Cafe Oz:The corner of New York that is forever Australia


There is a little corner of New York that is forever Australia, writes Chloe Angyal.

No drips please, we're Aussies: the flat white coffee is increasingly common in the US thanks to cafes such as Bluestone ...

No drips please, we're Aussies: the flat white coffee is increasingly common in the US thanks to cafes such as Bluestone Lane in New York City.

"You win," my friend Billy says, as he drains his cup, making sure he doesn't miss a drop.

"Australia wins," I reply, failing to hide a smirk.

Billy, a musical theatre actor who recently moved from Pittsburgh to New York City, has just tried his first flat white, and he admits it's the best cup of coffee he's ever had.

He's not the only American discovering how good Australian coffee is. More and more baristas in New York are learning the fine art of the Australian flat white, to my delight. After almost a decade in the US and five years in New York City, it was at the top of the list of things I had missed.


I had complained about the local drip brew to my American boyfriend ever since we met. Whenever I had managed to get my hands on a flat white, either in New York or back home, I would send him a selfie of my happy face.

Even more promisingly, several overtly Australian cafes have opened in Manhattan. My favourite is Bluestone Lane. Like everything else in the neighbourhood, food and coffee at this cafe in the trendy West Village doesn't come cheap: a flat white is $US4, and that's before you upgrade to a large. But sometimes, a cure for homesickness has no price.

Kirk, the heavily tattooed manager, is from Melbourne (just ask the elaborately scripted tattoo on his left wrist), and would take death before decaf (just ask the tattoo on his left deltoid). He tells me that about 60 per cent of Bluestone's regulars are Australians.

On one recent Sunday afternoon, it felt like even more than that. I found myself sitting next to two men in their early 20s, Monash students on exchange at American universities in upstate New York and Connecticut. They were visiting New York City and, instead of eating any of the city's best-loved foods – bagels and cream cheese, pizza, pastrami sandwiches – they sought out an Australian breakfast.

I couldn't blame them. The flat whites at Bluestone Lane are perfect every time. The banana bread, served with ricotta and walnuts, tastes just like it does at home. And the avocado toast? When I finally took my boyfriend to breakfast at Bluestone Lane, he went from dismissing avocado for breakfast as "weird" to declaring it "genius".

The place is popular with coffee bloggers and also with celebrities. Hugh Jackman and his family come in most weekends for a big Aussie breakfast, including Vegemite on toast. Once, Kirk tells me, Jackman ordered a flat white – decaf. "I said, 'Are you kidding me?' " Kirk says, looking disgusted. "I showed him my [death before decaf] tattoo and he took a photo of it, but he stuck with the decaf."

Meryl Streep comes in for lunch a lot. One dreary Wednesday, I found myself sitting next to author Malcolm Gladwell ("He comes in pretty much every day," Kirk tells me), who was tapping away on his laptop and quietly talking to himself, the remains of a flat white and a pastry on the table. We chatted about how much he enjoys being surrounded by Australian accents as he works and he jokingly declared that, as a Canadian, he's virtually an honorary Australian anyway, then he and his best-selling auburn mop slipped out the door into the rain.

"We're trying to give people the complete experience of a Melbourne cafe," says Kirk as he pours two large glassfuls of bright green kale juice from an enormous tub. "And we have to train the Americans to want this coffee."

I watch as he pours milk into a matte-grey mug, swirling and spiralling the white into the brown. Sometimes he does the heart or the fern that are so familiar to Australians, though this time his coffee art looks vaguely like a pudendum.

Kirk, who worked at a long list of Melbourne cafes – Green Eggs and Ham, Peekaboo Espresso, Lights in the Attic, Pardon, Cup of Truth – before moving to New York, also trains the baristas at Bluestone's four Big Apple locations. But they've had to adjust to the demands of their American clientele, too.

Your average American coffee is poured from a large container of pre-brewed "drip" (an apt name if there ever was one), and in a lot of places in the US, Starbucks is the closest thing you can get to espresso. (The franchise introduced the flat white to its menu this month, to an underwhelming reception by Australians familiar with the real thing.)

At Bluestone, the Aussies serve drip coffee, but only because it's expected. "I don't drink this shit," Kirk says, sliding a jar of it over the counter to one of the waitresses.

Unlike some of the Australian cafes in New York, Bluestone Lane doesn't hit you in the face with its Australian-ness – there are bottles of Yellowglen Pink lined up along the back wall, but no jars of Vegemite or tins of Milo.

But it tastes like home. It sounds like home, too. And when I'm there, I sound a little bit more like home as well. My accent – a little seppofied around the edges after so long away – kicks in hard as I step up to the counter and inhale the scent of coffee and toast. And then, I get to say those three little words that are, to me, among the most beautiful in the English language: "Flat white, please."