Green Lane Coffee Plantation is a café, roastery and coffee plantation on Tamborine Mountain, owned by a family of coffee growers, roasters and baristas, all of whom are smitten by the bean. The organically grown coffee trees thrive in the mountain climate, and the handpicked beans are roasted on site, and used in conjunction with ethically sourced green beans, which are selected from around the world. The café is open seven days for breakfast, brunch and lunch, and you can arrange a tour through the plantation and see first-hand how coffee is grown, harvested and roasted, before sitting down to enjoy a cup of joe. (www.greenlanecoffee.com)
Why is your family so passionate about coffee?
My dad has been in coffee for over forty years now, in all facets of the industry, from franchising to systems to washing dishes on a Sunday at his café down in Broadbeach. He still does it and he still loves it. I have been a barista here, in America and in a couple of other places, and you just make coffee. You grind it, tamp it, put it in the espresso machine, steam your milk, pour it, give it to a customer and that’s it. But, being here, you realise how much goes into coffee — how much human effort actually goes into it, whether it is me picking the cherries here, or someone in Columbia or Ethiopia hand-picking cherries. Humans put in so much effort, every step of the way, until that one cup of coffee, that one shot of espresso, and that is incredible. Here, we have an opportunity to share that with everyone: you can see where the coffee is grown, see where it is roasted, and have a cup of that coffee, all on site.
Other family members are involved, too, aren’t they?
My cousin, Liam — he is in construction, actually, but it comes back to a passion for coffee. You can do anything you want if you have that passion, if you really want to do it, and you want to succeed and prove yourself. So, he has taken to it like a duck to water. He helps out with the maintenance of the farm, taking care of the trees and now the roasting. My sister, Fiona, works in the café, we have a couple of staff and the rest of it is all family. If I had more brothers and sisters, we’d be just fine.
The beans are organic, are they?
Yes, we don’t spray or anything. There’s no need to spray up here. The soil is just great, and we have a good climate and good trees. Coffee plants aren’t native to Australia. Obviously, they’ve been brought in from around the world. If I was a plant and I was brought to Tamborine Mountain, I’d be pretty happy. I’d be thrilled. I wouldn’t need any pesticides, any sprays, any excess this or chemical that. Why would you? We have a perfect growing environment. We get rain, we get sunshine, we have good soil and the plants are happy. They’re producing such a good flavour and quality of bean — if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If we thought we’d benefit from sprays, we’d have to ask, at what cost? We have people coming here specifically because the coffee is organic and not imported. So, it is a big selling point. If we start outsourcing or spraying, we lose our point of difference.
How many trees do you have?
We have 650 trees, currently. We’re planning on growing more. We’d like to get up to 750 for this size block — that’d be ideal.
From a seed, a tree takes anywhere between three and five years to grow — we’ll say four — and the next season, they’ll start to fruit. We have trees out there that have been there four years and this is their first season for flowering. They have cherries on them now, so this season will be the first time we pick them. They’re about five or five-and-a-half feet tall — a nice picking height. Some other trees are a bit tall, so we’ll need a couple of ladders to get up to those ones. They’re a bit overgrown. The trees have a lifespan of good fruiting of around seven years, and then they kind of get an ego. They say, ‘I am the big man on campus. I don’t need to fruit anymore. I am going to get lazy,’ essentially. And then there are things like nutrient distribution: the bigger the tree is, the fewer nutrients there are to reach the top or be spread among the cherries. So, to avoid that, we cut them back to stump and really nurture them — fertilise and give them a lot of moisture — and they come back up again. The next season, the tree should be more robust: thicker, nice and dense, more branches full of cherry growth. A shorter, thicker tree is more ideal than taller, skinnier, spindly trees for ease of picking.
Do you think Australians appreciate good coffee?
People are becoming more knowledgeable about flavour and about single origins. People may say, ‘I love the taste of Ethiopian coffee. It is more floral and fruity.’ Or, ‘I like Columbian. It is darker, richer and more of a coffee hit.’ People are starting to recognise what kind of coffee they like. Single origin coffee is a real speciality, and you get such a pure flavour in single origins. A lot of them come from microlots and we would probably classify ourselves as a microlot. We don’t have fifty million trees, like some places — these massive, massive plantations. So, we’re moving towards creating a distinct flavour from our single origin: something you can’t get anywhere else in the world. This season’s harvest will be the first time we separate the cherries from the different varietals of trees — we have three on the plantation. We’ll separate them so we can really hone in on what this tree tastes like when it goes through a natural drying process, or a honey process, or this and that, and, for our own sake, become more knowledgeable about it.
What is your taste profile?
Our single origin — we’re still messing around with it. But, the three different processes are the main thing. We were doing a semi-washed process. Those flavours that come out through that process are generally your typical coffee flavours. You drink it and think, ‘I am having a coffee.’ It is a familiar taste. We were talking to Peter Scudamore-Smith [Master of Wine] who said, ‘Stop. You can get that flavour anywhere.’ Looking at the cherries and some of the stuff we’d done, he said, ‘Just a natural process.’ Because, with the soil here, we’re getting some cherries that are massive and full of flavour, and full of fruitiness. They’ll take ten or eleven weeks to dry, but we’re going to have something that is pretty special.
So, you’re leaning towards a natural process?
Definitely. We’re experimenting to find out, not what is Australian coffee as a whole, but what is Green Lane coffee? What is our flavour? We do have something unique here, I think.
Wine has something like sixty taste receptors that you can identify and profile. Coffee has about three hundred and something. So, people are becoming coffee connoisseurs because there is such a wide array of flavours and possibilities.
Do you drink a lot of coffee?
You can lose track of how many coffees you’ve had in a day, here, because you’re tasting things and testing things. The machines and the grinder are so sensitive they can be knocked out of whack by external forces. If we have one of those days that is sunny, rainy, sunny, you have to keep testing the coffee to make sure it is pouring how we want it. There are so many factors involved in getting a good cup of coffee.
What is the best thing about growing coffee?
It is the passion. It is rewarding because we’re seeing the results of different processes we’ve done. You’ll have someone say, ‘Hey, I asked for no sugar’, and we’ll say, ‘There is no sugar. That is just the flavour of the coffee: a really strong citrus acidity profile featured in that roast.’ And, for us, it’s incredible to look back five or six months and recognise that on that day we fermented the beans longer, put them out to dry in that mucilage, and all of the goodness from that cherry, the sun has infused it into the bean. We’ve let it sit, we’ve roasted it to this certain profile, in the grinder, through the presser machine, and six months later, here it is. That’s cool, I think. With coffee, there are so many different things you can do, and when you can pinpoint it to, you know, October 12th when we put them out to dry, you can say that was the day that flavour was infused into that bean. It’s awesome.
People say, ‘Can we have a look at the plantation?’ Then, an hour later, we’ll still be out there because we’re all so passionate about it. We had a group of fourteen this morning — my dad was up here and he was chewing their ear off. He loves it. We all love it. We walked out there and said, ‘Where else are you going to get this?’ Obviously, with all of his experience in coffee, it just fitted perfectly with what he was looking for, and what we as a family were looking to do. It is an adventure — a family project.