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Australian Coffee

Coffee growing began in Australia in 1880, but didn't survive, and was defunct by 1926. It was re-established in the early 1980's in much the same areas as the original plantations, and coffee is now farmed from Lismore, in northern New South Wales, to Cape York in far north Queensland. The largest plantations, near Mareeba on the Atherton Tablelands, are fully mechanised, but there are many smaller farms where traditional hand cultivation is used. In general, Australian coffees can be characterized as:


Mild
Medium Body
Medium Acidity
Neutral to slightly sweet flavour.

The very best Australian coffees I've tasted have a creamy mouthfeel and a distinctive "butterscotch" flavour and aroma, but they are exceedingly rare, and usually unappreciated by the grower. The bulk of the coffees are very average indeed, distinguished only by their high prices, due to the high cost environment they grow in. Several samples I've received recently have been both expensive AND faulty, with off flavours caused by poor growing and processing practices.

One of the most common problems I've encountered (and it's not limited to Australia) is that coffee farmers are farmers first and foremost, and more interested in the size of the crop than the end product produced from it. You'd be amazed by the number of Aussie coffee farmers who have no idea what their own beans taste like. Their credentials as "coffee drinkers" rest entirely on the jar of Nescafe in the pantry!

My personal take on the Aussie coffee industry is that if it's to be successful in the long term it is going to need a hefty dose of reality in the form of rigorous quality control and world competitive prices, in much the same fashion that our wine industry built itself into a world class player. Currently the majority of Australia's output is second-rate when compared to the world leaders, despite the efforts of of those involved in the trade to talk it up as the next "Jamaican Blue Mountains" or "Hawaiian Kona". Only the asking prices are comparable!

 

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