What ever happened to Starbucks in Australia?

What ever happened to Starbucks in Australia?

If you’ve ever travelled to a major city outside of Australia, you’ve probably noticed the big green mermaid that is the Starbucks logo on just about every street corner! They are the undisputed kings of the coffee chain world and have one of the world’s most recognisable brands. As of 2018 there were 29,324 Starbucks stores around the world; while their next nearest competitor, Dunkin Donuts sit at around 10,000 stores world-wide. They’re in Forbes’ Top 500 and boast a market value of $70.9 billion (as of 2017). Their branding is saturated absolutely everywhere around the world; everywhere that is, except Australia!

Starbucks entered the Australian market in 2000 and rapidly grew to 82 stores nationwide. But in 2008, it all went pear shaped. They closed 60 of their stores after accumulating huge losses; leaving around 700 people jobless. So why has the Starbucks model been a relative flop here in Aus? How is it that a model that has gone gangbusters in so many other countries never got a decent foothold among the Aussies?

One hypothesis is that Starbucks went too hard, too early. In the short period of just 8 years they opened a massive 82 stores here in Australia. Even the Adelaide cafe scene saw the opening of 3 stores. It would seem that this incredibly rapid expansion simply didn’t give us Aussies a chance to develop a desire for the brand!  

Professor Paul Patterson of the University of NSW Business school believes Starbucks fundamentally misjudged Australia. “I don’t think it was much to do with the coffee, the problem was the brand.” “The Americans assumed that Australians would fall in love with an American brand and that just didn’t happen. Australians are not anti-American but they are anti arrogant American brands.” The ‘build it and they will come’ approach simply didn’t pay dividends.

Couple this with the fact that Starbucks were charging higher prices than most of its competitors means they were essentially asking Aussies to pay more for branding that they didn’t care about!

“Better make it quick, kiddo. In five minutes, this place is becoming a Starbucks.”-The Simpsons accurately depicting the shear saturation of Starbucks in the USA

Another hypothesis is that for many countries, Starbucks were largely responsible for  introducing coffee culture. In countries that didn’t have a well-established coffee culture, like Britain and China, all of a sudden Starbucks came along and made coffee drinking cool!

The difference with Australia? We already had a majorly established coffee culture, propped up primarily by small, independent coffee shops. We Aussies love getting our coffee from the local barista down the road! This is backed up by the fact that of the (approx.) 20,000 cafes in Australia, two thirds of them are independently owned, according to President of the Cafe Owners and Baristas Association of Australia, David Barnham.

Will Young, Managing Director of Campus Coffee (Australian Coffee Roaster) said; “The specialty coffee industry in Australia has raised the bar so high… that Starbucks coming in sets a low level… where perhaps the baristas aren’t so professional and are not as dedicated to their craft.”

So, was it that Starbucks didn’t fully appreciate Australia’s dedication to the small independent specialty coffee shop?  Was this big multi-national chain more or less chased out of town by the humble local barista? It certainly appears that way!   

For the record, in recent years Starbucks have introduced a handful of new stores on our shores off the back of new ownership and a changed market strategy. In 2014, Starbucks Australia was purchased by one of Australia’s richest families; the Withers Group. Withers Group’s then CEO Warren Wilmot said the company had big plans for its new acquisition.

“Growing store numbers will be one of our primary opportunities…Our aim will be to make Starbucks the most successful coffee chain in Australia.” Lofty ambitions indeed!

A check of their website today shows that they now have a total of 46 stores across Australia (Gloria Jeans has 450 stores nationwide and Coffee Club 350). They have concentrated on tourist areas; catering largely to international visitors who know and appreciate their brand. You’ll see them in places like the Gold Coast, Sydney and small scattering around Melbourne. As of this day they still have no Adelaide cafes. If history is anything to go by, it’s safe to say that Starbucks will have to get creative if it wants to make any sort of mark on Australia. Many business insiders simply can’t see them fitting into Australia’s highly competitive coffee market, but it certainly will be interesting to see what happens!

