Why Aussie coffee is hard to find – and why you should buy it anyway

With Australia – and especially Melbourne – known throughout the world for its exquisite and particularly picky coffee culture, it seems only natural that aficionados would seek out beans grown in the home country.

But if you’ve ever gone searching for Australian-grown coffee, you’ll likely come up short.

Australia might be the greatest place in the world to walk into a café and have a delicious concoction thrown in your hand. But when it comes to growing coffee? That’s a whole different story.

Australia-grown beans are difficult to find. We only produce about a few hundred tonnes of the stuff – and yet we import nearly 100,000 tonnes a year.

The Australian shelves and cafes are flooded with produce from the major manufacturers across the world, from countries like Kenya, Brazil, Ethiopia, Colombia and Mexico – among others. But walk into your local cafe, and it’s likely you’ll see no Aussie beans there.

Oh, it exists. We’ve been growing it for 200 years, and in fact, we even produced award-winning coffee during the 1880s, mostly shipped over to Europe.

But why is Aussie coffee so rare?

In a word? Climate.

Coffee grows best in sub-tropical climates, in which rainy and dry seasons are well distinguished from each other Altitude also matters a great deal, with an optimal level of 1800-3600 feet above sea level.

The reason this matters is because coffee needs to grow in one season, and mature in the next. In case you hadn’t noticed – there aren’t many places in Australia where the seasons are well defined.

Melbourne might love its coffee, but with four seasons in a day it’s a nightmare to grow coffee in Victoria. Climates in the other states are either too wet, or too dry.

There are only a small number of areas that fit the perfect coffee-growing climate in Australia: northern New South Wales, south-east Queensland and tropical north Queensland.

But these are only small areas in a big country, and the amount of labour required to grow and harvest coffee in these areas is simply not enough in order to create a thriving Australian-grown coffee industry. As a result, most Australian coffee is sent overseas.

Which is why Australian beans are expensive compared to the rest of the world. You’ll pay around $40 a kilo for Australian beans, whereas others from around the world will cost far less. Those prices are due to labour costs and regulation, which thanks to the labour-intensive nature of growing coffee, are significantly high.

But there’s hope.

More groups like the Australian Subtropical Coffee Association, which represents about 35 growers, roasters, processors and wholesalers in Australia, are making it their mission to promote the sale of Australian-grown beans.

It isn’t like Australian coffee doesn’t exist. It’s just a little harder to find. Groups like Ewingsdale Coffee Estate, in Byron Bay, or Skybury in Queensland, which actually produces its own capsules for Espresso machines, are part of a group of boutique coffee farmers producing beans and blends popping up in Australia’s prime coffee-growing areas.

Coffee has been around in Australia for hundreds of years, and will continue to be – it’s just a little harder to find.

But here are a few reasons why you should check it out anyway.

Higher quality

One of the benefits of growing coffee in Australia is a slow, maturation period for the beans to ripen. This is something other geographies don’t have – and it gives Australian coffee a unique flavour that’s a little sweeter than normal.

Different tastes

As all coffee lovers know, two coffees are never alike. Beans grown in Kenya are different from those in Colombia. Australian beans are grown in different soil, with different temperatures, with different amounts of water – that means they taste different from any other beans, all over the world.

Ethical support

Coffee, like many others products grown in third world countries, can have some dodgy ethical problems. Workers not being paid enough, etc. If you buy Australian coffee, you’ll know it’s being produced in a country with strict labor regulations and standards – groups like Fairtrade also work with Australian brands.

Additionally, Australian coffee has stricter regulations regarding quality control, and many rosters from here invest into their own farm practices. That means you know coffee is coming straight from the sellers, not being gouged by a sales funnel only looking for cash.

Keen on Australian coffee? Head to the ASTCA and check out some of the growers who are selling their home-grown product – you can ever order online from many growers. Give it a go.

