Lovers of Australian-grown coffee can expect to start paying more for a local brew after a tough season for farmers in a key growing region.

Key points:

  • Kahawa Estate was forced to hand-pick its crop after its contract harvester sold its machinery interstate
  • Zentveld’s Coffee expects its crop to be down a few tonnes this year
  • Prices look likely to rise amid lower domestic supply and hard times in Brazil

Consumers were already warned of a price hike after the world’s largest exporter, Brazil, suffered a severe hit to its crop from drought and frosts.

In the Northern Rivers of New South Wales, a combination of factors, including the biennial cycle of coffee and contract harvester issues, will lead to a smaller crop.

Kahawa Estate Coffee at Teven, in the Byron hinterland, lost most of its crop this year after Jos and Wendy Webber were forced to hand-pick the cherries.

“For us the harvest this year has been a disaster — we probably lost 80 per cent of our crop on the ground,” Mr Webber said.

“We’ve done some hand-picking and we’re just about at the end of that.

An older couple, smiling and holding out their hands to show coffee beans.

Jos and Wendy Webber from Kahawa Estate Coffee at Teven had to hand-pick their coffee crop this year.(ABC Rural: Kim Honan)

Quality high, quantity low

The Webbers, along with several other small growers, were left “high and dry” when their contract harvester sold his machine interstate.

“Hand-picking on a commercial size plantation is really not cost-effective — it’s good at the beginning of the season, or to pick up the tail,” Mr Webber said.

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While the quantity of beans is not there this year, the grower and roaster are pleased with the quality of the crop.

“Beautiful — really nice plump fruit, and what we’ve picked we’ve been very happy with,” Mr Webber said.

“Nice big beans.”

Kahawa also roasts its premium Arabica coffee on farm and sells the majority online across Australia.

Mr Webber said despite the smaller crop this year the business would support its loyal customers and not increase prices.

A man rakes coffee beans on a giant tray.

Jos Webber raking coffee beans in his processing shed at Kahawa Estate Coffee.(ABC Rural: Kim Honan)

Plump but unproductive

Further north at Newrybar, the trees on Zentveld’s Coffee Plantation and Roastery have been less productive this year and are expected to deliver a few tonnes less than last year. 

“It was the off-year, so we generally have one good year, which was 2020, so then ’21 harvest is a little bit smaller, the trees produce less fruit after they’ve had a heavier harvest,” Rebecca Zentveld said.

A woman sits beneath a coffee tree.

Coffee grower and roaster Rebecca Zentveld on the family plantation at Newrybar in northern New South Wales.(ABC Rural: Kim Honan)

Zentveld’s will also struggle to source local beans from across the region for its roastery.

“We’ve always bought from other growers, so it’s a real shame and it will hurt my business bottom line to not having that supply of crop,” Ms Zentveld said.

A harvesting machine works on a coffee crop.

John Zentveld harvesting the 2021 coffee crop at Zentveld’s Coffee Plantation at Newrybar.(Supplied: Zentveld’s Coffee)

Locally grown coffee already attracts a premium price, but whether it goes up will depend on what beans are available.

“Australian coffee’s already between $5 to $10 a kilo more for me to buy compared to a really quality foreign bean,” Ms Zentveld said.

Ripe coffee cherries on a tree.

Harvest at Zentveld’s Coffee has wrapped up and the crop is likely to be down a few tonnes this year.(ABC Rural: Kim Honan)

But with Brazil experiencing a terrible year, she warned the roasting coffee industry in Australia should brace itself for a hard 18 months ahead.

“The price has gone up in the last six months — that has been evident, and more is to come, I’m told,” Ms Zentveld said.

“In November is when we’ll start to see the result of the less available beans overseas coming through.”

Posted , updated 

‘Disaster’: Australian coffee harvest woe to push prices up
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