Coffee Down Under: Culture and History

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One of the many wonderful benefits of marrying my lovely, Aussie wife, Karolyn, is that I have gotten to spend a lot of quality time in the Land Down Under. One of the things that continues to amaze me every time I visit Australia is the sheer magnitude of its coffee culture. On any given block in a metropolitan area, you can expect to see at least four or five cafes, coffee shops, bakeries or restaurants, all of which have their own commercial espresso machine and a grinder. Keep in mind that almost all of the coffee market in Australia, commercial or residential, is for espresso and cappuccino. It is seldom that you will see drip coffee made there.

Australia’s most common coffee house chain is Starbucks, but Illy and Gloria Jeans also have a very strong presence on the continent as well. It is obvious that imported coffees in Australia are quite common, but, being the coffee fanatic that I am, I wanted to know if there was any presence of domestically grown coffees. Much to my surprise, there is a rich history of coffee growing in Australia.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the first Arabica coffee bushes were planted and grown at Kangaroo Point in Brisbane. From there, coffee plantations started to spread from northern New South Wales to the far north of Queensland. In fact, Australian Arabica coffee, from the northern most coast of New South Wales, won tasting awards in Paris and Rome in the 1880s. At this point in time, about 60 coffee growers were responsible for producing 40% of Australia’s coffee. The rest of the coffee being consumed was being imported from Europe and South America. Unfortunately, this era also marked a sharp decline in the Australian coffee industry due to very high labor costs.

In the 1980s the mechanical coffee bean harvester was introduced and the government offered generous incentives to re-establish the Australian coffee industry. With these developments, a group of coffee farmers took the opportunity to start growing high quality Arabica and Robusta coffees, with the majority of production around the Byron Bay Hinterland region in New South Wales, and the Atherton Tableland region in Queensland. This increased coffee production laid the foundation for the modern, thriving Australian coffee industry as it stands today.

It my next installment of Coffee in the Land Down Under, I will tell you some unusual facts about Australian coffee. You will also learn about the unique characteristics of the coffee from the different Australian regions, as well as the economics of the industry in the country.

Have you ever traveled abroad and noticed a distinct difference in the coffee culture in a different country?

Have you ever had the opportunity to try Australian coffee?

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