Daily Rumination No. 6: Instant Gratification

Australians (on the east coast, at least) generally pride themselves as simultaneously being super-cazj mass consumers and fine connoisseurs of Italian espresso. People here look upon Americans, for example, and spit upon their coffee taste (or lack thereof, for that matter).

When I worked in Sydney, I saw this caffeine-fuelled madness every morning, as corporate workaholics power-walked down the street, proudly displaying their takeaway cups. When I saw Jerry Seinfeld live in Sydney, he even took the time to point this out. He thought that he was surrounded by crazy people.

Working in the city and not joining the routine coffee break would generally be seen by many as bizarre, almost as much as not drinking alcohol whilst flipping steaks on a barbie. It’s just ‘un-Australian’.

Yet amongst all of this supposed devotion to espresso, in Australian supermarkets we are presented with messages like this for instant coffee…

The cosmopolitan coffee narrative in this country is a somewhat of a lie. I saw this Nescafé coffee stand in Coles today and was reminded of this article (and semi-ad for Lavazza) from 2016 in the Sydney Morning Herald, which detailed the myth of Australia’s coffee culture. It explains that whilst those in Sydney and Melbourne in particular see Australia as nation of coffee appreciators, rivalling top consumers elsewhere in the world, Australia is in fact in 42nd place! Hmmm…

Furthermore, author of the article, Mark Hawthorne, shared that ‘Almost 75 per cent of Australia’s coffee consumption is instant’ and also reported that Giuseppe Lavazza (of Luigi Lavazza S.p.A) still considers Australia to be an ‘immature market’.

Now this isn’t necessarily an issue. If people enjoy drinking instant coffee, who should really care? I like to drink coffee whether it’s instant, sitting for weeks in a percolator, pushed through an AeroPress by a man with a big moustache or blasted out of an espresso machine by a barista who was only employed because they had ‘barista experience’. As long as it’s hot, I’m generally happy.

What I find a concerning is the way that Australians, living in one of the most fortunate, multicultural nations on Earth, can be so narrow when it comes to food and beverage options. Like food and other beverages, coffee comes in so many interesting and exciting forms and yet we still happily hand over money for run-of-the mill dirt in a jar that gives us a quick fix. Surely it should be about taste (as the Nestlé ad suggests) and not just convenience.

Australians are willing to fall for Nestlé’s marketing campaign, which essentially marries the (global) Swiss brand with Australian identity and customs. I’d be willing to bet that many here even believe that Nescafé is an Australian brand or creation, or at least know that it isn’t but don’t really think about it. It’s like when people think that Holden and Ford are Australian, when they really traces back to the United States, or when Australians conveniently forget that Crowded House, Sam Neill and Russell Crowe are all from New Zealand.

The ABC programme Gruen even devoted an entire episode to the advertising and sale of instant coffee in Australia, pointing out that Nestlé and competing brands like Moccona rarely (if ever) show coffee in cups during their advertisements. It just doesn’t look good and instead Nestlé focuses on showing happy Aussies in various everyday situations, proudly brandishing a red Nescafé cup as the Sun rises in the background. I’m not sure how many Australian farmers are actually out on the dewy field each morning next to a tractor with an open ceramic cup of coffee (rather than a sealed flask), but to question such a thing may run the risk of being labelled un-Australian.

Too many people stick to old habits and accept narratives and marketing messages without ever asking ‘Why?’. The next time that you find yourself buying or doing something that has no inherent value or is sold as culturally normal, stop to think about it.

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