The Coming of Coffee
Before World War II, Australians followed British tradition and largely drank tea. When coffee challenged the tea drinking habit in post-war Australia, the tea industry fought back using the most up-to-date marketing techniques imported from America. The shift to coffee drinking in post-war Australia is, therefore, explored through a focus on both the challenges faced by the tea industry and how that industry tackled the trend towards coffee. By focusing on the Australian Tea Council’s marketing campaign promoting tea as a fashionable drink and preferable to coffee, this article explores Australia’s cultural shift from tea drinking to coffee drinking. This complex and multi-layered transition, often simply explained by post-war migration, provides an opportunity to investigate other causal aspects of this shift. In doing so, it draws on oral histories—including of central figures working in the tea and coffee industries—as well as reports in newspapers and popular magazines, during this period of culinary transition.
Australians always drank coffee but it was expensive, difficult and inconsistent to brew, and was regarded as a drink “for the better class of person” (P. Bennett). At the start of World War II, Australia was second only to Britain in terms of its tea consumption and maintaining Australia’s supply of tea was a significant issue for the government (NAA, “Agency Notes”). To guarantee a steady supply, tea was rationed, as were many other staples. Between 1941 and 1955, the tea supply was under government control with the Commonwealth-appointed Tea Control Board responsible for its purchase and distribution nationwide (Adams, “From Instant” 16).
The influence of the USA on Australia’s shift from tea-drinking has been underplayed in narratives of the origins of Australia’s coffee culture, but the presence of American servicemen, either stationed in Australia or passing through during the war in the Pacific, had a considerable impact on what Australians ate and drank. In 2007, the late John Button noted that:
It is when the countries share a cause that the two peoples have got to know each other best. Between 1942 and 1945, when Australia’s population was seven million, one million US service personnel came to Australia. They were made welcome, and strange things happened. American sporting results and recipes were published in the newspapers; ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ was played at the start of theatre and concert performances. Australians were introduced to the hot dog; Americans, reluctantly, to the dim sim. 10 or 15 years after the war, there were stories of New York cab drivers who knew Australia well and spoke warmly of their wartime visits. For years, letters between Australia and the US went back and forth between pen friends […] following up friendships developed during the war.
Supplying the daily ration of coffee to American servicemen was another concern for the Australian government as Australia had insufficient roasting capacity to supply this coffee—and so three roasting machines were shipped to Australia to help meet this new demand (NAA, MP5/45 a). To ensure a steady supply, coffee too came under the control of the Tea Controller and the Tea Control Board became the Tea and Coffee Control Board.
At this time, civilians became more aware of coffee as newspapers raised its profile and Australian families invited American servicemen in their homes. Differences in food preferences between American servicemen and Australians were noticed, with coffee the most notable of these. The Argus reported that: “The main point of issue in these rival culinary fancies is the longstanding question of coffee” (“Yanks Differ” 8). It concluded that Australians and Americans ate the same foods, only prepared in different ways, but the most significant difference between them was the American “preference for coffee” (8). When Australian families invited hosted servicemen in their homes, housewives needed advice on how to make prepare coffee, and were told:
One of the golden rules for hostesses entertaining American troops should be not to serve them coffee unless they know how to make it in the American fashion [...] To make coffee in the proper American fashion requires a special kind of percolating. Good results may be obtained by making coffee with strong freshly ground beans and the coffee should be served black with cream to be added if required (“Coffee for Americans” 5).
Australian civilians also read reports of coffee, rather than tea, being served to Australian servicemen overseas, and the following report in The Argus in 1942 shows: “At Milne Bay 100 gallons of coffee were served to the men after pictures had been shown each night. Coffee was not the only comfort to be supplied. There were also chocolate, tobacco, toothpaste, and other articles appreciated by the troops” (“Untitled” 5).
Due largely to tea rationing and the presence of American servicemen, Australia’s coffee consumption increased to 500 grams per person per annum between 1941 and 1944, but it also continued to rise in the immediate post-war period when the troops had departed (ABS). In May 1947, the Tea (and Coffee) Controller reported an increased consumption of 54 per cent in the two years after the war ended (NAA, MP5/45 b).