Melbourne’s Coffee History

We’re not the biggest, not the hottest, we don’t have the most small dogs per capita (that’s Brazil) … but damn Melbourne makes a fine cup of coffee. Coffee was around a long time before you were presented with a pour over at your favourite Melbourne haunt. However, we thought we’d give you the history of coffee for the city with a history of being renowned for roasting, brewing, and enjoying it.

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On its journey to Australia in 1787, The First Fleet made a stop at Rio de Janeiro. Whilst stocking the ships supply of other plants and seeds, coffee was making its way to the shores of Australia. However, in 1832 at Brisbane’s riverside suburb of Kangaroo Point, we find the first recording of coffee growth. By the late 1880s coffee was growing along the east coast of Australia, from Northern NSW to the tablelands of Northern Queensland and an industry had started. To its demise, by the 1920s labour and freight costs took their toll on the industry and the country’s coffee production was in the red.

 
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The Temperance movement of the 1830s came by encouraging people to replace pale ales for piccollos and lagers for lattes. However, many of the coffee houses had to swap back to selling liqour or close their doors due to the Depression of the 1890s. Steam-driven coffee machines were commonplace across Melbourne’s Italian groceries. The first patented espresso machine was created by Luigi Bezera in Italy in 1901. Melbourne’s street’s adopted coffee stalls across the CBD from the 1850s to the 1920s. The 1930s saw Melbourne make the leap to establishing its own version of European style coffee lounges.

American servicemen stationed in Australia for the Second World War played a large influence on the tea-favoured population. Having adopted coffee much earlier it was only a matter of time that Melbourne caught on to the caffeinated-caper that was sweeping the globe.

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Post the Second World War, Melbourne saw an influx of Italian migrants. Along with their families and culture they brought their love of coffee to lay the groundwork for Melbourne’s coffee culture as we know it today. Inner city suburbs were home to big groups of European migrants. A cultural melting pot to ultimately influence what we drank. Crema was not a common attribute of espresso until 1948 when Achille Gaggia began to market an espresso machine employing a lever-driven piston which provided more pressure to force water through a more tightly packed puck of coffee than could be used in contemporary models. Gaggia billed the resulting foam as Crema Caffe Naturale or natural coffee cream. This system was a big leap forward modifying the way coffee was extracted, making the most of the bean’s flavour.

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Older style tea rooms made the switch into coffee lounges during the 1950s. Espresso-enthusiasts and coffee-connoiseurs were multiplying throughout the streets of Melbourne. Due to recession , what was previously the industrial home of inner-city Melbourne, businesses started moving to outer suburbs in the 1990s. These were later replaced by how we see a lot of Melbourne’s industrious-style cafe’s today.

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The culture of Melbourne’s cafe’s was established firmly throughout the inner-city and CBD’s framework. The morning wake up call and jump start for the city that keeps challenging and re-inventing the way we think about coffee. To no surprise the city responded in shock, when in 2009 when the Mayor of Melbourne Robert Doyle stated that the city’s coffee was overrated. “Coffee is coffee; it’s not life or death,” he said. The city went into uproar and the media was a frenzy defying the Mayor’s remarks, showing just how passionate Melbourne is about its coffee.

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Although it has ridden the waves of popularity, demand and recession. Coffee has made its way to Melbourne’s streets through the suitcases of European migrants. It has adopted its own identity and formed a new chapter today through the pursuit of that perfect cup.

Toddy Cold Brew Recipe

You are beading with sweat and all in a fluster, but your enthusiasm and alertness is only reaching levels on par with that of a sleep deprived sloth. What is your brew of choice? I’ve always opted for a hot coffee at home as it was the only option on the menu to me. Thanks to the team at coffeegearsupply.com , we got our hands on a Toddy Cold Brewer to make a delicious cold brew for the warmer weather and cooler caffeinated life choices.

