POST WAR AUSTRALIA - SELLING COFFEE DRINKING - REVIEW
the 1900s, coffee traders eschewed sex appeal in their advertisements as
‘questionable taste’. Sexism was confined to praising a wife whose
coffee pleased her husband. Virtue gave way to violence during the 1930s
with the endorsement of physical assault by husbands dissatisfied with
the brand their wives had chosen. A 1950s advertisement ‘showed a
woman with an inverted cup on her head and coffee streaming down her
face’. Research for Proctor & Gamble reported that housewives
would accept ‘all sorts of abuse’ in advertising since they
‘experienced it much of time in their daily lives’.
Pendergrast follows a trail of violence beyond US kitchens as coffee and
sugar depopulated Africa for slaves and the Americas for land. After the
abolition of slavery in Brazil in 1888, indenture and peonage kept down
wages. If field-hands were paid US rates, the cost per cup would be
counted in dollars, not cents. Higher prices for raw beans do not
percolate down to those labourers. Brazil burnt stockpiles of coffee but
could not grow enough flour for its population, another instance of what
Che Guevara identified as ‘distorted development’, not
under-development. The mechanisms for these unequal exchanges had been
established by 1877 when Guatemala provided a ten-year tax holiday for
documents centuries of oppression up to the death squads across Central
and South America. He
serves a strong black but dribbles in cream and syrup when he footnotes
that a few slave-owners were kindly. Notwithstanding this soft-centre to
his liberalism, his evidence about poverty and monopoly spoilt the
enjoyment of the reviewer for Business
Week. Uncommon Grounds helps us to discern what is novel in globalisation,
apart from the label. Australia might have been a late comer to coffee
but not to the global reach of the beverage trade. The first fleet took
coffee on board at Rio en route
for Botany Bay. From there, three of the convict transports returned via
China to load up with tea.
Pendergrast has not followed his story into Australia. Had he done so,
he would have found evidence for many of his generalisations, but also a
special case. Coffee has become emblematic of changes wrought to our
diet since the 1940s. The received version is that Austral-Britons used
to drink tea but now we have become multi-cultural and prefer coffee.
The numbers support this story. Before the Pacific war, per capita
consumption of tea was three kilos against 250gms for coffee. By 1971,
tea was down to two kilos while coffee had increased fivefold. Since
then, tea has dropped below one kilo and coffee doubled to more than
assumption has been that because European immigration coincided with a
revolution in eating and drinking, the newcomers were responsible for
the popularity of coffee, pizza and wine in place of tea, meat pies and
beer. Concomitance, however, is not causation. Post-war immigration also
paralleled a rise in the sale of branded pet foods, but not even Eric
Butler has suggested that the Southern Europeans brought that with them.
from the conventional wisdom is the recognition that coffee, like pet
food, was promoted by corporations. The migration of capital has been
more influential than the migration of consumers or shopkeepers. A Swiss
firm, Nestle, had the biggest influence here although we have next-to-no
among resident suppliers of coffee in the 1950s were those well-known
central and southern Europeans, the Harris family and the Griffiths
Brothers. Similarly, the Chiko roll was invented by that Chinaman Frank
McEnrae, Dial-a-Dinos founded by that Italian Richard Henry Wescombe and
Papa Guisseppe pizzas by his countryman, the Hungarian Joe Piazs.
course, pre-war levels of tea drinking were no more natural than was a
switch to coffee. Both relied on marketing. The Tea Market Expansion
Bureau, for example, advertised in seventeen Australian newspapers and
magazines during the winter of 1938. Its successor, the Tea Council,
fought back against coffee with television ads to three million viewers
twice a week throughout 1966.
switch from tea to coffee had been part of changes in consumption of all
liquids. Between 1964 and 1985, coffee doubled and tea halved while soft
drinks went from 40 to 73 gallons per year. Tea had been a thirst
quencher, with the first cup before breakfast. Coffee did not take over
that role, which is now filled by colas, bottled waters and fruit
Part of the reason for misunderstanding the dietary changes is that ethnic chauvinists brag that they brought excitement to a barren society. This contrast is based on false quantities. Milan was indeed more sophisticated than Perth in 1960, but was Calabria a gourmet’s delight in comparison with Queensland? Also, the Anglo-Celts who champion the culinary changes extrapolate from their frequenting of expresso bars, whereas the majority eat out on fast food. An explanation for why aficionados thronged Melbourne’s Lygon Street is not applicable to how coffee replaced tea in Moonee Ponds.
