Coffee history

Background to coffee history in Australia

Coffee originally grew in the highland rain forests of Ethiopia. Over 1500 years ago it was taken to Arabia and then on to mainland Europe and the Americas. However actually pin pointing who discovered coffee and how has been the subject of much myth and speculation down through the centuries. Stories and legends abound all of which add to the mystique of the brew. Coffee is an ancient beverage with modern appeal.

In Australia coffee began to be grown commercially in the late 19th century. Those first coffees were well received in Europe and won medals in London in the late 1800’s. However, by early last century Australia’s high labour costs led to the decline of the local coffee industry which could not compete on price with Brazil, Africa, Central America and Indonesia, countries which still dominate the world coffee trade.

The Australian coffee industry was re-established in the early 1980’s with the advent of machine harvesting. This enabled growers to reduce harvesting costs to 1/10th of hand harvesting and therefore be more competitive with imported coffees.

Only Arabica coffee, which is preferred for the roast bean and ground coffee market, is grown in Australia. As coffee is essentially a tropical rainforest plant it requires, amongst other things, frost free conditions and high rainfall to thrive. This limits the areas suitable for coffee production in Australia largely to pockets on the tropical and sub-tropical eastern seaboard.

Australia is fortunate to be largely free of the pests and coffee diseases which afflict many other countries. This has allowed the local industry to develop its “clean green” image.