My search for a truly local cup of coffee took me to Mount Tamborine Coffee Plantation. This place really impressed me. Mount Tamborine is a bit over an hours drive from Brisbane and a gorgeous mountain drive. There is a cafe and art gallery at the front of the property and the plantation is set on two acres behind the cafe. Visitors to the cafe can see a few coffee plants in the front garden and the cafe staff are more than happy to give a short talk about the coffee making process and show you the beans off the tree.
The owner Kees Van Rijssen is a zealous coffee lover and firm believer in sustainable farming. Our visit was right in the middle of harvest time but Kees happily took the time to show us around his plantation. As a boutique coffee grower he is up against some pretty intense competition from cheap overseas beans and local roasters with big advertising budgets. In an industry predominately driven by profit he maintains his focus on producing high quality coffee as naturally as possible.
On his estate he grows three types of Arabica beans including the bourbon variety which has been cultivated to best suit Australian conditions. He has 1700 plants and each plant will produce about 3kg of coffee each season. Mt Tamborine is blessed with rich red fertile volcanic soil and the plants thrive in the higher altitude. He adds ash to the soil and uses discarded bean skins in his mulch. The red bean skin tastes sweet and fruity and are packed with nutrients and anti-oxidants.
Kees explains the problem with modern farming is the tendency to view a plant as a machine. Planting, fertilising, watering and harvesting is usually done by a machine which fails to recognise that plants are alive and respond to natural cycles. A few seasons ago cyclonic weather ripped through Northern NSW up to the Sunshine coast wiping out 40% of most small coffee plantations but not his. The reason he claims; is because he has allowed his plants to grow naturally and adapt to the weather and changes.
The beans are all harvested by hand and left to ferment for 2 to 3 days. This practice is rarely done in modern coffee production but adds a layer of sweetness to the bean. The beans are then dried for 7 – 10 days before being stored for about 1 year to balance and stabilize. The beans are roasted on demand. The coffee in the cafe was roasted not more than 5 days ago. Coffee is a fruit and as Kees tells us it needs to be treated as a fruit with a definite use by date.
The taste of a coffee bean is affected by every step of the process from growing to roasting. Kees is always experimenting with different methods. In his roasting shed he showed us a bucket of beans dried with the skin left on, his latest ongoing experiment.
While business is booming for Kees he is concerned by the big companies unwillingness to invest in Australian growers. He encourages all consumers to ask questions at their local coffee store and ask for local beans. Increased interest to trace coffee back to the source, he hopes, will filter back through the barista to the coffee shop owner and eventually to the big suppliers.
On the way down to the plantation in the morning we had picked up a takeaway coffee for the drive. Hopping back in the car after spending time with Kees and his wonderful farm I saw my empty Coffee Club cup in the car and felt a twinge of guilt. Then the wonderful aroma from my newly purchased bag of ground coffee filled the car and I looked forward to what would hopefully become my regular morning cup of coffee.
You can order Mount Tamborine Coffee Plantation coffee through their website. Or even better go and visit them if you have the chance during the week (they are closed Saturday and Sunday).