It may surprise you to learn that Australia has a small but flourishing coffee growing industry. Alongside other boutique agricultural endeavours such as medicinal opium and marihuana, horse meat for human consumption and truffles, the coffee industry makes up for the small quantities produced with a passion for the end product.
On paper the Australian continent looks like a tough place to grow the humble brown bean with any great success. Traditionally coffee plants prefer growing at altitudes of around 1000 metres where cool air aids in the development of acidity.
The two major coffee regions of Australia are around the Atherton Tablelands in Queensland and the Lismore region in New South Wales and crops in both areas need some encouragement to maximise yield and quality. These locations would not normally be considered traditional coffee growing environments. Papua New Guinea, further north and more suited to coffee cultivation, far outstrips Australia's harvest and export quantities.
Northern New South Wales is about as far south as it's possible to grow coffee beans with any sort of commercial viability and the taste from this subtropical region differs from the coffee grown in the warmer region around Atherton and Mareeba.
Coffee has been grown in Australia for over 200 hundred years even winning awards in Paris and Rome in the 1800's. Enthusiastic growers rekindled production in the 1980's with developments in mechanical harvesting and the industry has been growing ever since.
Australia drinks and imports far more coffee than it produces and the majority of the beans found in local cafes are sourced from South America, Asia and Africa. The bulk of the coffee grown in Australia is exported and the local coffee market is a boutique affair, sold at the farm gate, provincial coffee houses and by mail order.
It is the great European traditions that have influenced the coffee culture of this country. Colonisation by the English brought a thriving tea culture but with early Italian migration in the 1900's came a new respect for coffee. A newly developed extraction method (espresso) brought a fresh taste and the combination of this smoother brew and frothed milk (cappuccino) saw a surge in demand and the establishment of the cafe as we know it today.
Melbourne and Fremantle saw large numbers of European migrants arrive at their ports who, in their desire to consume the foods of their homelands, quickly introduced exiting new spices and vegetables. The contribution of garlic and espresso to the flourishing cuisine and cafe culture of Melbourne and Fremantle can be directly attributed to Italy. 'Grazie tanto!'
Along with the numerous patrons who frequent the cafe strips looking for a social cup or a quick pick-me-up are the coffee connoisseurs who fashion their own favourite brew at home. Whether it's made in a top of the range espresso machine, a Turkish ibrik or a simple 'pour-over', true coffee devotees know that only by using freshly ground beans can they achieve absolute taste and flavour.
Once a coffee bean has ripened and been picked it is dried in preparation for the roasting process. Roasting is every bit as important as the growing of a bean and it is in the roaster that a great cup can be won or lost.
Much of Australia's imported coffee is roasted overseas and the roasting date is usually impossible to ascertain. In our opinion coffee is at it's best about six days after roasting and begins to loose appreciable flavour after a month or so. Apart from bean quality the time between roasting and brewing is one of the major reasons supermarket coffee beans are of poor quality. They are a mass market product developed to a price point and may spend large amounts of time on ships and on ports. Green coffee beans have a much longer shelf life than roasted beans. Roasting begins the process of caramelising the sugars that produce the flavour but it also signals the eventual demise for the life of the bean.
While many cafes use beans from large, well known producers some choose a smaller boutique roaster to supply their business. These are generally people with a real passion for coffee and it shows in the cup. People who care enough to source their own beans and roaster care enough to make a good coffee. Poor coffee making technique can kill a great bean and these baristas are usually perfectionist in drawing an espresso shot.
If you are passing through northern New South Wales between the towns of Coffs Harbour and Tweed Heads chances are you will be driving past coffee plantations. The Australian Subtropical Coffee Association lists over thirty members in this region alone. Coffee grown here spends more time ripening on the plant and as a result is a unique brew with lower caffeine content and a distinctive flavour.
Head over the border into Queensland and further north you'll find Mareeba which boasts a variety of coffee growers and even plantation tours where you are taken through the whole process - from vine to cup. Coffee grown here closer resembles traditional growing regions with higher altitudes and tropical weather patterns.
Many of the plantations in both states sell beans or ground coffee at the farm gate while some have onsite cafes with properly trained baristas churning out lattes and cappuccinos with beans that have been picked and roasted right on the premises.
Call in and grab a cup. Chances are you'll be in a pleasant environment where the coffee doesn't get any fresher made by people who are passionate about their product.
We take an in-depth look at a Breville all in one espresso machine the - Breville Fresca BES860
◄ The Complete
Guide To 4WD
The 4WD ►
To Outback Touring