The land down under has a firmly established reputation for its coffee obsession.
But while coffee shops and famous roasters are the name of the game in the Aussie world, the little-known realm of Australian coffee beans, grown right on the island continent itself, is starting to gain some momentum.
From locally grown beans to expert roasters to the overall exploding coffee cultural phenomenon, here’s our rundown on all things Australian coffee.
TOP PICK: Skybury Estate’s Shade-Grown Microlot
If you’re looking for some of the best Australian coffee from an award-winning estate, look no further than this shade-grown micro-lot from Skybury Estate.
Coming from the Atherton Tablelands of Queensland (and from a plantation that truly knows its business), these delicacies are a rarity in the mechanized, sun-grown Australian coffee world.
You can check out these medium roasted beans, lovingly grown under the shade of papaya trees, here.
Must Know Facts: An Australian Coffee Guide
With a culture that tends to be less about growing the beans and more about mastering production, any guide to Australian coffee beans is going to include a hefty focus on processing, roasting, and the overall Australian coffee culture.
Whether grown at home or not, though, being located so close to coffee hotspots like Indonesia and Papua New Guinea has set up the Australian coffee industry to thrive.
A Brief History of Australia’s Coffee Culture
Coffee was first cultivated in Australia as recently as 1880. The industry continued until 1926 but ultimately failed in its first go around. This was due to a couple of problems: the beans being produced were low quality (and thus cheap), and labor in the region was expensive, especially when the cost of harvesting was factored into the equation.
However, rather than dying completely, the coffee-growing desire remained dormant for half a century until a coffee cultural renaissance began to bloom, breathing new life into an otherwise abandoned regional craft.
This new wave of coffee-growing, apart from being fueled by renewed interest in the art, can be largely attributed to the introduction of new mechanical means of harvesting, particularly the world’s first mechanical coffee harvester, making it economically feasible to grow coffee in Australia once again.
Since then, the coffee-growing industry, though small, has continued to bloom, with farmers focusing on high-end varietals and showing more and more interest in developing quality beans that can compete with others around the world.
Australian Coffee Varietals
During this recent coffee revival, Arabica coffee plant varietals were brought over to the island continent. For example, Blue Mountain, Arusha, Caturra, and Bourbon varietals were imported from nearby Papua New Guinea. Others followed.
The myriad of different varietals, many of which are selected based on their hardiness (and are consequently now being recommended for expansion into the cooler regions of Queensland and New South Wales), include some of the following:
- Mundo Novo (Typica / Bourbon hybrid)
- K7, SL6, and other African/Kenyan varietals
Australian Coffee Beans: A Flavor Profile
Coffee grown in the land down under tends to be lower in caffeine. It also tends to have a particular sweetness, lack of bitterness, and a medium body that comes with both chocolate and nutty flavors.
Other flavors include ash, coal, and tobacco, all of which would hint at the overall milder flavor of the beans. In general, most of the coffees from Australia tend to have a less intense profile.
Growing and Processing Methods
The bulk of the coffee in Australia is grown at a paltry 650 – 1300 feet above sea level, which may at least partly explain why the coffee growing culture in Australia has always struggled.
Note: Learn more about how altitude affects coffee.
Most coffee farms in Australia also tend to be smaller, consisting of fifty to a hundred acres.
Processing methods vary across the board, with some cherries being dry processed, others wet processed, and still others using a unique process developed by Mountain Top Coffee Company called double pass, which involves leaving the beans on the trees to dry and then re-hydrating them to be pulped.
Major Coffee-Growing Regions in Australia and Their Beans
The majority of coffee in Australia is grown in the subtropical regions along the eastern coast of the country in the states of New South Wales and Queensland.
New South Wales
New South Wales (NSW) is currently the hub of the Australian coffee-growing culture.
Its subtropical climate means the region has slightly cooler temperatures, allowing for a uniquely longer maturation period of the beans. It also has good water, soil, and, while cooler, it doesn’t get too cold for the delicate coffee plants.
Queensland is on the northeastern side of the continent, and is closer to the equator (and therefore the more tropical regions) than NSW.
While the region produces slightly less coffee, it still generates excellent beans on a regular basis – including some award-winning coffees from local estates!
This estate is located in the Atherton Tablelands of Queensland.
While there are many coffees grown in Australia, Skybury Estate is one of the few that can claim to have grown one so good that it won a gold medal at the Sydney Royal Fine Food Show.
While the estate produces a vast array of coffees, the one that won a gold medal had a “wow factor” to remember, delivering a “good depth of flavor in the middle palate and a long finish.”
You can see a beautiful video of the Skybury Estate in action below.
Mountain Top Coffee Company
One of the top names in the burgeoning Australian coffee-growing industry, Mountain Top Coffee Company’s beans are grown in rich, red volcanic soil in the mountains above Nimbin in New South Wales.
Working with K7 varietals, the farm has produced a line of internationally renowned coffees that tend to have a light to medium body and a crisp, floral, and fruity sweetness.
Their coffee was even used by the winner of the World Barista Championships in 2005!
Australia’s Unique Coffee Culture
If you visit a coffee shop down under, you may find yourself quickly wondering, “why is Australian coffee so good?”
