August 9, 2013

New Yorkers finally warm to the humble Aussie flat white

COFFEE junkies can now order an Australian flat white across New York without fear of facing a blank stare and prolonged withdrawal symptoms.

From the Manhattan neighbourhoods of the East Village, TriBeCa, Chelsea, Midtown and Murray Hill and across the East River to Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, Prospect Park and Fort Greene, Australian-owned cafes are changing the way New Yorkers drink coffee.

“Most Americans know what a cappuccino is, and they realise that a flat white is pretty close to the same thing,” said Tyler Schlieman, 25, who has been a barista at Toby’s Estate in Williamsburg since November last year.

Fellow barista Cameron Smith, 22, concurs. “A lot of people have learned what a flat white is – from coming in repeatedly,” he said.

Flat whites – the milky brew whose origins are claimed by Australia and New Zealand – are in the top five sellers of an extensive coffee list, and outsell cappuccinos at Toby’s, which opened its first US branch in January last year.

Co-owner Amber Jacobsen, an Aussie who has lived in the US for six years, said Toby’s was looking for a second space.

New York’s coffee culture has changed significantly over the past five years, but has “seriously ramped up” in the past two years, with the rise of US roasters – such as Portland, Oregon’s Stumptown, San Francisco, California’s Bluebottle, Chicago, Illinois’s Intelligentsia – and local specialty cafes entering the game.

The Chelsea stalwart Grumpy’s – co-owned by an Australian and used in the television series Girls – now has cafes in two Brooklyn neighbourhoods. The well-established Bluebird in the East Village also has Australian heritage. Hugh Jackman is a co-owner at Laughing Man cafe, which opened in TriBeCa in 2011. Milk Bar and Smooch are newer Aussie fixtures in Brooklyn.

The rise of the Australian cafe in New York reflects growing numbers of expats in a city that embraces novelty and a country that loves entrepreneurial flair, says Serafina Maiorano, chief executive of Advance, a body for Australians living and working overseas.

“Australians used to go to the UK as a rite of passage,” she said. “Now there’s a generation of young Aussies wanting to start businesses in the US. We’re seeing it in the coffee industry, in tech, in media, in fashion.”

Ms Maiorano credits the relative ease of acquiring an E-3 visa – available since the free trade agreement between then prime minister John Howard and former US president George W. Bush – as a lure to entrepreneurs to open small businesses.

Starting a cafe on the heels of the GFC crisis made sense, Ms Jacobsen said, because New York “wasn’t a very heavily populated coffee environment” then.

Pie Face opened its fifth New York City store last month, in Hell’s Kitchen. It planned to open four more outlets this year, said marketing manager Tennille Scicluna. “Only when you venture abroad do you realise how advanced our coffee culture in Australia truly is,” she added.


Source: Caroline Jumpertz, The Australian, August 05, 2013

Barista Cameron Smith at Toby’s Estate in Williamsburg. Picture: Caroline Chisholm

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