So what do you think? Will Starbucks ever have a place in the Adelaide coffee scene? Do we Adelaide coffee drinkers have a place on our palates for the American’s take on our favourite beverage? Would you bypass your local Adelaide cafe in favour of the big green mermaid? Tell us in the comments section below.

5 Things Your barista already knows about you

5 Things Your barista already knows about you

Your barista knows more about you than you think. Sounds creepy, but it’s true! We baristas are a curious and inquisitive lot. We get to meet hundreds of people every day and as a result we’ve become quite proficient at reading people! Many of us call into our local Adelaide café and see our barista daily. Naturally, there is a reciprocal getting to know one another! What you may not realise is that there is a trove of things your barista already knows about you before you’ve even told them! Read on and allow me to explain…

We know how you’re sleeping!

Of course you drink coffee because you love the taste… but it’s ok to admit that from time to time (most days) you rely on the caffeine in your cup to provide you with just enough motivation to get you through the front door at work! Let’s be honest, for most of us coffee lovers, our brain doesn’t get out of first gear until we’ve had our hit. 

Some days require a greater level of caffeine dependency than others. Some days, for whatever reason, we’re coming off the back of crappy night’s sleep! It might have been that the baby kept us up all night, or that we couldn’t stop thinking about the presentation we have to give at work the next day. Either way: your barista knows! When Bob with the small latte suddenly asks for a quadruple shot large latte; we know something’s up! 

Bub on the way?

When someone who has always ordered caffeinated coffee suddenly switches to decaf, there are usually only 2 reasons:

  1. Their doctor has recommended it. 
  2. They’re pregnant! 

There is a general consensus among the medical world that women who are expecting should limit their caffeine intake. Many women therefore decide to eliminate their daily full-strength espresso coffee from their diet and replace it with a decaffeinated equivalent. The hilarious fact of the matter is that quite often the barista is the second person to find out about said pregnancy. More than once while working behind the coffee machine at First Things First Coffee I have been sworn to secrecy by excited soon-to-be mums! 

You’ve started a diet!  

If you’ve decided to jump on the health bandwagon, there is a fair chance your barista has figured it out, even before you’ve told them!  It’s not the fact that you’re standing there in activewear, reading a copy of Men’s Fitness; it’s the change to your coffee order. It might be that you’ve dropped the sugar from your drink, or even more drastically; changed from a milk-based to a water-based coffee.  For most people, their coffee is right at the top of their food pecking order; it’s the one thing they won’t change come hell or high water! Therefore, when we see that someone has changed up their coffee order for the healthier, it’s often an indication that there are some broader lifestyle changes being made in their lives as well.   

The state of your guts!

Many of us have a love-hate relationship with lactose. For an increasing number of Adelaide coffee drinkers, being able to enjoy a latte with dairy milk is a concept that their guts simply no longer agree with! When a regular customer switches from dairy milk to a non-lactose milk (such as soy, almond, coconut or Zymil) it could be an ethical decision or a weight loss decision; but 9 times out of 10 it’s a gut health decision! If you think it’s a bit weird that your barista knows the state of your digestive health, you’re absolutely right; it is weird!  

One of the lactose free options offered at First Things First Coffee

Your relationship status 

Ok, so here’s the scenario. John and Jane are a nice young couple that pop in to their local Adelaide café every single weekday to grab their two soy lattes. They share a few minutes of friendly banter with their barista and then just like that, they’re out the door again and on their way to work. This happens every day like clockwork. All of a sudden, Jane starts coming in by herself. Could John be away on business? Maybe he’s down with the flu and taking a few days off work? As the weeks go by, it starts to become evident that John and Jane are no longer together! Jane has finally realised what her friends have been telling her for years: ‘Girl, you can do better’! She didn’t even need to fill in her attentive barista of the news: they’d already guessed it! 

Reckon you’ve got a job that requires you to be good at reading people? Tell us about it below!


Robots, automation and deforestation: the future of coffee

Robots, automation and deforestation: the future of coffee

Last year in Melbourne, a new café opened its doors. This is not at all unusual; a new café opens in Melbourne pretty much every day! What was unusual about this café was the fact that the barista was in fact a robot… Yep, an actual robot! This thing slung espressos for the coffee-loving folk of Collingwood every single day, hour after hour… and it didn’t even ask for a lunch break!