Tea Loses Its Way
Australian tea company and coffee roaster, Bushells, had an excellent roast and ground coffee—Bushells Pure Coffee—according to Bill Bennett who worked for the company from 1948 to 1950 (B. Bennett). It was sold freshly roasted in screw-top jars that could be re-used for storage in the kitchen or pantry. In 1945, in a series of cartoon-style advertisements, Bushells showed consumers how easy it was to make coffee using this ground beans, but the most significant challenge to tea’s dominance came not with this form of coffee, but in 1948 with the introduction of Nestlé instant coffee. Susie Khamis argues that “of all the coffee brands that vied for Australians’ attention, Nestlé was by far the most salient, by virtue of its frequency, timeliness and resonance” (218). With Nestlé instant coffee, “you use just the quantity you need for each cup and there are no grounds or sediment. Nescafé made perfect full-flavoured coffee in a matter of seconds” (Canberra Times).
Figure 1. Advertisement for Nestlé Coffee. The Canberra Times 5 Aug. 1949: 2.
Figure 2. Advertisement for Bushells Coffee. The Argus 22 Aug. 1945: 11.
Instant coffee, as well as being relatively cheap, solved the “problem” of its brewing and was marketed as convenient, economical, and consistent. It also was introduced at a time when the price of tea was increasing and the American lifestyle had great appeal to Australians. Khamis argues that the discovery of instant coffee “spoke to changes in Australia’s lifestyle options”, noting that the “tea habit was tied to Australia’s development as a far-flung colonial outpost, a daily reminder that many still looked to London as the nation’s cultural capital; the growing appeal of instant coffee reflected a widening and more nuanced cultural palate” (218). Instant coffee, modernity, America, and glamour became thus entwined in a period when Australia’s cultural identity “was informed less by the staid conservatism of Britain than the heady flux of the new world glamour” (Khamis 219).
In the 1950s, Australians were seduced by espresso coffee presented to them in imaginatively laid out coffee lounges featuring ultra modern décor and streamlined fittings. Customers were reportedly “seduced by the novelty of the impressive-looking espresso machines, all shining chrome and knobs and pressure gauges” (Australasian Confectioner and Restaurant Journal 61). At its best, espresso coffee is a sublime drink with a rich thick body and a strong flavour. It is a pleasure to look at and has about it an air of European sophistication. These early coffee lounges were the precursors of the change from American-style percolated coffee (Adams, “Barista” vi). According to the Australasian Confectioner and Restaurant Journal, in 1956 espresso coffee was changing the way people drank coffee “on the continent, in London and in other parts of the world,” which means that as well as starting a new trend in Australia, this new way of brewing coffee was making coffee even more popular elsewhere (61).
The Connoisseurship of Coffee
Despite the popularities of cafés, the Australian consumer needed to be educated to become a connoisseur, and this instruction was provided in magazine and newspaper articles. Rene Dalgleish, writing for Australian Home Beautiful in 1964, took “a look around the shops” to report on “a growing range of glamorous and complicated equipment designed for the once-simple job of brewing a cup of tea, or more particularly, coffee” (21). Although she included teapots, her main focus was coffee brewing equipment—what it looked like and how it worked. She also discussed how to best appreciate coffee, and described a range of home grinding and brewing coffee equipment from Turkish to percolation and vacuum coffee makers. As there was only one way of making tea, Dalgleish pays little attention to its method of brewing (21) and concludes the piece by referring only to coffee: “There are two kinds of coffee drinkers—those who drink it because it is a drink and coffee lovers. The sincere coffee lover is one who usually knows about coffee and at the drop of a hat will talk with passionate enthusiasm on the only way to make real coffee” (21).
