Growing coffee in Australia

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Not many people know that coffee is grown in Australia. But we do in fact produce plenty of these magic little beans.

Growing coffee in Australia is surprisingly viable. There are two areas where growing coffee is particularly successful, Queensland and New South Wales.

Looking to learn more about growing coffee in Australia? In this article, we cover Australia’s coffee-growing history as well as the current state of affairs. We also discuss what Australian coffee tastes like and answer some commonly asked questions.

History of coffee growing in Australia

The first Australian coffee was thought to have been planted as early as 1832 at Kangaroo Point in Brisbane.

The industry then spread to Northern New South Wales in the late 1830s, and then into Queensland, where production was centred around the Atherton Tablelands, near Cairns.

Growth continued into the 1850s and was required to meet the demand from immigrants originally from Europe who were settling in Melbourne and Sydney.

Following World War II, migrants from Italy, Greece, and other European countries arrived in Australia. They brought with them a well-established coffee culture including demand for espresso-based coffee drinks along with the knowledge of how to roast and make coffee.

This phenomenon set the scene for the coffee culture that Australia still enjoys to this day.

Where is Australian coffee grown?

While the country is a very minor coffee producer on a global scale, there are several places where it grows well.

In Queensland, coffee plants grow best in the Atherton Tablelands area, which lies about 90 kilometres south-west of Cairns. This area is about 500 metres above sea level, making it a good altitude for growing coffee. It also has rich, volcanic soil and a tropical climate with a lot of rain.

This area remains Australia’s biggest coffee-producing region.

Australia currently produces around 600 tonnes of green beans per year. Contrast this with the almost 4 million tonnes produced annually by Brazil.

Further south in Queensland, growers experiment with growing coffee on farms near Bundaberg, which is known for its sugar cane production.

In New South Wales, coffee is grown at Dorrigo near Coffs Harbour and in the Byron Bay region.

Around the rest of the country, growers have experimented with growing coffee. The experiments have met with some success but costs are high and the quantity produced is small compared to what is grown overseas.

The challenges of growing coffee in Australia

Despite the relentless demand, local supply makes up less than 1% of all coffee consumed in Australia. This is due to the financial and environmental challenges associated with production.

By about 1900, Australian coffee production had dwindled, due to the rising cost of manual harvesting and production making it an unprofitable business.

However, in the last 50 years, coffee production has seen somewhat of a revival in Australia. Major local producers include Skybury plantation in the Atherton Tablelands and Mountain Top Coffee in New South Wales.

While the revival is celebrated amongst the Australian coffee industry, the cost of labour and production in Australia is significantly higher than in other coffee-producing countries, which makes it a challenge for Australian producers to compete.

Further, high Australian land prices continue to make it difficult for coffee producers to find land that will produce quality coffee.

What does Australian coffee taste like?

Almost all coffee in Australia is produced in the tropical and subtropical areas of Queensland and New South Wales.

Production is almost exclusively Arabica coffee beans. The Arabica coffee plant is native to Ethiopia and is the most popular species of coffee in the world, accounting for some 60 per cent of total coffee production. The Arabica bean has a smooth, sweet taste compared to that of Robusta coffee beans.

Coffee grown in tropical areas of Australia is typically red Catuai or yellow Catuai, while the more common variety grown in subtropical areas is K7 or SL6.

Australian coffee tends to be mild, flavorful, and sweet, with low-medium acidity.

The cooler climate areas in New South Wales create growing conditions which produce slower ripening, naturally sweet beans. – Bean Scene Mag

In addition to having a less intense flavour, coffee from Australia is usually lower in caffeine than coffee from other parts of the world.

When coffee trees are under attack, they release caffeine as a defence mechanism. The lower caffeine content in Australian-grown coffee is because the climate of Australia’s cooler subtropical areas means there are fewer pests and diseases.

FAQ

Can you grow a coffee tree in Australia?

You can grow coffee trees indoors and outdoors. Coffee plants like warm, frost-free areas of Australia and grow best in the tropical and subtropical regions of New South Wales and Queensland. They need soil that’s fertile, and they do best with steady and mild temperatures. If you choose to grow it inside, make sure not to put it in an area of direct sunlight.