We live in an exciting time. We are innovating at a rate never seen before. New technology is constantly making its way off the production line and into our lives. The coffee industry is never far behind when it comes to innovation. It makes you wonder how coffee will change and evolve into the future. As a barista, it also makes me wonder; with the advancement of technology will I still have a job in the future? This article is going to look into the future coffee prospects. The weird, the exciting and the confronting.  

‘Once Alike’ are the creators behind the amazing coffee slinging robot concept. They opened a café of the same name in Collingwood in December 2017 where ‘Rocky’, as the robo-barista was called, was the sole staff member! Rocky was engineered to mimic the techniques of a real human barista. This was intended as a trial to see how the technology would fare in the real world. Customers had to be fairly patient; coffees would usually take anywhere from 2-6 minutes to make. This is because ‘Rocky’ was engineered to dump any coffees that didn’t fall within certain strict parameters. The goal was to get this time down to a much more normal (or human!) speed of 60-90 seconds.  

Rocky the Robo-Barista

Yeah ok, it’s a cool novelty, but can the bot actually make a decent cup of coffee? Well according to Google reviews (4.5 stars): yeah it can! The Melbourne trial has since ended and the engineers have gone back to the lab to give Rocky some refinements/ get the coffee grinds out of his robo-beard.

So should we expect to see robots/automated machinery completely replace the baristas at your local Adelaide coffee shop in the near future? As a barista, I like to think there’s more to my job than just making lattes. When you walk into a café, it should be an experience. There should be someone (with a brain and a conscience) to welcome you, ask you how you are, maybe engage in a bit of light-hearted banter if you’ve got the time! Human interaction is a psychological need that we all have. At First Things First Coffee customer service is the thing that motivates us, excites us and gets us out of bed at all hours! We bloody love that we can have a positive impact on people’s day with a brief conversation at the window. It would be a sad world where this isn’t part of the customer experience.

While we might not see robots taking jobs away from baristas at your local Adelaide café any time soon, there is no doubt that coffee making will become way more autonomous in the future.

LaMarzocco has recently launched some new technology imbedded into their machines which has baristas all over the world excited. They’ve just started releasing machines with a technology they call ‘Auto Brew Ratio’. Basically, under each group head is set of scales; incorporated into the drip tray. The scales feed back to the computer within the machine and will automatically turn off the flow of water through the group head once it reaches a set weight. This allows baristas to nail their desired shot volume every single time. This technology will apparently be far more accurate than relying on the machines ‘flow meter’ alone. Read about the auto-brew ration on the Strada here.

Ubermilk is another product in the market making coffee-making more autonomous. It’s essentially a commercial grade automatic milk steamer that produces well-textured milk, steamed to a desired temperature at the push of a button. This would work really well for super busy cafes that go through heaps of the same type of milk.

These are just a couple of examples of the rise of autonomy in coffee making. Both are designed to get coffees out quicker and more consistently. Both still require an actual human to operate them!

So far we’ve talked about some of the cool innovation we can expect to see in the coffee industry in the future. Imagine however, a future world without coffee! Unfortunately climate change is putting the production of the very thing we all love so much at great risk. Coffee requires very specific growing conditions. It’s highly susceptible to even slight changes in climate. Scientists say that 60% of coffee plants are now at risk of extinction due to climate change and deforestation. It is predicted that 50% of the land used to grow coffee will not be farmable by the year 2100. Aaron Davis, coffee researcher at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, says “Ultimately, we need to reverse deforestation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions”.

As unthinkable as it sounds, a future without coffee is a reality that our world may soon face unless we drastically change the way we live.

Have you seen any cool futuristic innovation at your local Adelaide café? Have you got a cool idea that the coffee industry could implement? Comment below!

Why doesn’t my homemade coffee taste anything like café coffee?!

Why doesn’t my homemade coffee taste anything like café coffee?!

