café culture

Urban growth fuels booming café culture

Dr Emma Felton of the Queensland University of Technology says café culture is now a firm fixture in urban life globally, providing new social spaces for a diverse range of people. 

Emma has just published Filtered: Coffee, the Café and the 21st century City (Routledge) which examines the rise of café culture, from Melbourne to Shanghai, Tokyo, London, and Berlin.

Dr Emma Felton of the Queensland University of Technology

“The growth of the café since the late 20th century is extraordinary and very much linked to significant socio-cultural and technological change. For the first time in history, the majority of the world’s population now lives in cities and cafés serve an important role for connecting people.” said Dr Felton.

“The coffee bean is the world’s fourth most traded agricultural commodity and the global coffee industry is worth $US100 billion (about $140 billion), with more than 500 billion cups of coffee drunk worldwide each year.”

Emma, who specialises in researching and writing about cities from social and cultural perspectives, calls modern café culture “a connoisseur’s playground”.

“From the ethical sourcing of origin beans, direct trade between roasters and plantations, the variety of specialty styles, tastings, the rise of the barista and other developments, coffee and it’s enjoyment is now on par with wine-making and fine dining,” Emma says.

“I was intrigued by the obvious growth of coffee shops and their relationship to urban renewal. They really are everywhere now. I undertook research in Japan, China and Europe as well as Australia, as in the past 10 years it has become a truly global phenomenon – for example, cafés are outpacing pubs in the UK, where pubs are on the decline, while Starbucks is opening a café in China every week.”

Finland, The Netherlands, and Norway vie for the title of highest coffee consumers while Asian countries, traditionally tea cultures, are the fastest growing consumers of coffee, especially China and Indonesia.

“Cafés are the [fastest] growing segment of the hospitality industry worldwide. Fifteen years ago, in my inner-city neighbourhood in Brisbane, I could count the cafés on one hand. Now there are 60 in a radius of about three kilometres,” Emma says. “Cafés and restaurants have become an integral part of the urban renewal and transformation of many inner-city areas like mine.”

“Australia is often credited with being a world-leader in specialty coffee and the invention of the flat white. Our coffee drinkers are very discerning and the independents do better here than chains like Starbucks which has closed down 60 of its 87 cafés opened here since the beginning of the 21st Century. At the same time, the café scene in Australia, as well Japan and China, is quite different to that of the traditional European café culture.”

Filtered: Coffee, the Café and the 21st century City is available online. Emma will launch the physical copy at Avid Reader at West End, Queensland, on Thursday 31 January.