Instant gratification


I once had a friend called Pablo. I met him at a radio station.

Actually, if I’m honest, it was more of a love affair than a friendship. Pablo greeted me every morning with warmth and strength, he never judged me, and our daily interactions always left me with a pep in my step.

Pablo was my instant coffee.

And – heartless beast that I am – I broke things off with Pablo as soon as something a bit more sophisticated came along.

I had no real interest in coffee until I landed my first job doing news at a regional radio station, and the breakfast announcer introduced me to the early morning beverage known as the ‘truckie’s special.’

With three heaped teaspoons of instant granules from the industrial sized coffee tin that was wedged between the dish rack and the microwave, it was more powerful than paint stripper.

But it kept me awake and alert as I adjusted to my new life of stupid o’clock starts, and that was the main objective.

It also fostered in me an addiction for triple-strength coffee, which continues to this day.

If the caffeine hit doesn’t blow your ears off, then I’m not interested.

I still look sideways with suspicion at my tea-drinking radio colleagues who say “I don’t like coffee,” and are perfectly content to sit there and sip on a cup of Earl Grey.

Melbourne broadcaster Jane Holmes remembers, as do I, when instant coffee was the only option available in the radio station kitchen of yesteryear.

“When I started at 3AW, there was Pablo coffee. Holy moly!” she told me on the Food Bytes podcast.

“Then it was replaced by International Roast, and we all thought we’d won Tattslotto.”

During his time hosting a talkback radio on 3AK, Tim Ferguson recalls his bosses sharing cups of International Roast – once a stalwart of office kitchens nationwide – to celebrate his rise in ratings.

Then came the Café Bar, an office beverage dispenser which spat out individual puffs of instant coffee powder, sugar and yes – even powdered milk – whilst you held your (plastic) coffee cup underneath.

But, just as technology in the radio world has evolved, so too has the coffee culture within our industry, with huge shift in the variety and quality of what’s on offer today.

Coffee time is now as much a social occasion and team bonding experience as it is a simple caffeine fix.

Today, radio stations boast the type of coffee machines you need a science degree to operate. Many stations even have their own baristas.

We’ve all moved on from poor old Pablo!

These days, Jane Holmes is a self-described ‘coffee fiend’ who sources her own locally roasted beans and has developed some impressive arm muscles from grinding them herself.

Magic 1278 host Jon Vertigan says his daughter got him on board with oat and almond milk.

Suffice to say, his coffee preference is now light years away from the Nescafe Blend 43 days of old.

“I’ll have an almond latte as my cup of choice these days,” he tells me.

It was only during a recent interview with Melbourne Storm player Chris Lewis that I truly began to grasp just how huge Australia’s coffee culture has become, across all industries.

When I asked Lewis if he and his teammates sat around drinking lattes between training sessions, he laughed and said “Have you got the heads up about that, have you?”

“It’s a huge part of NRL culture. It seems weird, but we’ll often finish training and, a lot of the boys live in Richmond, so we’ll go down, pick a café, sip a latte, have a chat, and put the world right.”

Veteran broadcaster Tim Webster, who’s currently hosting the Afternoons shift on ABC Radio Sydney, is very much a coffee man, as he revealed during our Food Bytes chat a couple of years back.

“Oh God, yeah,” he told me then. “And I’ve got a little confession here. When I’m on the road early, I will call into 7-Eleven for the two dollar coffee.”

And before the purists curl their lips in distaste, Webster says 7-Eleven coffee is a perfectly serviceable option.

“I mean, it’s not gourmet, but at three o’clock in the morning, there’s nothing like a little pick-me-up.”

However, when asked if he’d drink instant coffee if it were the only option available, Webster laughed.

“Well, now you’re stretching it!”

Coffee has long been the hero of radio’s midnight to dawn shift.

3RRR’s Tristen Harris says “There is nothing better than being in an empty radio station with nothing but coffee, a bag of CDs and a microphone.”

But I’ll leave the last word to Wave FM Breakfast host and self-described coffee-o-holic Damien Leith, who left me in stitches when recounting the story of the doctor who recommended he stop drinking coffee altogether:

“Isn’t that terrible? How can a doctor say that to me? Knowing that I have to get up so early! To make that bold suggestion!”

Though perhaps the doctor had a point.

“At one point I was well into the ten coffees a day kind of vibe, and they were pretty strong coffees.” Leith said.

Since then, he’s managed to pull his daily intake back to three.

“I savour them!” he told me.

Yet still, the instant coffee tradition lives on within radio stations, albeit in the background, as Leith himself can attest:

“Somebody opened the cupboard the other day and I saw there was, like, fifteen containers of Blend 43.”

“I thought ‘Geez, they’ve been planning for the apocalypse!”

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Spencer Howson
8 Apr 2024 - 4:29 pm

Nothing wrong with the old Blend 43. Or, Blend 86, as Neil Breen and I call it (that’s when you have two teaspoons!)

Cart Machine #3
8 Apr 2024 - 5:32 pm

Pretty sure Stubbsy used to have multiple TABLEspoons of instant in his morning heart-starter brew before getting behind the mic on Triple M Melbourne breakfast.


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