Have you ever watched the barista at your local Adelaide coffee shop and thought “I reckon I could do this at home!”. Have you gone out and bought yourself a home espresso machine? Have you forked out some serious coin in the hopes that making coffee at home will save you money in the long term? If you have, I’m willing to bet that your first reaction to trying your at-home creation was something along the lines of “Dammit…this tastes nothing like café coffee!”. In fact, I bet there’s a good chance that the espresso machine that you went out and bought from the department store is currently sitting in the cupboard, taking up space and gathering dust! Why? Making café quality coffee at home is really bloody hard! Many try and only a handful actually succeed.

So why is it so hard to reproduce café quality espresso coffee in the home? Can it even be done?

We’re going to explore some main differences between café vs home espresso set ups and go over a few tips and tricks to help you improve your home espresso!

First Things First Coffee talking all things Adelaide Cafe coffee vs home coffee. 
Adelaide's cafes.

Get a Good Grinder!

Most people don’t even think about grinders when they begin their home espresso set up. The fact is that your coffee will only be as good as your grinder!

Using fresh ground coffee is one the most important variables that go into making quality espresso. Cafes grind on demand; that is, they grind just the right amount of coffee to go into portafilter for that one coffee. Once you grind coffee it will begin to lose its freshness within minutes. After a few hours it will just about have lost all of its flavour.

Many Adelaide coffee suppliers will offer pre-ground beans as a means of convenience for their customers. They will usually provide these in a fully sealed bag with a one-way valve so that oxygen can’t seep in. Yes, this is convenient and no you won’t need a grinder, however the fact remains that pre-ground will never taste as good as fresh-ground.

So herein lies our first challenge; we know fresh-ground coffee is best, but have you seen the prices of grinders! You could easily spend more on the grinder than the espresso machine!

The main measure of a grinder is consistency in granule size. It’s in our best interest to have coffee granules that are consistent in size. Think about cooking diced pumpkin in the oven. If you chop your pumpkin to a vast range of sizes then the small bits will cook first and the bigger bits will take longer. The same basic principle applies in coffee extraction. The most consistent grind will be achieved from grinders with ‘burrs’ (either flat or conical).

Another question you should be asking when looking at grinders is: “does it grind fine enough?”. A lot of the cheap grinders will simply not grind fine enough for espresso.

Fortunately there have been some great entry level grinders pop up in the market recently that won’t hurt the hip pocket too badly. The Baratza Sette series grinders have been getting some good feedback within the industry.

How’s your steam pressure?

Ok, we’ve got our espresso tasting at least somewhat like our favourite Adelaide café, now we need to nail our milk. Milk steaming is a skill. Like any skill, we need to practice! Unfortunately, a lot of the entry level espresso machines simply don’t put out enough steam pressure to allow us to achieve anywhere near the silky, well-textured milk we’re used to from our local Adelaide coffee spot. If you’re stuck with an espresso machine with this issue there isn’t a hell of a lot you can do I’m afraid; short of buying yourself an additional steam unit. The Bellman Stovetop Steam Unit is a neat little inexpensive milk steamer that this author can personally vouch for. It’s a super simple design  (essentially a pot with steam chamber and a steam wand) but I’ve personally been very happy with the milk it produces. Fill with water and place on the stove (just like a cooking pot) and she’ll soon start filling with steam.

Nice, well textured milk is a super important component of our coffee (it does after all make up about 90% of our drink!). Choosing an espresso maker with a decent steam unit will take a lot of the frustration out of making coffee at home!

Keep it fresh!

It is true for any culinary pursuit: fresh is best! Coffee beans, like any fresh food will go stale over time. A little tip once you open the seal on your coffee is to keep the bag in a sealed container. Oxygen is the enemy of coffee, so keeping it properly sealed will allow it to stay fresh for as long as possible.

Keep it clean!

Learning how to properly clean your espresso maker will not only allow you to get the best possible flavour from your coffee, it will also maximise the life of your unit. Using chemicals to ‘backflush’ your machine will effectively remove gunk from the internal parts of your machine. Oh, and nothing says ‘I don’t care about my coffee machine’ more than a steam wand covered in old milk- so purge and wipe thoroughly after every use.

