Jack Murat’s imposing warehouse is the first thing you see. It is surrounded by rows upon rows of coffee trees that fan out towards a low ridge line and sit beneath the expansive Atherton Tablelands sky.
The interior of the warehouse is as tall as it is wide and significantly longer than that. In the first room are two enormous coffee dryers imported from Colombia, along with a smaller dryer for test batches. A huller and grader, an optical sorter, and a rotary screw compressor are located next door.
Then, beyond the final corrugated wall, there is a vast, temperature-controlled warehouse filled with shipping-ready sacks of unroasted coffee beans. Nic Theodore stands in the center of the room, taking in its dimensions: 13 by 18 by 5. He claims he has never seen anything comparable. It is revealing that Theodore is Jack Murat’s in-house coffee roaster in Sydney. In addition to operating a coffee roasting consultancy, he was previously the head roaster at Reuben Hills, the renowned Surry Hills coffee brand. In short, he has visited two coffee farms.
When Jemal Murat entices potential wholesale customers to these luridly green Far North Queensland farmlands to sell them Jack Murat’s Australian-grown coffee, he says this is a common response.
“Roasters have traveled to other regions around the world,” says Jemal. “Consequently, they comprehend the conditions and infrastructure required for coffee cultivation. Then they visit our farm, and I’m not sure what their preconceived notions were, but perhaps they viewed it as a hobby farm.”
You can comprehend the reluctance. Australia is internationally recognized for its coffee culture. The nation’s approximately 19 million daily coffee drinkers celebrate and argue over the nation’s roasters, an army of independent companies including Sample, Axil, Single O, Parallel, Telegram, and Elementary, among others.
Australian coffee plantations, however?
Jemal states, “It’s an excellent question.” “A great deal of effort and energy has been invested in the cultivation of coffee in Australia. Perhaps those who have grown it up to this point have not considered cosmopolitan Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne as viable markets for it. Reason being, the domestic market frequently relies on cheaper imports, whereas the Australian-grown product commands a premium overseas (Agrifutures Australia estimates that approximately 50 percent of Australia’s annual production of dried green coffee beans is exported). Consequently, this is an odd relationship. That appears to have been the case historically with regard to coffee in this region.”