In its first issue in 1966, Australasian Gourmet Magazine reflected on the increased consumption and appreciation of coffee in a five-page feature. “More and more people are serving fine coffee in their homes,” it stated, “while coffee lounges and espresso bars are attracting the public in the city, suburbs and country towns” (Repin and Dressler 36). The article also noted that there was growing interest in the history and production of coffee as well as roasting, blending, grinding, and correct preparation methods. In the same year, The Australian Women’s Weekly acknowledged a growing interest in both brewing, and cooking with, coffee in a lift-out recipe booklet titled “Cooking with Coffee.” This, according to the Weekly, presented “directions that tell you how to make excellent coffee by seven different methods” as well as “a variety of wonderful recipes for cakes, biscuits, desserts, confectionary and drinks, all with the rich flavor of coffee” (AWW). By 1969, the topic was so well established that Keith Dunstan could write an article lampooning coffee snobbery in Australian Gourmet Magazine. He describes his brother’s attention to detail when brewing coffee and his disdain for the general public who were all drinking what he called “muck”. Coffee to the “coffee-olics” like his brother was, Dunstan suggested, like wine to the gourmand (5).
In the early 1960s, trouble was brewing in the tea business. Tea imports were not keeping pace with population growth and, in 1963, the Tea Bureau conducted a national survey into the habits of Australian tea drinkers (McMullen). This found that although tea was the most popular beverage at the breakfast table for all socio-economic groups, 30 per cent of Australian housewives did not realise that tea was cheaper than coffee. 52 per cent of coffee consumed was instant and one reason given for coffee drinking between meals was that it was easier to make one cup (Broadcasting and Television “Tea Gains”).
Marketing Tea against a Turning Tide
Coffee enjoyed an advantage that tea was unlikely to ever have, as the margin between raw bean and landed product was much wider than tea. Tea was also traditionally subject to price-cutting by grocery chains who used it as a loss leader “to bring the housewife into the store” (Broadcasting and Television “Tea Battles”) and, with such a fine profit margin, the individual tea packer had little to allocate for marketing expenses. In response, a group of tea merchants, traders and members of tea growing countries formed The Tea Council of Australia in 1963 to pool their marketing funds to collectively market their product. With more funds, the Council hoped to achieve what individual companies could not (Adams “From Instant” 1-19). The chairman of the Tea Council, Mr. G. McMullan, noted that tea was “competing in the supermarkets with all beverages that are sold […]. All the beverages are backed by expensive marketing campaigns. And this is the market that tea must continue to hold its share” (McMullen 6).
The Tea Council employed the services of Jackson Wain and Company for its marketing and public relations campaign. Australian social historian Warren Fahey worked for the company in the 1960s and described it in an interview. He recalled:
Jackson Wain was quite a big advertising agency. Like a lot of these big agencies of the time it was Australian owned by Barry Wain and John Jackson. Jackson Wain employed some illustrious creative directors at that time and its clients were indeed big: they had Qantas, Rothmans, the Tea Council, White Wings—which was a massive client—and Sunbeam. And they are just some of the ones they had.
Over the following eleven years, the Tea Council sought innovative ways to identify target markets and promote tea drinking. Much of this marketing was directed at women.
Since women were responsible for most of the household shopping, and housewives were consuming “incidental” beverages during the day (that is, not with meals), a series of advertisements were placed in women’s magazines. Showing how tea could be enjoyed at work, play, in the home, and while shopping, these kick-started the Tea Council’s advertising campaign in 1964. Fahey remembers that:
tea was seen as old-fashioned so they started to talk about different aspects of drinking tea. I remember the images of several campaigns that came through Jackson Wain of the Tea Board. The Women’s Weekly ones were a montage of images where they were trying to convince people that tea was refreshing […] invigorating […] [and] friendly.
Figure 3. Tea Council Advertisement. The Australian Women’s Weekly 29 Jan. 1964, 57.