This is because, growing aside, the region has been a coffee hotspot for a long time, often setting trends and staying on the cutting edge of the coffee world.
Case in point: Australia is a major importer of green coffee beans. In other words, the nation brings in a lot of harvested and processed green beans… and then expertly roasts them in order to resell them.
Australians take their coffee culture very seriously, especially in recent decades. Their coffee “style” is so specifically their own that even major chains like Starbucks have had a hard time competing with it.
The chain moved into the country, tried to bring their “Starbucks” flair, and utterly failed in the face of the intensely “Australian” coffee culture they found already established.
Australians know what they want when it comes to coffee. The nation is particularly obsessed with espresso-based drinks – though filter coffee is on the rise as well – and Aussies tend to choose lighter roasts.
You can read more about local Australian coffee culture here.
The Current State of Coffee Production in Australia
Coffee production in Australia has never been what one would call “stellar”. For example, according to the folks at AgriFutures, a measly 1000 tonnes of coffee (just over 2 million pounds) was grown in 2012. Compare that to the nearly 1.5 billion pounds produced in nearby Sulawesi (a part, just a part, of the Indonesian coffee industry) in that same year!
Much of this comes from the flat, low nature of many of Australia’s coffee plantations, along with the issue of growing coffee plants in the sun in a monoculture crop setting.
This less-than-preferable growing method is necessary due to the mechanization of the industry. Simply put, it is required to keep things profitable and to keep the Australian coffee farms in existence!
That said, infrastructure and the need for equipment and machinery is certainly less of an issue here than in more remote coffee-growing regions. However, though the situation may not be ideal for coffee-growing, that doesn’t mean the Aussie coffee-growing industry as a whole is floundering.
If anything, Australia’s long love affair with coffee, and its proximity to so many coffee-growing regions, has kept it front and center in the coffee world, with an interest in importing, roasting, and growing their own beans that is sure to continue to pick up steam as it matures down the road.
Where to Buy Australian Coffee Beans
While Australian coffee brands are less prolific than many other high-volume countries, there are still some excellent ones available.
In addition to beans grown in Australia, it is also worth checking out many of the Australian roasters who have studied and mastered their craft from the heart of the South Pacific coffee world.
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If you’re going to get Australian coffee, do it from an award-winning estate! The Skybury Estate knows its coffee business, and buying directly from them ensures that you’re supporting the local industry as well.
Not only that, but they actually have shade-grown micro-lots available, which is a rarity in the mechanized, sun-grown Australian coffee world.
You can check out their medium-roasted Shade Grown Microlot here.
- Award-winning estate
- Shade-grown coffee
- Grown in the Atherton Tablelands of Queensland
Known as “Australia’s No.1 pure coffee brand”, this extremely popular Aussie coffee company has been family owned since 1958.
While the coffees they supply are from around the world, the high quality of both the beans and the service makes Vittoria one of the best coffee roasters Australia has to offer.
Case in point: this organic, Rainforest Alliance certified Vittoria coffee grown from 100% Arabica beans. It’s both quality and care in a single cup!
- One of Australia’s best roasters
- Organic and Rainforest Certified
- Not all Australian-grown beans
Mountain Top Coffee
If you’re a home roaster looking for a good supply of Australian-grown green coffee beans, Mountain Top Coffee is a good starting point.
They’ve got you covered with green coffee beans grown right in the red volcanic soil of their farm. With three different options (Bin 478, Bundja, and Peaberry beans), you can pick and choose just what you need for your home-roasting needs.
Just make sure to check in regularly to see when the beans are available!
- Grown in red volcanic soil
- Green coffee beans
- Three different options from one farm
Pairing: The Best Way to Roast and Brew Australian Beans
Once you’ve purchased your Australian beans, you’re going to want to know how to roast and brew them!
Here are our suggestions for your consideration.
Due to the extremely small nature of the current Australian coffee-growing industry, very little information has been published regarding the best ways to roast these beans.
However, the generally mild profile of Australian beans tends to lend itself to medium roasts or darker. The lower altitude usually leads to a muted flavor that doesn’t make lighter roasts favorable, especially when compared to other island beans of the region.
There are always exceptions, however, as is noted about Mountain Top coffee in the coffee profile here. A lighter roast can help to bring out the fruitier elements of these beans.
Note: Check out this article for a thorough breakdown of light, medium, and dark roasting in the context of Australian coffee culture!
If you’re dealing with a medium roast, we suggest a filter option like a Chemex. A steeping method like a French press is perfect for more medium-dark roasts.
And, finally, steeping or even espresso-based options are the way to go for any dark roasts.
You can find out more about pairing roasts with brew options here!
Coffee from Down Under
Whether you’re interested in some of the best-grown or the best-roasted coffees (or both!), Australia can deliver.
While the Australian coffee-growing industry is still in its infancy, the fact that these beans are being grown in the heart of a coffee-crazed culture leaves the country poised for nothing but success. We can hopefully expect to see a continued rise in both production and quality as time goes on.
If you’ve enjoyed this overview, please consider sharing it, and as always, if you have a thought on Australian coffee or coffee in general, please comment!