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The Decline of Tea and the Dethroning of the Flat White - Bean Scene Magazine, Issue 7, 2005


Appearing in Bean Scene Magazine,

Issue 7, 2004

The Decline of Tea and the

Dethroning of the Flat White


Take a sample size of 300,000 cups taken across four cafes over a year in a major Australian city, add the most up-to-date POS software and some keen eyes for analysis and you have one survey that truly reflects Australian coffee drinking today. The results will shock and surprise write David Gee and Matthew Gee.


The Setting

A small café in regional Australia, circa 1980

Granny 1: I’ll have my usual today – a nice hot cuppa!

Granny 2: Mmnn, yes- that sounds good but I’d really like one of those flat whites that people seem to be drinking nowadays. It’ll go nicely with my lamington.

fastforward to…

A small espresso bar in regional Australia, circa 2005

Granny 1: I’d really like one of those caffe lattes that people seem to be drinking nowadays.

Granny 2: Mmnn, yes with that nice creamy layer on the top and little design. It’ll go nicely with my friand. I’ll have skim milk though and I’d better have a decaf today. A shot of crème brulee would be a treat too!



Had we been settled by the Portuguese or the Dutch we might have ended up drinking a host of weird and wonderful beverages (most of them alcoholic) but as we were settled by the good old English, we had no choice but to develop into nation of tea drinkers. International travel and exposure to different cultures through magazines, movies, television and the internet has however opened up our culture to a variety of new hot drinks in the café - to the point where no longer is tea our drink of choice. This article is based on recent survey data taken from a massive sample size and reveals and interesting snapshot of exactly what it is that we are drinking in our cafés today.


No tea please, we’re Australian

We may drink tea at home, but we definitely don’t drink it when we go out. Of coffee and tea drinks taken together, tea accounted for only 2.5% of the total. This means that it would be fair to say that for every hundred people that come in to a typical Australian café, only about 2.5 order a cup of tea!

Café owners whom we have recently spoken to about these results suggest that this is because the perceived value of tea is much less than coffee, given that most people can make a decent cup at home for approximately fifteen cents.


And the Coffee Bean Award for most popular coffee drink in Australia goes to…


Taking a look at the figures below, it is obvious that whilst the Aussie-invented flat white still ranks highly, no longer is it the most popular coffee.


As a percentage of coffees that were ordered:
29% were cappuccino
28% were flat white
20% were caffe latte
7% were caffe mocha
5.25% were hot chocolate
4% were long black
1% were espresso/short black

These 7 drinks made up about 96% of all coffees ordered. That means that only 4% were made up of drinks such as short macchiato, long macchiato, doppio, white hot chocolate, chai latte, vienna, mocha vienna, steamer, white mocha vienna and ristretto.


The above statistics also tell us that almost 80% of coffees that are made in a café consist of just three coffees: the cappuccino, the flat white and the caffe latte. So if you’re starting a café or learning to be a barista our advice would be to completely master these drinks before you spend hours finetuning your vienna.

I’ll have a weak, decaf, skinny soy latte with a twist of lemon please

Interestingly, of all coffee-based drinks only 1.5% were decaf. Whilst all cafés should offer decaf the reality is that it probably doesn’t warrant a café buying in decaf beans and putting them in a separate grinder. Most cafés now get pre-ground 300g espresso grind brick-packs (ie. ground coffee, not beans). So long as the contents are put in an airtight container upon opening, the grinds will remain fresh. The only drawback with buying pre-ground coffee is that you are not able to adjust the grind to get a perfect extraction.


Anecdotal evidence suggests that it is mainly pregnant women and older ladies who are drinking decaf. Whilst the Colombian decaf beans that most cafés use are pretty good these days, decaf has attracted a stigma that ensures that most people will never even try it. Like light beer to seasoned beer drinkers, decaf is often frowned upon and regarded by most as a "why bother" coffee.

My coffee’s a little bitter, can you add something sweet?


Thanks to Starbucks and Gloria Jeans and other "flavour shot" trailblazers, syrups are becoming more popular. 4% of all coffee drinks in our sample contained a shot of syrup.
Most popular syrups were:
Caramel 51% of total
French Vanilla 22% of total
Hazelnut 18% of total
Irish Cream 6% of total
Creme Brulee 2% of total
Other 1% of total

If you’re buying syrups for home use, you can buy them from most catering shops or coffee companies. Just don’t let them sell you dodgy syrups like Granny’s Snickerdoodle or Kiwi Mint. Take it from us, they’re not on the above list for a reason!

