The Localist

Finding Your Identity in Sydney’s Coffee Scene


Ah, the question uttered many a minute all over Sydney. It implies a chance to take a break, have a chat and get caffeinated. Three things we all very much like to do.

Coffee was once a simple matter of dissolving a teaspoonful of powdery stuff in boiled water, and adding a splash of milk. Black coffee was reserved for those with genuine lactose intolerance, and accompanied by a pitying look. A jar of instant existed as a no-brainer supermarket item, coming in at third place on the shopping list, right after milk and bread.

Once upon a time, people seemed quite happy with this familiar and predictable flavour of coffee. These days however, I don’t think the evolution of hot, caffeinated drinks has escaped anyone’s attention. Welcome to the Sydney coffee scene. Coffee is now a full-blown lifestyle choice, and an opportunity to express one’s precious individuality.

Around my neighbourhood of Surry Hills/Redfern, many people will visit their local café daily, and spend $3-$5 on a coffee. This will not simply be ‘a coffee’, but a reconfiguration of coffee, water and milk into a suitable, ‘just right’ concoction.

The aim of coffee, in my humble opinion, is firstly to ingest the wonder-drug caffeine, and secondly to do so in a way which tells the world, for a few minutes, who you really are. Take a closer look at any café and you might notice the following types of people. This might help you figure out what kind of person you are…..

The Blacks, Long or Short

These people profess to like the taste of coffee so much that any extra ingredient tarnishes the mix. They like to be seen as purists, health freaks, do-ers. The ‘eat in’ version of this person will always have a laptop open as they consume. They like to sit back and imagine Anthony Robbins and President Obama starting their day with a black coffee, thus feeling the ingestion of this morning beverage aligns them with productive and inspirational people. Ironically, these types do go on to have a very productive two hours after consumption, followed by a low, then more coffee later.

The Lattes

The Lattes on the other hand, imagine themselves as relaxed and cosmopolitan. They see their morning coffee as a moment where time stands still, and milky creaminess momentarily takes them off to Europe where they are dipping a croissant in their cup and reading a foreign newspaper with a pair of thick-rimmed designer glasses. Lattes are responsible for the consumption of all those baked goods sitting out at cafes, purchased on a cultural high whilst believing themselves to be in France, a country where calories don’t matter.

The Caps

Also a fan of baked goods but rarely ordering them due to carb concerns, cappuccino drinkers are a bunch of unusual mavericks. Others may scoff at this choice, without really knowing why. However, the Cap doesn’t really care for coffee at all. In fact, they would actually prefer to start each day with a hot chocolate but order a cappuccino instead, believing that the dusting of chocolate on top will satisfy their sweet tooth for the day (it never does). On a bad day, the Cap will almost certainly graduate to a mocha, then at the last minute add – ‘skim, of course’. They’re sadly tormented inside and should really just eat a doughnut for breakfast everyday and find internal peace.

On the other hand, as the cappuccino is the most commonly mentioned coffee in 90s movies, a non–coffee drinker will usually default to ordering a cappuccino when faced with too many confusing options. I completely understand this dilemma, it’s crazy out there!

The Flat Whites

Which is why you also might choose to be a Flat White. The Flat Whites seem to care little about their morning beverage, and are happy ordering the most popular option. They are saying: ‘I’m pretty happy to go along with the crowd, I have no edge, I’m normal’, and that’s ok! Personal branding does get exhausting and after you’ve updated facebook with a photo of your morning run on the beach (‘I’m fit!), and posted a photo of your brunch on instagram (I queued for an hour to eat at the coolest café in Sydney!), then tagged all your friends (I’m popular!), I can understand why you might just want to order a goddam flat white and slip into the mainstream for a minute.

The Mylks

It’s quite the opposite for the ‘Mylk’ subculture, that’s any kind of non-dairy milk drinker. Mylks often profess to having food allergies, yet will see nothing unusual about ordering a soy latte with a dairy–laden salted caramel brownie. Unlike the Blacks, who yearn for a simplistic healthy option, Mylks prefer to be at the forefront of new health fads. Believing their milk choice has semi-magical properties, they like to feel superior and are even known to turn against their own kind on a whim. For example soy mylk, once cherished, is now professed to be full of dangerous hormones, and far too mainstream. Instead, it’s almond mylk that’s currently coming up trumps, although early adopters tell you an entirely different story and swear by mylk of the coconut or oat variety. It’s quite hard to gain acceptance into this crowd and you really have to be on your game.

The Coffee Connoisseurs

Which brings us to the ‘coffee connoisseurs’. These people feel boxed in by the above limitations and try to push past simple lifestyle choices. This results in coffee production and consumption becoming a puzzling art form, only performable by certain people, in secret locations, often involving milk crate seats. Cold Drip coffee is one new fad, supposedly locking in flavour that gets lost with hot steam. Order a cold drip coffee to feel like a pioneer.

In conclusion, I hope you’ve gained an insight into the vital importance of ordering coffee in Sydney, a simple task you once thought had no deeper meaning. It is a complicated business and do feel free to experiment, it takes a while to decide how you want the world to see you. Remember, if all else fails, you can always slip by incognito as a Flat White and nobody will even guess you’re not a Sydneysider. Happy drinking!




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