of the best known names in coffee – Andronicus - tests the hypothesis
that post-war immigration sent us from tea to coffee. John Andronicus
had never tasted coffee on his native island of Kythera; his family had
been too poor. His initiation came when he stayed with an uncle in Egypt
on his way to Australia in 1907, aged 13. Two of his brothers were
travelling to ‘The Greeks’ throughout New South Wales country towns
before opening their own business in 1910 to import, grind and supply
coffee. By the early 1950s, the Andronicuses supplied a dozen or so
outlets. An invitation from Woolworths sparked the sons to develop the
wholesale side. In 1960, they began advertising over 2SM, using John
Mahon’s ad libbing style
once every fifteen minutes between 9am and 1 pm, which doubled sales in
three years. They were taken over by Nestle in 1986. Out of alliances
with chain stores, mass marketers and a transnational corporation, the
brand now holds 5 per cent of the grocery sale of roasts.
drives operated with Vittoria, an independent Melbourne firm of
Italian-Australians established in the 1950s, and which popularised
expresso-style and pioneered the brick-like vacuum pack. The brand came
from behind by advertising over the thinking person’s radio to be top
of the roast and ground niches by 1990. But these achievements came
decades after coffee had been accepted.
The adoption of coffee by Australians is not an instance of multiculturalism but of Mall-ticulturalism, that shopping arcade of synthetic ethnic flavourings. Harvard Marketing professor Theodore Levitt recognised that the stress on specialty foods grew out of the ubiquity of McDonald’s and Coca-Cola:
Without the generalised homogenisation of
tastes and preferences there would be no distinction in ethnicity or
specialisation. To have the latter requires the dominant presence of the
former. The global growth of ethnic markets confirms the greater
presence of global standardisation of segments. Everywhere there is
Chinese food, country-and-western music, pizza and jazz. The global
pervasiveness of ethnic forms represents the cosmopolitanisation of
process affected the United Kingdom where coffee sales overtook tea by
value in the 1980s without an influx of European settlers.
marketing is not the whole story. Spending operates within the mesh of
government regulations and economic conditions. After the rationing of
tea ended in 1950, its price leapt, which held back sales. The need to
balance trade throughout the 1950s limited imports. The abandonment of
those controls in 1960 blew out the current account deficit. The
government reacted with a credit squeeze which depressed coffee sales
along with other discretionary expenditures.
machines had appeared in Europe before the Great War. Early in 1939,
‘The Wonder Drink Dispenser’, La Carimali, sold to every city in the
Commonwealth, a café owner in Brisbane buying three. This equivalent of
the ‘60’ Class Beyer Garret steam engine could dispense ‘every
conceivable kind of hot drink – Malted Milk, Soup, Coffee, Bonox,
Cocoa Chocolate, Tea, etc., etc., on the one machine in five seconds’.
It also boiled eggs.
smart-looking machine did not of itself alter the quality. Driving from
Port Douglas to Noosa in 1979, I found expresso machines invariably
being used to boil water and milk for instant coffee.
through these chops and changes to the management of total demand
were the spread of affluence, status-seeking and the acceleration
of everyday life and work. The last of these proved the major social
force in leading Australians away from tea and towards coffee. The
battle was won not by coffee, but by its instant formulation. The
disadvantage of tea was that it took too long to brew. The disadvantage
of coffee was that it went stale so quickly. Nestle answered both
problems with Nescafe. Nestle had marketed this innovation here in 1939.
Following wartime restrictions, the product needed to be relaunched as
the ‘three-second coffee’ once local manufacture began in 1947.
time famine also witnessed the flop of instant tea and the triumph of
the tea bag, sales of which quadrupled to 1,350 million between 1972 and
1975. Jiggling became a national past time after Lipton’s 1971 TV
commercial. Because the tea bag uses fewer leaves per cup, the decline
in tea consumption is not as sharp as the total volumes suggest.
at work ensured the success of the Café-Bar, invented here in 1964 for
use with instants. The 20,000 in operation by 1972 were time and money
savers, eliminating the tea break and the tea lady. Staff got themselves
a cuppa when they needed it to take back to their desks or benches.