Real men drink soy

Full cream milk of course still rules. 75% of all coffees in our sample of 300,000 cups contained full cream milk. Only 23% of all coffees were based on skim milk and 1.5% on full cream soy and 0.5% on light soy. Skim and soy milk, are however, on the rise.

According to Suzi Kati, manager of Blue Wave Coffee in Brisbane, a few of her regulars have made the switch to soy after converting to non-dairy diets. "These guys were die hard full cream milk drinkers but overnight changed to soy based on a seminar they went to. I don’t know whether it’s true or not but they swear it’s better for them and they say they love the taste as well."

Café owners and home baristas should also understand that not all milk brands offer the same texture in terms of finished, frothed milk. It is definitely worth road testing all the milk brands available on the market and you will quickly observe that some are far superior to others in terms of the way they froth. Certain milk brands are able to produce fantastic smooth silky frothed milk (Riverina Milk is a good example) and others simply cannot.


Man cannot live on coffee alone


Although to date we have only spoken about tea and coffee, our survey also looked at the product mix. Throughout our year-long analysis we found that through the introduction of a juice component to the menu, overall revenue actually increased and seemed to bring in new customers rather than poach existing coffee-drinking ones.

This growth in the juice sector is partly thanks to the amazing success of companies like Boost Juice and Nudie who have popularised healthy energy-enhancing fruit juices and frappés.

Independent cafés can also get in on the act rather inexpensively by investing in juicers, yoghurt, gelato ice cream and fresh fruit. You can then rest easy at night knowing that not only are your customers getting more healthy but so are your profits.


It’s not only the quality of the coffee, it’s also the cup you serve it in


People often ask us what cups are in vogue. As our survey was not designed to give us this information, we surveyed 50 cafés in Sydney to see what they were using and why.


Most café owners told us that tall, slender latte glasses are out and that the smaller 225ml/240ml latte glasses are in vogue. Cafés in the CBD area preferred the 225ml latte glass. This also means that layered lattes are now generally considered passé (not to mention being incredibly time-consuming to make).


Anecdotal evidence also suggests that ceramic cappuccino cups any smaller than 225ml/240ml are viewed as too small (some are as small as 180ml!). Jimmy Ni (long time owner of Piccadilly café in Paddington, Sydney) summed the cup situation up well. "Ten years ago in Sydney it was considered trendy to serve your coffee in small cups – more the Italian way I guess. But Aussies love value and nobody can say with the 240ml cup that you are ripping them off. Bigger is definitely better."


Stackable cappuccino cups also seem to be a no-no unless you are a caterer and need to stack cups for transit purposes. The cappuccino cups that most café operaters now prefer are the large bowl-shaped ones that have a big, stylish spread on top. Cups shaped like this also allow lots of artwork to be featured on top if poured by a skilled barista.

So there you have it – the decline of tea and the layered latte, the decline of the flat white, the emergence of the soy latte and rise to prominence of the 240ml cup. It will be interesting to follow up with the same survey in 10 years’ time. Trends even since the Gee brothers’ survey was conducted indicate a slight increase in black drinks being ordered. Our English tea-drinking ancestors would shudder at the thought.


Matthew Gee and David Gee currently run a wholesale coffee business in NSW and a barista training school called BARISTA BASICS Coffee Academy that operates in Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney and Newcastle. They have also owned four cafes in Brisbane (still own one), have been partners in a specialty coffee roaster, have written Australia’s first textbook on coffee, produced several training videos on coffee and are currently producing a book and DVD focusing on domestic espresso machines.

Last year Matthew and David have appeared on Bert Newton’s Good Morning Australia and Channel 9’s Fresh with Jeff Janstz. They have also worked as official espresso tasters for Choice Magazine’s 2004 review of home espresso machines. They also periodically appear on Ella James’ Saturday night radio program on Sydney’s 2UE.

 Ó & Ô 2005 David Gee and Matthew Gee

No part of this article may be reproduced without the express permission of the authors


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