as tracing its past roots and trends. He points to the training and regulation of the barista trade as a great start, with 55,000 people around the world now officially registered baristas. In addition, great leaps in technology and new gadgets will change the way we drink our coffee.
Most importantly, however, it is the process behind the coffee industry that will see the greatest shift: increased awareness around the fair-trade nature of the coffee's origin, the conditions of the plantations, and greater focus on the environmental cost of the farming. For many of us, our day doesn't begin until we get our morning cup of coffee, so we must all work together to ensure it's a trade that, regardless of its internal politics, can continue in a sustainable growth.
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