Starbucks, McDonald’s Bow to Australia’s Coffee Superiority

Coffee-lovers in America, rejoice. A better brand of brew is coming to you—one that Australians have touted for years as the superior way to enjoy coffee.

Starting on Tuesday, Starbucks will add flat-white coffee to its US menu, which Melburnian Andrew Demaria describes as having “less foam than a latte” and a smaller cup as it introduces a new term to many Americans’ coffee lexicon: ristretto, comprising “the first part, about half, of an espresso—the more flavorsome bit of the actual coffee.”

Positioned as part of its move to attract more sophisticated coffee-lovers with its high-end Roastery concept, it’s also an admission that Australians make a better cup of joe—as Starbucks Australia (which describes its flat white as “slightly stronger than a latte, with steamed milk”) would no doubt proudly proclaim.

However, as Quartz notes in an essay on the debate over the origins of the flat white (New Zealanders lay claim to it, too), Starbucks has floundered in Australia, selling its local stores to 7-Eleven’s parent company in the market last year and clearing the way for homegrown brands such and indie cafes to flourish.

Starbucks’ acceptance of the flat white beyond Australia comes as another global brand has retooled its coffee strategy after struggling to please Aussies’ discerning palate for how they caffeinate.

McDonald’s Australia recently re branded Sydney’s standalone McCafé location, downplaying its affiliation with McDonald’s in a bid to hide its corporate parent.

Now called, simply, “The Corner by McCafé,” Business Insider reports that the outlet “has been stripped of almost all affiliation with the Golden Arches, aside from the word McCafé displayed in small print underneath the store name.”

The irony is that McDonald’s McCafé standalone speciality coffee store concept was introduced in Australia in 1993 before being taken worldwide.


But Australians—being a sophisticated, java-drinking lot—became increasingly disgruntled about the quality of McCafé coffee. And in a surprising admission to its customers Down Under, McDonald’s actually issued a public apology for its sub-par coffee last summer.

As a result, McDonald’s launched its biggest Australian marketing campaign in two years, all surrounding its in-store coffee bars.

Under the banner of “There’s more to McCafé,” according to Bean Scene magazine the campaign promised to provide “expertly frothed milk” by trained baristas. “We know that more and more Australians are serious about their coffee,” said Helen Nash, McDonald’s COO in Australia.

“The Corner” gambit is reminiscent of the liberties that McDonald’s also took with its iconic name and brand in 2013, when it slapped its local nickname—Macca’s—on signs at some outlets, in social media and in an ad campaign in that market.

Now, having exported a better McDonald’s coffee to the world, non-Aussies can enjoy Australians’ beloved flat-white cuppa at their local Starbucks, too.


Blus, D. 2002. Starbucks, McDonald’s Bow to Australia’s Coffee Superiority. (accessed February 25, 2015).


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