Is it possible to retain a distinct coffee identity when specialty coffee reigns supreme internationally? Or are we becoming homogenous imitations of other third wave cities?
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery—but we’d all prefer to be the one being flattered. Cup to cup, barista to barista, every coffee joint is looking to carve its own niche and stand out on its own, which isn’t an easy task when discerning coffee-drinkers are ready to take their fistful of dollars to the next café if they disagree with what you’re doing. So can it be done?
We take a look at how one Australian town is trying to step out from the shadow of its coffee-juggernaut sister and bask in its own light.
Geelong is a sleepy port city about an hour’s drive south-west of Melbourne, Australia. As the state’s second-largest city, situated right under the nose of the world’s coffee capital, expectations run high for Geelong to not only keep pace with Melbourne but to shape its very own coffee identity.
Melbourne, on the other hand, is famous for its laneways and flat whites. It isn’t unusual to see hordes of pedestrians walking to work, takeaway lattes in hand. Recently, there has been an explosion in the number of specialty roasters in the city and coffee appreciation has grown at an immense rate.
The question is: Is Geelong playing catch up or is it doing its own thing at its own pace? I spoke with Greg Hall-Burns at the local cafe 10 Sq M (a reference to its compact size) to get his thoughts on Geelong’s emerging coffee scene and where he thinks it’s heading.
10 Sq M: One of Geelong’s Specialty Cafes.
The Origins of Geelong’s Coffee Culture
Geelong is relatively new to specialty coffee. Back in 2011, Greg explained, A Spot for Joe and Fuel were the only Melbourne-style cafés in the city. Even just eighteen months ago, he was spending his days off in Melbourne sipping coffee. Yet a year ago, he started finding good coffee right here in Geelong—and soon quality coffee was everywhere.
Today, the Geelong CBD, Geelong West, and surrounding regions all boast a number of quality cafés offering coffee from some of Australia’s best known roasters. We’re talking about roasters of an international pedigree, right here in ‘G-town’, such as Sensory Lab, Origin Specialty, Campos and Code Black. Not only are the big brands available, but the local outlets are also doing the coffee justice—and, crucially, more consistently than before.
As the coffee culture has grown, more and more people have been encouraged to participate. In fact, it was only six months ago that Greg realised it was time to bring his favourite coffee to the people of Geelong.
Bringing specialty coffee to Geelong.
Geelong Forges Its Own Identity
For Greg, what has been most interesting part of the past year is not the growth of Melburnian-style coffee but the birth of Geelong’s own coffee culture. As most patrons will tell you, the city’s not happy to stand in Melbourne’s shadow—it’s proud of own strong and independent identity.
Coffee culture in Geelong.
Looking back at his business, Greg tells me that it was something of a new concept in Geelong but what would have been considered very much the norm in Melbourne: away from the main hub, in a secluded laneway, surrounded by graffiti.
Yet things soon changed and Greg found himself in the middle of a coffee hub. Initially, 10 Sq M suffered from having a number of vacant units nearby, but the growth of nearby streets has seen increased footfall. As well as this, the opening of three more nearby cafés helped to create a coffee quarter, a place where you know you can get a great coffee. Some would say this is increased competition, but you could easily argue it has increased both the choice and the quality of that choice. And with greater choice you get a greater volume of people visiting.
Who doesn’t need coffee?
Locals Shape the Coffee Culture
In Geelong, 10 Sq M’s coffee is perceived as strong and robust; it’s certainly a rich and intense cup. Is this perception a matter of sophistication? Perhaps not: it’s more down to what people have become used to drinking.
Just look at that beautiful coffee.
As more local roasters appear, a uniquely Geelong coffee culture grows. With Cartel Roasters, a popular local specialty roaster, recently appearing in the CBD, the number of “coffee snobs” (a term of endearment, believe me!) in the city has grown enormously. It brings more people into the marketplace, increasing standards across the board and putting Geelong on the map as a real coffee lovers’ destination.
Specialty grows only more and more popular in Geelong.
What’s next for Geelong’s Coffee Scene?
This proud city will back someone who has a red-hot crack at anything and welcome them as one of their own. The scene and culture here should go from strength to strength and, although some lesser quality outlets may not make it, those who do it well consistently will continue to prosper.
By 2017, the city will be home to many more students than ever before, most of whom will be right in the heart of the CBD. Local government has pledged investment into the traditional city centre to rejuvenate and reactivate the space, which should draw people in. The future is as bright as the eccentric Mayor himself.
Geelong will always retain its own twist on coffee culture, and perhaps this will diversify further in the future. It has, of course, been influenced by Melbourne—but then so has the global scene, from the US to Europe. From Brunswick to Brooklyn and even Belfast, that ‘Melbourne-style’ has inspired so many, it has almost become the blueprint. Yet Geelong is more than just Melbourne revisited; it has its own unique culture shaped by local businesses.
Maybe one day soon Geelong’s brews will be just as renowned as those of its big sister. Meanwhile, we sip and wait, one delicious cup at a time.
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