Australian Coffee Culture Grows Its Following in New York City

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by Bowrun Hou
Australian style brunch with coffee at Bluestone Lane Cafe in New York City. Image: courtesy of Instagram user @eatingwithminnie.

An Australian-style cafe has found success in New York City since opening in 2010, with two new locations slated to open in April 2016. Bluestone Lane now operates eight stores, seven of which are located in Manhattan. New York City has experienced a proliferation of independently run Australian cafes which have garnered rapid popularity. After only a few months of operation, Toby’s Estate in the trendy area of Williamsburg, Brooklyn was nominated as a top pick in a local coffee guide in 2012. Another Australian cafe, Two Hands, has been referred to as one of the most “Instagrammable” cafes in New York and is named after the 1999 film starring the late Australian actor, Heath Ledger. Their popularity has made it difficult to find a seat in these cafes during peak hours, and the stores face high demand for their variety of gourmet foods, ranging from avocado toast to acai bowls and what Australians call “real coffee”.

Many Australians who visit American cafes have reported that they experience a culture shock. Whilst American coffee culture, which has been popularized by Starbucks, tends to be a grab-and-go culture, Australian cafes are designed for relaxation and socializing. Thus is it unsurprising that Australia is the only place in the world where Starbucks had to shut down as many as three quarters of its stores. Australian cafes in New York such as Brunswick, which is named after a street in Melbourne, create open and aesthetic spaces with bright lighting and clean designs, facilitating social engagement. Instead of drinking large quantities of coffee for the caffeine, Australians value table service and wholesome foods, alongside the artisan beverage, as part of the coffee experience. Owner of Bluestone Lane, Nick Stone, believes that Australian cafes are creating “loyalty” in American coffee culture through their “unique, personal experience”.

The influence of Australian coffee has extended to American media and popular culture, with a major filming location for the hit television show Girls taking place in the Australian-owned Cafe Grump. Taylor Swift’s visit to the Bluestone Lane’s store in West Village three times within the cafe’s first year of opening created huge hype. Starbucks also added the Australian classic “flat white” to its core espresso beverage menu at its US stores in January 2015 to honor “coffee artistry and espresso craft”. The milky brew has overtaken sales in cappuccinos in Toby Estate and become one of the top five sellers. According to management at another Australian chain, Pie Face, more New Yorkers are venturing into Australian cafes and realizing how “advanced our coffee culture in Australia truly is”. 

Bowrun Hou is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a student at the University of Sydney. 

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