Here is what you will need to get started:
– Toddy Brewer
– Grinder
– Scales
– 1L of water
– Your Favourite Mug
– 80g  of the good stuff (coffee)

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Measure out and grind 80g of the good stuff. You want the grind to be coarse as if you were grinding it for a filter.
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Place the rubber stopper in the white plastic brewer. Dampen a filter disc and place over the rubber stopper. Add 300ml of water in the bottom of the brewer before adding 40g of your ground coffee.

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Don’t stir the grounds as they could get clogged in your filter and make it difficult for draining later. Simply gently fold the grounds into the water so they are all wet.

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Add 350ml of water to the brewer.

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Add the other 40g of coffee followed by 350ml of water ensuring all the grounds are wet.
Leave for 24hours. We left ours in the fridge with some cling-wrap and an elastic band to prevent sharehouse fridge faux-pas’ from ruining our batch. Nobody ever wanted beetroot juice in their cold brew… Did they?
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Once you have patiently waited 24 hours it is time to remove your rubber stopper to unleash the liquid gold into the glass decanter.
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Serve in your favourite mug black, with ice or without, even add a dash of milk (from a cow, from an almond, from a coconut or sweetened condensed). Bottom line is experiment with your cold brew and enjoy. We are told it can stay fresh for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator… However, we don’t see ours lasting that long.
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Cupping 101

When we talk about cupping in the coffee industry you may be asking yourself what we are referring to? Well it doesn’t have anything to do with this guy. Although, he could have definitely used a cup in this situation along with his other cupless baseball friends (see image link).

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We got to sit down with Steve Simmons from Industry Beans over a brew, to give you the low down on all things cupping. Yes, we are now talking about this variety of cupping!

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What’s the deal with this cupping business Steve
“Well i’ve never done it before,” He joked, otherwise we’d have to stop the interview then and there.

“The whole philosophy is to normalise the variables of the brewing process so we can assess just the coffee. Coffee, being a highly diverse product, is easily to manipulate with the roasting and brewing processes. If we can reduce the variables of the roasting and brewing process, we can make it solely about the coffee.”

Why do you cup?
“We cup new crop samples, coffee that we are looking to buy. As well as coffees that are part of our production, just to keep an eye on everything. Whilst everything is data logged, it is still good to be engaged with the product itself. It is always about quality assurance and being as consistent as humanly possible. Thirdly we cup for training purposes, we cup because it is good for us to train our palettes. We cup three times a week on average, sometimes more depending how busy it is.”

Can you take us through the cupping process?
“The coffee is coarsely ground, mainly because it is going to be steeped in water for a long time. This slows down the brewing process and brews the coffee gently. The coarse grind is brewed to set brew ratios of coffee and water for a set period of time. We follow the SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America) protocols to ensure consistency. Initially, we do a dry aroma perception. Where the coffee is smelt with an open mouth. Water is then added and the coffee brews for 4 minutes. The coffee forms a crust which is later removed.”

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“We allow it to brew for another 10 minutes before we taste it. It is basically around the 15-20 minute mark before we taste it. We proceed to cup for around 40 minutes with lots of note taking and no talking. This is important as it is so easy to influence other’s perceptions.”

Why do people make the big slurping noises in a cupping session?
“It is all about opening up your sensory perception. Aerating the liquid over the palette helps to get everything going, get the juices flowing. This is the same with the first part of the cupping, the dry aroma perception. We try to have our mouth open to open up everything properly. With a closed mouth you don’t get as much information coming through. The slurp works in the same effect. One of the biggest challenges people have is getting over that embarrassment of the slurp.”

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Can you take us through tasting notes?
“It gets to the 40 minute mark, whoever is running the session opens it up for discussion. We work through the different coffees on the table. It is a clean slate and everyone has their say. There is really no wrong answers. I am always curious as to what other people are perceiving as it helps to share the knowledge. There are occasions where some answers are more accurate or correct than other answers. However, there will also be times I miss a particular note and someone else has said it. I guess that is how the learning is occurring.”