Radio was the Tea Council’s “cup of tea”. Transistor and portable radio arrived in Australia in the 1950s and this much listened to medium was especially suited to the Tea Council’s advertising (Tea Council Annual Report 1964). Radio advertising was relatively low-cost and the Council believed that people thought aurally and could picture their cup of tea as soon as they heard the word “tea”. Fahey explains that although radio was losing some ground to the newly introduced television, it was still the premier media, largely because it was personality driven. Many advertisers were still wary of television, as were the agencies. Radio advertisements, read live to air by the presenter, would tell the audience that it was time for a cuppa—“Right now is the right time to taste the lively taste of tea” (Tea Council Annual Report 1964)—and a jingle created for the advertisement completed the sequence. Fahey explained that agencies “were very much tuned into the fact even in those days that women were a dominant fact in the marketing of tea. Women were listening to radio at home while they were doing their work or entertaining their friends and those reminders to have a cup of tea would have been quite useful triggers in terms of the marketing”. The radio jingle, “The taste of tea makes a lively you” (Jackson Wain, “Tea Council”) aired 21,000 times on 85 radio stations throughout Australia in 1964 (Tea Council of Australia Annual Report). In these advertisements, tea was depicted as an interesting, exciting and modern beverage, suitable for consumption at home as outside it, and equally, if not more, refreshing than other beverages. People were also encouraged to use more tea when they brewed a pot by adding “one [spoonful] for the pot” (Jackson Wain, “Tea Council”).
These advertisements were designed to appeal to both housewives and working women. For the thrifty housewife, they emphasised value for money in a catchy radio jingle that contained the phrase “and when you drink tea the second cup’s free” (Jackson Wain “Tea Council”). For the fashionable, tea could be consumed with ice and lemon in the American fashion, and glamorous fashion designer Prue Acton and model Liz Holmes both gave their voices to tea in a series of radio advertisements (Tea Council of Australia, “Annual Reports”).
This was supported with a number of other initiatives. With the number of coffee lounges increasing in cities, the Tea Council devised a poster “Tea is Served Here” that was issued to all cafes that served tea. This was strategically placed to remind people to order the beverage. Other print tea advertisements targeted young women in the workforce as well as women taking time out for a hot drink while shopping.
Figure 4. “Tea Is Served Here.” Tea Council of Australia. Coll. of Andy Mac. Photo: Andy Mac.
White Wings Bake-off
The cookery competition known as the White Wings Bake-Off was a significant event for many housewives during this period, and the Tea Council capitalised on it. Run by the Australian Dairy Board and White Wings, a popular Australian flour milling company, the Bake-Off became a “national institution […] and tangible proof of the great and growing interest in good food and cooking in Australia” (Wilson). Starting in 1963, this competition sought original recipes from home cooks who used White Wings flour and dairy produce. Winners were feted with a gala event, national publicity and generous prizes presented by international food experts and celebrity chefs such as Graham Kerr. Prizes in 1968 were awarded at a banquet at the Southern Cross Hotel and the grand champion won A$4,750 and a Metters’ cooking range. Section winners received A$750 and the stove. In 1968, the average weekly wage in Australia was A$45 and the average weekly spend on food was $3.60, which makes these significant prizes (Talkfinancenet).
In a 1963 television advertisement for White Wings, the camera pans across a table laden with cakes and scones. It is accompanied by the jingle, “White Wings is the Bake Off flour—silk sifted, silk sifted” (Jackson Wain, “Bake-Off”). Prominent on the table is a teapot and cup. Fahey noted the close “simpatico” relationship between White Wings and the Tea Council:
especially when it came down to […] the White Wings Bake Off [...]. Tea always featured prominently because of the fact that people were still in those days baking once a week [...] having that home baking along side a cup of tea and a teapot was something that both sides were trying to capitalise on.
Despite these efforts, throughout the 1960s tea consumption continued to fall and coffee to rise. By 1969, the consumption of coffee was over a kilogram per person per annum and tea had fallen to just over two kilograms per person per year (ABS). In 1973, due to internal disputes and a continued decline in tea sales, the Tea Council disbanded. As Australians increasingly associated coffee with glamour, convenience, and gourmet connoisseurship, these trajectories continued until coffee overtook tea in 1979 (Khamis 230) and, by the 1990s, coffee consumption was double that of tea. Australia’s cultural shift from tea drinking to coffee drinking—easily, but too simplistically, explained by post-war migration—is in itself a complex and multi layered transition, but the response and marketing campaign by the Tea Council provides an opportunity to investigate other factors at play during this time of change. Fahey sums the situation up appropriately and I will conclude with his remarks: “Advertising is never going to change the world. It can certainly persuade a market place or a large percentage of a market place to do something but one has to take into account there were so many other social reasons why people switched over to coffee.”
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