Image above of Pellegrini’s Cafe
When Italian brothers Leo and Vildo Pellegrini imported the first espresso machine to Australia in the early 1950’s they mustn’t have known the profound impact that that machine would later have on the city they called home (Australian food timeline, n.d). Residing on the top of Bourke street, in Melbourne’s CBD, Pelligrini’s is an institution that still stands today. Whilst it is wildly debated whether they owned the first espresso machine in Australia at that time, there is no argument as to the drastic change that was taking place in Melbourne in 1950. Following WWII, an influx of Greek and Italian migrants had created a coffee culture that was rapidly growing (Hanscombe, n.d.). Populating the inner suburbs of Melbourne, the European coffee culture began to occupy much of the cities laneways and streets, with new coffee stalls and cafe’s popping up throughout the city.
The 'Melbourne' Style Coffee Shop:
By the 1950’s older style tea houses had been replaced with coffee lounges, with new espresso machines attracting a more bohemian clientele filled with teenagers and young adults sick of the old style milk bars and pubs (Watson, 2019). Ultimately by the time American civil servants arrived, Melbourne’s coffee scene was already booming. Cosmopolitan cafe’s such as Mario’s (Brunswick Street), Florentino’s (CBD) and The Galleon in St Kilda became renowned coffee hangouts. And with more and more coffee shops popping up all over the city, the beginning of the Melbourne cafe culture was born (Hanscombe, n.d.).
Melbourne Coffee Free To Innovate:
Some 70 years later and coffee is still as synonymous with Melbourne’s sense of identity as it was back then. Nowadays Melbourne’s coffee culture is globally recognised as being one of the most innovative in the world. Some believe that due to the influence of the Italian’s on Melbourne’s coffee scene as opposed to the French, the city wasn’t bound by the same restraints that many other countries were at the time (Watson, 2019). This allowed Melbourne to flourish in creating some of the highest quality coffee in the world without the shackles of French tradition. Today, Melbourne has become famous for it’s light roast’s, moving away from the bitter Italian coffee’s of the past to create a brew that is floral and smooth. You can see these coffee’s in many different forms (including the Flat White — an Australian invention) in many countries across the World, from Seoul to New York and London to Cape Town.
Melbourne’s coffee culture is forever changing. With more independent cafe’s per capita than anywhere else in the world, it is no wonder that Australia was the only western country in the world that Starbucks failed in. In such a highly competitive industry, cafe’s and roasters are constantly battling it out for business. Many roasters have turned to different extraction methods, from cold brewed coffee to high end filter pour overs, in a desire to provide customers with the best, most innovative coffee in the city. Ultimately as the cloud of uncertainty lingers over the future of coffee production, we, the consumer, should be prepared for significant changes. And whilst the predictions for the future of coffee might make for grim reading, there is no doubting Melbourne and its coffee obsessed people will be at the forefront of this innovative change.
Photo credit – Simon Schluter
Watson J, 2019, The world is hooked on Australian coffee culture. This is how it got so good, ABC news, [published 28th December, 2019], https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-12-28/best-australian-coffee-big-overseas/11747342
Australian food timeline, 1954 Pellegrini’s opens in Bourke Street, https://australianfoodtimeline.com.au/pellegrinis-opens/
Hanscombe Rosemary, n.d., Cafe culture, Museums Victoria Collections, Published: Museums Victoria, https://collections.museumsvictoria.com.au/articles/2933