A couple of weeks ago I was invited up to Byron Bay to attend the founding meeting of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA) Australia chapter. Looking for any excuse to head to Byron for a weekend, I jumped on a plane and travelled up the coast with little idea of what to expect from the trip. A mad woman on another coffee tour.
Australia is an interesting place to set up an IWCA chapter, not only are we a country full of consumers of delicious coffee beverages, but we also produce our own coffee in the North. In fact we have over 30 producers in Northern NSW alone, not to mention our other growing regions higher North.
IWCA is a global community of women who work in all-different aspects of the coffee industry. The aim of it really is to advocate for all women in the coffee industry, provide them access to resources for improvement, and give them a forum to network with others. These commendable goals of the group is not the only reason I decided to go, but also a burning curiosity about Australian coffee.
Many of us know we produce Australian coffee but don’t know much about it. I have to admit, as a coffee professional, I ranked among you until this trip. Australians have been growing coffee since the 1800s but it had a bit of a boom in the 1980s when a pocket of farmers took up the challenge in Byron Bay. Most of the coffee grown here is organic and the majority of it is the hardy K7 variety. It is interesting to note this because when I think about it, the Byron Bay area has a lot of attributes that are very similar to Kenya, where the K7 originates.
Australia is a pretty flat country, Byron Bay and surrounds is no exception to that rule. Realistically, it probably only reaches 1000 meters above sea level at its highest point. The theory goes that the lack of altitude is negated by the longitude of our coffee growing regions. Basically speaking, cool temperature is good for coffee so because it is grown so far south it still gets the climate benefits that it would grown up high on a volcano.
Since we have such high costs in labor and some seriously good agricultural techniques, harvesting and processing coffee in Australia is fully mechanized. The methods they use are not dissimilar to techniques used in Brazil, though the majority of coffee is processed using a mechanized semi-washed process, similar to the Indonesian Wet Hulled process.
For a number of reasons, the majority of our coffee is not a very high standard. That said, I have heard whispers of legends out there doing great things with their coffee. Surprisingly the chase for quality coffee is not what gets me excited this time around, as is my usual modus operandi. What really excites me about Australian coffee is the opportunity it presents to the coffee community to learn.
We have a pool of very talented professionals in Australia from a huge array of backgrounds that through networking and cross-collaboration can only benefit our growers, roasters, buyers, baristas, consumers and everyone in between. I see the IWCA as a platform to action, a group that can function as the moderators of learning in this respect. The opportunity to learn and cross disciplines is truly exciting.
Written by Lucy Ward
Procurement Specialist for Sensory Lab