Hopefully some of these pointers will improve your at-home coffee prospects. Reckon you’ve got a great home set up? Or even a handy hint for at-home coffee making? Is there a question you’d like answered? Comment below.  

Coffee Myths and FAQs

Coffee Myths and FAQs

Be honest; do you know what your coffee order actually means? Are you the sort of person who has ordered a flat white every day for the past 10 years without actually understanding what a flat white is? Have you ever wondered why coffee costs as much as it does? Do you have questions that you’ve always been too embarrassed to ask your barista? This article is going to answer some of the frequently asked questions that I’ve received whilst behind the coffee machine at my Adelaide café. It’s also going to tackle some of the common myths that surround coffee and the coffee industry.

Flat White/ Latte/ Cappuccino… What the Difference?

One of the most frequently asked questions that we receive is “what is the difference between a flat white, a latte and a cappuccino?”. Well firstly, they all have the same amount coffee. No one drink is comparatively stronger or weaker in actual caffeine content. Secondly, they all have basically the same amount of milk! The only real difference between the three beverages is the amount of foam in each. Technically speaking (and this will vary depending on who you talk to) a cappuccino has about 2cm of foam, a latte has about 1cm of foam and a flat white has less than 1cm of foam.

Make it Strong!

Another one that I hear quite a bit is ‘I’d like my coffee nice and strong, so can you just run the shot for longer’. Your barista should never, ever run a shot for longer in order to make it stronger. To understand why this is never ok, we must first understand that when we extract a shot of espresso, we are in fact extracting the soluble ‘oils’ from the coffee. Only around 30% of the coffee we put in our group basket is actually soluble. When we extract a coffee shot, we only want to run our shot long enough to extract these oils; any longer and we’ll only damage our espresso. It’s the job of the roaster and the barista to work out the optimal ‘yield’ (the amount of liquid espresso to be extracted) from that particular coffee in order to achieve a nice, well balanced espresso. If we run the shot for longer than deemed ‘optimal’, we’ll end up with bitter, watery liquid diluting our otherwise beautiful espresso.

If you want a stronger coffee, my advice is to ask for an extra shot!

Coffee is Cheap as Chips to Make!

Nope. Just nope!

My favourite coffee myth of all? “Coffee is dirt cheap to make”…

There’s a reason why Adelaide Café owners generally aren’t driving around in Ferraris and lounging on private yachts. Coffee is not as cheap as you think and margins aren’t as great as you think!

Think about any product that you’ve bought lately. It might be a car, or a television or a packet of biscuits! If you pay very little, you can expect a relatively poor quality product. If you pay more, you can expect a better quality product. This is absolutely true in coffee. Your favourite Adelaide cafés don’t have a line out the door because they buy the cheapest, nastiest coffee they can find… They have a huge, loyal following because they value quality and are happy to shell out the extra dough for high end coffee.

The other thing that is rarely considered is labour. Next time you’re in your favourite Adelaide coffee shop, have a look at the number of staff on. Now, multiply that by the hourly award rate. Now add superannuation! Ok, sure, you’ve come in during a rush and the hard-working staff have just pumped out 10 coffees in a matter of minutes… but what about the quieter periods? What about the set-up and pack-up time that brings in no revenue. For many businesses, labour is their single biggest expense.

The truth is that most coffee shop owners opened their business not to become rich, but because they are passionate about coffee.

‘Annoying’ orders

The final myth I want to bust is around ‘annoying’ orders. Every so often I have a customer that orders their extra hot skim latte with half a stevia filled ¾ full, then apologises for their ‘annoying’ order! If this sounds like you, I want you to stop apologising! In fact I want to reassure you that there is nothing annoying about your order. As professional baristas we are adaptable, efficient and precise and if your barista moans about how complex your coffee order is then you probably need to change baristas! Have your coffee the way you want and don’t be ashamed of your decaf, caramel ice mocha with whipped cream!

Hopefully I’ve answered some of your questions and provided some insight into the topic that we are so passionate about here at First Things First Coffee. Now it’s your opportunity to ask those questions that you’ve been too embarrassed to ask in real life! We like to think of ourselves as a café Adelaide can engage with, so don’t be shy; comment your questions below.