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Growing Australia's coffee industry

Person Performing Coffee Art

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Published
13 December 2022

Southern Cross University, in collaboration with Agrifutures, is leading research into a more suitable variety of coffee plant for the Australian industry as well as a unique way to describe it, similar to a wine vocabulary. In this video Professor Tobias Kretzschmar and Dr Ben Liu talk about both projects and how they are helping develop the future of the Australian coffee industry.

With 99 per cent of total coffee consumption from imported beans, mostly from South America, Australia’s caffeine love affair racks up some serious food miles, a significant driver of climate change. Southern Cross researchers are on a mission to change that, and to shrink the journey from plant to cup, while supporting the development of a sustainable, commercially viable industry.

Just about one percent of the coffee that's drunk in Australia is actually locally grown. Australians love to drink coffee and especially fond of high quality coffee. Even though Australia is a huge continent there's only very few pockets that are suitable to grow. Coffee is very finicky, it doesn't like frost at all, it likes rich soils so a lot of areas are not suitable for coffee or they're competing with other crops so the few pockets where we do grow coffee is here in Northern New South Wales and up in the Atherton tablelands in Northern Queensland. 
The variety they're using at the moment is very tall and very leggy when they decided on it about 20 years back it was the most productive and high quality variety but unfortunately it just never stopped growing so what the industry is looking for is a new variety that will say at a state a semi-dwarf state of around two metres which allows continuous machine harvesting without having to prune regularly.
What we're trying to achieve is to find a variety that's better suited than what's typically grown in this region. We're getting funded from Agrifutures from the Emerging Industries portfolio so their goal would be to have coffee 10 million gross value every year in five years, that can only be achieved if we do find a new variety that can replace the old variety.
We're trying to produce a good coffee cherry with the good beans in there.
From the coffee cherry to a cup of coffee there are still lots of processing that needs to be done and for example there's different post-harvest processing and maybe it requires different drying, different fermentation process. We also want to find the scientific evidence behind a good cup of coffee. There may be a different variety of coffee can be grown in Australia and each variety could actually have a different flavour characteristic. For example some coffee is very sour, some coffee may be very fruity. What we are doing here is trying to standardise the terminology to describe a cup of coffee. So we can find 50,000 different chemical markers in a cup of coffee and what we're trying to do is trying to link this sensory data that comes from coffee tasting panels to these 50,000 chemical markers and so later we can actually reproduce the same cup of coffee with the same flavour. As we can produce a good glass of wine in Australia I believe we can also produce a good cup of coffee.

Media contact

Sharlene King, Media Office at Southern Cross University +61 429 661 349 or [email protected]