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.
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.
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.
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.