Brisbane is a serious player in coffee culture and it started in 1832


“We’re seeing more boutique brands and then the link to mainstream McDonald’s and other stores doing coffee themselves.

“That takes higher level coffee to a broader market at a base level but then they’re innovating with things like coffee sundaes.”

George Clooney has been a long-time ambassador for a coffee brand.

George Clooney has been a long-time ambassador for a coffee brand.Credit:NATHAN DENETTE

Dr Fry said even instant coffee was lifting its game, introducing pods of flavoured coffee and promoting the life of a coffee drinker as attractive as the market evolves.

“We’ve got people having their cappuccino machines at home and Nespresso and Moccona pods but I think Nespresso has changed the space at home,” she said.

“They’ve innovated and really set the scene with George Clooney, positioning coffee as a drink [and] posing the question how can coffee be elitist and sophisticated? As we’ve seen, clearly it is.

“People love lining up to choose their pods with the help of a specialist at the store engaging with them about the process of choosing their flavour.”

Dr Fry said there were multiple choices of flavours, options of milk and variety with the additional expectation of baristas providing customers with a unique experience.

“People are wanting to see lovely little designs and colours that will add that extra level of enjoyment,” she said.

“If coffee shops and cafes innovate on bean type and presentation type, comes with a biscuit or chocolate coffee bean then people come back.

“It’s all about novelty, the enjoyment, that ah-hah moment that gives them just a little bit of a thrill that doesn’t cost a lot of money.

“It goes to show you don’t have to be rich to be a coffee snob.”

Merlo Coffee chief executive officer and director James Wilkinson and founder Dean Merlo.

Merlo Coffee chief executive officer and director James Wilkinson and founder Dean Merlo.

Brisbane-based coffee company Merlo has opened a $5 million warehouse and distribution centre at Eagle Farm to help meet demand from its growing wholesale and online business.

Chief executive officer James Wilkinson said they filled almost 15,000 online orders for about 30,000 items in 2018, ranging from coffee beans to brewing equipment.

He said Merlo had outgrown its Bowen Hills headquarters.

Mr Wilkinson said competition in Brisbane had resulted in more choices and diversity.

“When I joined Merlo about 20 years ago, there were only two or three other players in Brisbane, including Cosmopolitan and Aromas,” he said.

“We were lucky to sell 100 kilograms in a month when we first started but now we’re selling close to over a tonne a month.

“Queensland was not heavily on the coffee scene but that has now improved drastically where the bigger guys are roasting in Brisbane rather than freighting it up like they used to.

“It’s good to see Brisbane is finally being taken seriously for coffee.”

Merlo roasts 20 tonne of green beans each week, resulting in about 832,000 kilograms of roasted coffee beans sold each year.

About 3,000,000 cups of coffee are also sold throughout Merlos’ 16 stores in Queensland per year.

Mr Wilkinson said he was surprised by the growth in online sales.

“We always knew it was going to be big but the way our business level was, roasting houses and selling our beans coffee through those outlets, we were surprised at the quantity sold,” he said.

Mr Wilkinson said through bean of the month suggestions, they also found coffee drinkers were keen to try different varieties.

“Coffee drinkers are also wanting to know more about coffee itself – where it comes from, the farmers’ backstories, how it’s picked and the balance in flavour profile,” he said.

Dr Emma Felton with her recently published book Filtered: Coffee, the cafe and the 21st century City.

Dr Emma Felton with her recently published book Filtered: Coffee, the cafe and the 21st century City.

Queensland University of Technology senior lecturer Dr Emma Felton, author of Filtered: Coffee, the cafe and the 21st century City said coffee was bringing people together.

“While craft beer is also increasingly popular, more of us are bonding over coffee,” she said.

“The cafe culture is on the rise and much of it is about being part of a community and having that social space that doesn’t cost much.

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“People do lots of things in cafes whether they are by themselves among other people or seeing work colleagues for a meeting at a cafe and even Tinder dates.”

Dr Felton said she was amazed to learn while researching for her book that Kangaroo Point in Brisbane showed the first recorded growth of coffee in Australia in 1832.

“It was believed coffee came across in the first fleet when they stopped in Brazil to pick up supplies,” she said.

“We have had a strong cafe culture since 1980s due to post-WWII when Italians and Greek migrated here and brought espresso machines in what changed the whole way we make coffees.”

Dr Felton said coffee culture had become equivalent to wine-making.

“People now have the same kind of attention to detail as they do with wine, focusing on the ‘crop to drop’ phases,” she said.

“They’re passionate about getting the information coffee proprietors and specialists have and are concerned about how the bean is grown, where it comes from, how it’s roasted and brewed.”

Dr Felton said Australia was unique in that there were about 14,000 cafes, with 95 per cent independently owned.

“We don’t have a lot of chain cafes and in fact, Australia is the only country in the world where Starbucks had failed,” she said.

“In 2000, they rolled out 84 cafes and by 2008, 61 of them had closed but they managed to succeed everywhere else in the world.”

Ona Coffee owner Sasa Sestic with another award winning roast.

Ona Coffee owner Sasa Sestic with another award winning roast. Credit:Elesa Kurtz

Dr Felton said Australian cafes and baristas had made waves in the coffee and cafe space worldwide for decades.

“Australian baristas have made it into the final rounds of nearly every World Barista Championship since it began in 2000 and [in 2015] was won by an Australian, Sasa Sestic,” she said.

Dr Felton said Australian cafes were a big export overseas, with London pinching one of Australia’s popular choice for coffee and naming a cafe Flat White.

“You can find Australian cafes in New York, London and Paris, including a now US-based Australian owned cafe chain Bluestone Lane,” she said.

“There’s Flinders Lane and Little Collins, all Australian owned cafes in US cities.

“Australians have exported our unique style of cafe culture with good coffee and fresh, simple food.”

Jocelyn Garcia is a journalist at the Brisbane Times, covering breaking news.

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