Aussie café vibe percolates in the city
Artisanal confections, Wi-Fi-free spaces and avocado toast replicate Down Under's coffee culture
Arthur Rangini opened St. Kilda Coffee, on West 44th Street, in November. Photo: Lily Haight
St. Kilda Coffee, on West 44th Street, is one of about 15 Aussie-style cafés to open up in the city since 2013. St. Kilda's, off of Eighth Avenue, opened in November. Photo: Lily Haight
Southern Cross, an Australian-style coffeehouse on East Fifth Street, opened in February. Photo: Claire Wang
BY CLAIRE WANG AND LILY HAIGHT
February's blizzard might have been the most fortuitous occurrence for a pair of Australian baristas launching their new coffee venture in Greenwich Village. While the storm raged, New York Fashion Week attendees found shelter amid fresh plants and bamboo walls.
Banter, a quaint Sullivan Street space awash in pastel hues, is the brainchild of Nick Duckworth and Josh Evans, two beanie-sporting, 20-something down-to-earth dudes from Down Under.
It is one of three new Australian cafés that opened up shop last month, attesting to New Yorkers' growing affinity for Aussie coffee culture, which has slowly come to permeate life in the city. Since 2015, roughly 10 independently owned Aussie coffeehouses have opened in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Bluestone Lane, now a franchise with multiple storefronts from Greenwich Village to Wall Street, and Two Hands, which opened a second location, in Tribeca, in 2016, were some of the first Aussie shops to open.
Centered around the idea that a café is not just a fuel stop to grab your daily fix of caffeine, but also a sanctuary of sorts where one can relax and catch up with friends, Australian-style coffee shops are a sharp contrast to corporate-owned chains like Starbucks and Peet's.
Australia's burgeoning coffee culture owes its roots to a post-World War II immigration boom, when Italian and Greek immigrants established a massive and enduring espresso hub on Lygon Street, an iconic thoroughfare in Melbourne.
Since the 1990s, coffee aficionados in Melbourne and other Australian cities have fostered a third-wave espresso culture, cultivating coffee's artisanal properties and favoring smaller, well-prepared drinks rather than the large, milky ones popular in the U.S.
“I don't think that the Aussie third-wave espresso category is ever going to supplant or replace the Starbucks [culture], but it's definitely shown that there's a subset of consumers who seek that more thoughtful preparation.” said Eddy Buckingham, owner of The Good Sort, an Aussie-style café that opened on Doyers Street in Chinatown in February.
“There are categories of restaurants that are prevalent and really established in the U.S.A. If you go to a French bistro, you know exactly what you're going to get,” he added. “What we're seeing now is the idea of this Australian café category.”
To Evans and Duckworth, Banter offers coffee devotees, local residents and college students a quiet alternative to Downtown's boisterous nightlife: caffeine instead of liquor, a gentle breeze instead of blinding LED lights. “We shouldn't have to be out at night drinking just to catch up with friends,” Evans said. “Doing it over coffee in the daylight can be just as fun and much healthier.”
The menu at Banter is an eclectic bag of international flavors. Novelty items like the golden turmeric latte are as popular with early morning customers as the long black — a double shot of espresso with extra hot water — or flat white — a less milky, more espresso-laced latte. Aussie favorites like the avocado toast and the bacon-and-egg roll tango with modernized Asian classics such as soba noodle salad and pulled pork baguette, a spinoff of the bánh mì. Evans hopes to soon add an American classic, a chicken and waffle plate, to the collection.
Not every Aussie café in New York is owned by Australians. After spending three years backpacking through Queensland and working in Melbourne, native New Yorker Arthur Rangini opened St. Kilda Coffee, an Aussie-style café in Midtown West, in November.
“Melbourne is a really artsy city, very modern ... I wanted to bring that here,” Rangini said, sitting at the café counter in St. Kilda's, which looks out on a colorful graffiti-painted wall that spells out the word “coffee.” “There's a lot of love in the things [Melbournians] do, especially when it comes to coffee.”
Rangini set up shop in Midtown to bring quality Aussie coffee outside of the typical areas of SoHo and the Village to a place where chain coffeehouses are prevalent.
“It's the reputation that Aussie coffee shops carry. If you go to an Aussie coffee shop you know you're going to get a solid flat white, a solid cappuccino,” he said.
To the owners of Southern Cross Coffee, an Australian and Argentine café that opened up on East Fifth Street in late February, roasting high-quality coffee is a way to preserve the kindred connection they have to their home countries. Founded by Adam Sobol, an Australian, and Sergio D'Auria, an Argentinian, the café serves only Italian-based espresso drinks (“We don't like drip!” Sobol said) with a small selection of pastries, which are made with premium, local ingredients. Sobol and D'Auria, both of whom quit corporate America to offer an authentic taste of their rich cultures to New Yorkers, hire only highly experienced baristas and source beans from roasters in Brooklyn and Upstate.
With a more selective vetting process for barista and ingredient, an Aussie coffee — espresso or drip — is more aromatic and consistent in flavor than its American counterpart. “When I go to a chain coffeeshop like Starbucks or The Bean, I don't know if the latte or Americano I order will be too watered down or too bitter,” said New York University senior Ann Park, a regular at Aussie cafés Downtown. “At a local place like Southern Cross, you know they'll always put in the time and effort to make a decent cup of coffee.”
Aside from the stellar brew, Park also enjoys detoxing from social media to chat with both friends and strangers. Two years ago at Toby's Estate, one of many Wi-Fi-free Aussie cafés, she struck up a conversation with an elderly couple visiting from London, with whom she would exchange contact information and reunite when she studied in their city a year later.
“America is so schedule-oriented, and coffee is always on-the-go,” D'Auria said. “A hole-in-the-wall is at odds with our cultures and our concept of a conversation-friendly space.” Besides, he added, the café's combination of small black tables, pink and blue backless chairs, and, of course, lack of Wi-Fi service makes face-to-face interaction inevitable.
For Rangini, St. Kilda's is a personal passion project. Not only does he work there seven days a week, but he also completely gutted and refurbished the shop, adding his own touch to the interior design. The café's simple white walls and black floors give it a minimalistic vibe. On one wall, a triangular bookshelf holds a book exchange library.
Interior design is an important aspect of the carefully cultivated vibes of Aussie cafés. Australian designers Xavier Bartolomeo and Claire Weller concocted Banter's logo and interior layout using a mixture of Scandinavian and Australian aesthetics. A light color palate fuses with minimalist designs to soothe nerves and inspire conversation. Bold artworks from Australian painters spill patches of blues and reds on nude walls. All the components, Evans explained, are part of a larger puzzle to enhance the urban living experience for busy New Yorkers.
“We want to create an intimate relationship with customers,” he said. “Banter, after all, means to chat.”
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