How Australia revolutionised coffee

They say necessity is the mother of invention, and Australians like to pride ourselves on our ingenuity. This is the story of how a group of Queenslanders revolutionised coffee harvesting.

Photo sourced from Jaques Australian Coffee

We’ve developed our Bean of the Month program to broaden your coffee experience with new, high quality beans from around the world. Every January we like to put the spotlight on the Australian coffee industry by featuring the best of the best home-grown beans.

For 2016 we have selected a crop from Mountain Top Estate, a farm with a proud record of producing top quality coffee. They first made a splash when they were featured in Tim Wendelboe’s World Barista Championship winning coffee back in 2004, bringing Australian grown coffee to attention of the world’s coffee aficionados.
It wasn’t the first time Australian coffee had made it big on the world stage, but it had been a long time between drinks. Government records tell us that the first Australian coffee tree was planted in Brisbane, at Kangaroo Point in 1832. By the 1880’s cultivation had spread down to Northern New South Wales and up the Queensland coast as far north as Cooktown.

The fertile soils proved favourable and small coffee plantations sprung up, with around fifty farms producing 40% of the coffee consumed domestically. Australian crops were judged to be of the highest quality, winning awards in Paris and Rome.

Unfortunately, following this initial burst of enthusiasm and success, by 1926 Australian coffee production had all but ground to a halt. The Australian coffee farmers were unable to match the low prices of coffee produced in developing countries with lower production cost.

Coffee is a labour-intensive crop, especially at harvest time, when every cherry needed to be painstakingly picked by hand. Australian producers’ cost of wages made competition impossible as they were undercut by plantation owners from South America and Africa.

The coffee growing industry in Australia lay dormant for around fifty years, even as our coffee consumption skyrocketed with the spread of espresso through our nascent café culture.

We were down, but not out.

They say necessity is the mother of invention, and Australians like to pride ourselves on our ingenuity. The Jacques family of North Queensland were determined to make a go of coffee growing, so Nat Jacques teamed up with a crew of ship-building engineers from NQEA in Cairns to come up with a way around the high costs of labour.

Their invention would revolutionise the coffee growing industry worldwide.

Coffee Shuttle One first rolled across the Atherton Tableland property in 1983. Based on the grape pickers used by the wine industry, the Shuttle allowed Nat Jacques to drive over the rows of trees, agitating the ripe cherries from the branches and collecting them on conveyor belts before being sorted, cleaned and pulped in the harvester. The original promotional video can be seen here.

Photo sourced from Jaques Australian Coffee

Not only did this solve the wages issue in Australia, it had the secondary benefit of reducing the time between harvest and processing – half the work which had traditionally been done by hand post-harvest was now done in the field.

The Shuttle was a vast improvement from previous harvesters as the driver was able to adjust the speed to remove only the ripe cherries, rather than simply stripping the whole plant. The technology was rapidly embraced throughout coffee growing countries, from Brazil to Hawaii.

Armed with this innovation, Australian coffee growing was once again able to blossom. Though still small on a world scale, the industry continues to grow and produce high quality beans in a pristine environment, free of the pests and diseases that plague growers elsewhere. The cooler climate and long maturation periods provide full, rich flavours and natural sweetness with medium to low acidity.

We hope you enjoy the January Bean of the Month from Mountain Top Estate, which is a perfect example of the Australian coffee character.

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