Sunday 1 October was International Coffee Day and we certainly love our coffee in Australia. Historian Garry Wotherspoon has written an article in the Dictionary of Sydney about how our city’s obsession with coffee came to be, despite our tea-drinking origins.
Sydney’s first coffee arrived in 1788 along with the First Fleet. Coffee seeds and plants had been picked up during a stop in Rio de Janeiro and were planted at the site of First Government House, today’s Museum of Sydney. However, Sydney’s first foray into coffee failed when the seedlings did not yield a commercially viable crop. This of course didn’t stop Sydneysiders importing the beans and drinking coffee.
The gold rushes of the 1850s brought migrants from all over the world, including Europe and America, along with Parisian-style cafes and restaurants. But coffee establishments would become driven by the temperance movement from the late 1870s, as coffee was seen as a respectable alternative to the ‘demon drink’ – alcohol.
Sometimes known as ‘temperance hotels’, these often grand buildings were family friendly, strictly alcohol-free and included dining halls and accommodation, as well as games, smoking and reading rooms.
The coffee palace craze peaked between the 1890s and 1930s, with many being established across the CBD such as the Haymarket Coffee Palace, the Post Office Coffee Palace in Erskine Street and the Victoria Coffee Palace on Pitt Street.
The Grand Central Coffee Palace on Clarence Street was probably one of the most elaborate of them all, with over 200 rooms and meeting spaces. Sadly, this beautiful building was demolished in 1929.
Others, such as the Great Western Coffee Palace survived demolition, and became, ironically, a licensed hotel in the 1910s called the Burlington Hotel (later the Kien Hay Centre).
Migration waves during the interwar and postwar years also brought a new coffee consciousness to Sydney. By the 1960s, coffee ‘lounges’ were springing up beyond the city and into the suburbs.
From failed crops, to coffee palaces, lounges and cafes, Sydney has never looked back!Read Garry Wotherspoon’s entry Coffee on the Dictionary of Sydney here https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/coffee.
Nicole Cama is a professional historian, writer and curator, and the Executive Officer of the History Council of NSW. She appears on 2SER on behalf of the Dictionary of Sydney in a voluntary capacity.
The Dictionary of Sydney needs your help. Make a tax-deductible donation to the Dictionary of Sydney today!