1960, Nestle held half the coffee market, with fifty other brands
competing for the rest. Maxwell House entered in 1961 with the offer of
two jars for the price of one, an introduction it could afford because
of its oligopoly profits as the market leader in the USA. Seventy per
cent of coffee by then was instant, and 70 percent of that was Nescafe.
Yet, no case has been reported of Mediterraneans smuggling jars of
Nescafe in their luggage. Today, Nescafe retains more than 60 per cent
of the instant volume. ‘Nescafe 43’ rates tenth on A. C. Nielsen’s
Top 100 Brands behind Coca-Cola, six kinds of cigarettes, Pura Milk and
Tip-Top Bread. Nestle’s ‘International Roast’, positioned
thirtieth, dominates the economy end.
The impact of
marketing on the shift from tea to coffee was repeated by changes within
the coffee market. A
decade’s research preceded the release of granulated Nescafe in 1969,
packaged in clear glass to display its difference from the powdered
version. During the 1980s, the share of granulated went up from 38 to 45
percent, while powdered fell from 56 to 44. Quality
instants had arrived by 1970. Moccona, the Dutch brand in collectable
jars, added freeze dried, granulated decaf and expresso to secure 7 per
cent of the market before being taken over by Sara Lee. In 1992, Robert
Timms (absorbed by Bushells) released instant coffee bags containing
both roast and soluble to match the demand for freshness and
roasts and solubles industrialised the addition of liquors or fruit to
coffees brewed after dinner. Jarrah provided flavoured instants from
1984, followed by Andronicus dispensers of Irish Cream around
price ladder operates through powdered, granulated, freeze dried, ground
and specialties. The fresh and ground end remains very price sensitive.
Failure of the 1985-86 Arabica crop in Brazil pushed prices up and
drinkers back down the quality scale. Sales of roasts increased by 20
per cent in the boom year of 1989 before registering no growth during
the recession we had to have in 1991.
were ahead of US Americans in the move to specialty roasts. The
inaugural issue of Australian
Gourmet in February 1966 devoted five pages to coffee, ending with
advice on blends and the injunction never to boil. By 1969, humorist
Keith Dunstan mused that his brother’s life as a ‘Coffee-olic was
fairly complete’ after he had made his entire family spend ‘one half
of the day chasing coffee beans and the other half chasing filter
Australian palate also benefited from the availability of Arabica from
the New Guinea Highlands. German colonists had produced some coffee
there in the nineteenth century but an industry was not established
until the 1950s. Output exceeded 1500 tons in 1960, or 5 per cent of
coffee imports to Australia. The highland plantations were owned by both
settlers and locals. Pendergrast includes the story of Joe Leahy, son of
a European father and New Guinean mother, who began planting in the
1950s. He set up a joint venture with the Gagina
people just before the price collapse of the 1980s brought on the
conflicts captured in Bob Connolly’s and Robin Anderson’s
documentary Black Harvest.
Coffee’s transformation of our world has not bettered the lot of those
closest to its production, whether in New Guinea or Guatemala.
Humphrey McQueen is a freelance historian based in Canberra.
advertorial in the Confectioner’s
and Soda-Fountain Journal explained that La Carimali was
Coffee making is an entirely new process
on this machine. The customer gives his order. The operator unclicks
from a faucet on the machine a very fine strainer, puts into it
sufficient ground coffee, snaps it back into position, puts the cup
underneath, turns the handle – and lo, in a few seconds there is a cup
of boiling hot coffee, so perfectly infused that the grounds are
Carimali also allowed the café to offer varieties, such as Moccha and
Jamaica, or any blend thereof.
Italian-style expresso bar appeared in the 1950s, but almost all added
tea to their menus, partly for its higher profit margins and partly to
hold on to customers.
1970, Melbourne’s Tullamarine Jet Port installed brewers capable of
producing eighty cups every four minutes: ‘A large filter is placed on
the top of the machine and hot water is sprayed over the freshly ground
A 1988 survey reported one household in six with a plunger, which allowed for speed with quality.