“We then discuss the structure of the coffee on a more technical level; acidity, body, sweetness, balance. Then we get into more flavour perceptions, after taste, as well how clean the coffee is, and how consistent it is. We cup multiples of the same coffee. Especially if it is a new crop from a farmer to look for inconsistencies.”

“Roasting for cupping samples is significantly lighter than filter or espresso production roasts. We want to roast it light to get an idea of what the coffee is about. The further we roast it, the more roasting influence we have. We want to make sure we aren’t impacting the quality of the coffee with our roast. We are talking a 7-8minute roast compared to an 11-15 minute roast for production. It also lends for the fact we are brewing it for such a long time.”

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What other variables do you need to consider? Does the traffic to work that day affect how you cup?
“What sort of headspace are you in that day. Who is in the session with you. How is your girlfriend treating you. That’s why it’s great to do it in a team and keep it open. When you are at origin you can romanticise the taste of a coffee. I had the pleasure of going to origin to find new samples from Costa Rica, Panama, El Salvador and Guatemala at the end of January 2015.”

Any famous last words?
“When we are sampling, we aren’t roasting it to taste good on the cupping table when it will end up as an espresso. We try and use cupping as a way of communicating about coffee, educating our baristas, as well as improving the coffee our wholesale accounts are serving to their customers. Like any process it needs to be taken as part of a bigger picture. Whether you are cupping for sample or for production coffee, it is only one way of looking at that particular coffee.”

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Roasting 101

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DYLAN HEWIT, DIRECTOR OF COFFEE

Many a man’s morning ritual, the humble coffee bean was once the seed of a coffee cherry. How did this seed come to the brown roasted rich aroma bean that we know and love in our cup of joe? We spoke with Wide Open Road’s Director Of Coffee, Dylan Hewit over a couple of brews to discuss and get the low down on roasting coffee. When Dylan isn’t grappling and throwing down in his jiu-jitsu gym, he’s throwing down blends and sourcing single origins for the tasty coffee Wide Open Road is renowned for.

“At its core roasting is super simple. You have green beans and an oven and as the beans heat up they go through some chemical processes and they end up brown,” explained Dylan. So that concludes our roasting 101 thanks for reading…

Wait! It’s not that simple… I’m going to let Dylan continue, “It is a really straightforward concept, but like anything it gets more and more complicated; the better you want to do it, the harder it gets.

Generally speaking, the very basics haven’t changed for a long time. You have the main elements of temperature and time, and a lot of focus and attention is placed on the relationship between temperature and time. Roasters work by rotating green coffee beans in a drum that is continuously spinning, which is heated by jets of natural gas. When roasting, a number of chemical reactions occur during this process as the beans change from their original green state, to different shades of brown. This colour change is the result of the sugars in the bean being drawn out by heat in a caramelization like process.

“When I learnt to roast it was strictly based on time. You would hit first crack at 9 minutes and drop it 2 minutes later.” First crack is noted by the loud cracking sound, similar to when you pop popcorn. It is a marker of the seed quickly expanding to the point where water and carbon dioxide fracture, letting out a little moisture or steam. This process opens the crease in the bean enough to release the remaining skin, also known as chaff. There is also a softer sounding “second crack” in the process this sound represents the structure of the coffee starting to collapse.

“Today we use software and development time is viewed as a percentage. It’s how we think about roasting and communicate roasting between us. We can mathematically work out a percentage of development time. Development time refers to how far the bean has roasted. Some people when they talk about development time they talk about the time of first crack to when you drop the coffee. Others talk about the whole roast. It’s a good way to track progress.”

“At its core roasting hasn’t changed but the way we think and talk about roasting is progressing. This is also leading to higher levels of quality and a better understanding of the roast.”

