After landing in Melbourne, it took me three days before I ordered a cup of coffee. My usual style of caffeine intake is very American–medium-roast drip, black, and straight to the veins if possible. Asking a barista to explain a flat-white was more painful than falling asleep in the middle of a conversation or at a bar, especially in a city known for its sophisticated cafe culture.
Day four was a day I spent with old Australian friends. We met for brunch in Richmond on the fourth day. Richmond is an east suburb filled with hip cafes and deliciously decorated restaurants. A busy waiter asked us for our coffee order as we settled into our tables. Crap. Crap.
It was my turn. “Uh…I don’t know what this means.” Recept.
One of my dining-mates suggested a flat white. It’s an Australian classic.” He nodded, I nodded and the waiter nodded. My first experience ordering coffee, almost as embarrassing as I imagined.
It seemed so to me at least. My companions were quick and confident to assure me. They said that drip coffee, which flows as freely from insulated carafes in American restaurants as in America, is not common. Coffee in Australia is made from espresso and is made to order. Independent coffee shops are more popular than chain coffee shops, but local chains offer various espresso-based options and the option to use a mug. My $4.50 cup of creamy coffee was a warm reminder that culture is more important than price. We ordered another round and then sipped on our coffees for several hours, talking, consuming our drinks, and enjoying our avocado-adorned breakfasts.
After more than a year, I felt confident and had figured out my order. While jet lag was helpful, it wasn’t the same as standing in line at busy coffee shops and listening. These are some things that I wish I knew about ordering coffee in Australia before my first, embarrassingly ordered flat white.
Here are some general tips to order coffee in Australia
Ask for more than a cup of coffee. First, tell us if you are asking for a take-away coffee. Next, tell us the size and style. It is important to be specific. The beauty of Australian espresso drinks lies not only in the careful crafting but also in their adaptability. Locals will often ask for customization: sweetened or weak, sweetened or topped with milk, as well as a dollop of cream.
Alternative milks are very popular and many cafes offer soy or almond milk for those who don’t drink dairy. You can order something “skinny” in most places to get skim milk.
Once you have completed your order, sit down and enjoy a few minutes. The barista must measure, pull, steam, and froth the espresso and make a signature swirl for you and about a dozen other coffee drinkers. Do not worry, a great flat white, cap, and long black are worth the wait.
The origins of flat whites are a source of tension, as both Australians and New Zealanders claim they invented them. However, there’s no denying their popularity. Flat whites are made with one shot of espresso, a large amount of silky steamed cream, and a thin layer microfoam. They are served in a ceramic cup.
Ask for a long-black if you want an Americano. If you’re lucky enough to find a café that offers pour-over coffee, this double shot of coffee poured into hot coffee is as close as drip coffee can get.
This one is easy: Just one shot of espresso
A macchiato short is an espresso shot with milk foam. It can be described as one shot of espresso.
It can be a bit more difficult to ask for a long macchiato. Baristas may interpret this as a double shot, with some foam added, while others add hot water to make it more like a long black. Customers are usually asked their preference.
This one is easy. This drink is similar to a standard cap. It requires one shot of espresso, steamed water, and a thick layer of foam. Although cappuccinos are made in Australia, many cafes use cocoa powder to enhance the beans’ natural flavor.
A ristretto shot is stopped at 15 seconds after it has pulled, rather than the usual 30 seconds for a regular espresso. Because of its lower liquid content, it is usually served twice. It also has a smoother and less acidic finish.
The ristretto is now Australian. It was invented in Melbourne, though Sydneysiders claim it is theirs. A double ristretto is steaming milk poured over the top of a double ristretto and served in a 6-ounce glass. This term is generally only known by Melburnian baristas.