As Director Of Coffee, Dylan does what is known as profiling. This means he will do the first initial roasting of beans and once he is happy with the recipe he will hand over the roasting reigns, however I’ll let him explain it in a little more detail. “When I talked about the roast itself. It is basically writing a recipe for your roast.” The focus is on the relationship between temperature and time as Dylan aforementioned. “When and how much heat you are putting into it. Different beans react differently. Some people might roast a Kenyan coffee hard and fast to retain its juice and fruity aspects. Indonesian coffee is dry and brittle so we roast it gently for longer. It has different moisture levels, it will caramelise at different rates. Hard dense beans will have more cells than a lighter bean. What we are always balancing is roasting the inside of the bean and the outside of the bean. It’s like baking a cake! You don’t want to have a cake burnt on the outside and raw on the inside likewise you don’t want a cake that has been in an oven for a long time and it is really dry on the inside.”

Whilst the coffee is in the roaster, roasters are constantly checking gas levels, time, and temperature, as well as the colour, sound, and aroma of the beans. They will drop the beans onto a cooling bed where the beans are constantly moved. Remember there will still be residual heat, so the cooking process of the beans may still occur even after it has dropped.

As Director Of Coffee Dylan is not just roasting the beans and writing the recipes for each roast, he is also sourcing beans from different origins around the world for single origins (beans that are from one origin) and for blends (beans that have been blended to compliment and create the most appealing characteristics with one another for how the coffee is consumed). He conducts cupping sessions to test the coffee he sources, we also reckon he’s just an all round awesome guy! Thanks for sharing your brain Dylan.

What else would you like to learn about in the vast world that is coffee? Leave a comment below and we’ll send it to our Brewniversity Professors to find out the answers.

The Home Brewer’s Guide

It isn’t always plausible to be out in the big bad world hunting beans, searching for the latest spot for joe that took three sketchy alleyways and a secret knock to find. The question arises for many… why can’t I have café-quality coffee at home?

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So whether you have coffee-loving friends over, are homebound with the flu, a hermit, or dog-sitting a precious pooch, here are a few simple tips to get your home brewing game on point.

Know the game! research on how to brew your coffee with the equipment that you have. If you invited a friend to shoot some hoops and they picked up the basketball and kicked it towards you, they would look silly right? You won’t become World Home Brewing Champion without knowing how to play the game.  Coffee can be a fun, simple process, but first you need to know the process.

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A good worker should never blame his tools. This does reign true, however some tools don’t perform well as others. This doesn’t mean you have to end up spending a fortune, but a few essentials can improve the quality of your cup. Slowly add to your coffee arsenal over time. You don’t have to come out guns blazing and give away your life’s inheritance for the latest espresso machine that the offices of M16 doesn’t even have yet. My setup at home consists of a hand-grinder and an Aeropress. Start with a simple brewing process like a V60 or an Aeropress and eventually add a grinder to your gadgets. Many café’s that retail coffee can pre-grind beans for you so a grinder isn’t essential straight off the bat. 

Experiment! There are so many variables in the brewing process, try altering some to figure out how to make your favourite cup. Is the coffee too bitter? Try a coarser grind. Have a go at changing the grind size, temperature, brewing time and see how it changes the end result. Don’t rush the process, remember, good things come to those who wait.

You can’t make good coffee without a bag of fresh good coffee. As precise as your brewing process might be, nothing is going to turn those coffee grounds accompanying the “free lunch” of curried eggs into a tasty, floral filter.

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Finally, when in doubt ask your barista. If they have more gadgets on their wall than your year 9 science class, and are as crazed about coffee as their constant upbeat tempo from a caffeine-addiction might suggest, don’t be afraid to talk to them about your coffee woes.

Alternatively, if your favourite barista is M.I.A. submit your questions to a forum of fellow coffee-lovers (*hint: see add comment below). Happy beanhunting!

(* I would like to take this opportunity to say I am a big ambassador for curried egg sandwiches and in no way does its association with poor coffee reflect my views on said sandwiches.)