After driving through the parched savannah lands on the outskirts of Mareeba the arrival at coffee Works is Oasis like. Thin stretches of well-watered grass and evergreen shrubbery line the entrance to this treasure trove of the delectable but within a few short steps this mirage is replaced by the smell of freshly roasted and ground coffee.
Polished concrete floors of the once industrial buildings (now decorated with yellow coffee beans) lead visitors to the information counter where friendly staff test your New Year’s resolutions. Here invitations flow…would you like to try an all-day coffee and tea tasting which includes their signature coffee liqueur or visit the Chocolaterie where Belgium couvateure is blended with native Australian ingredients such as Macadamia nuts or Lemon Myrtle (personal favourites).
During the day-long, palpitation inducing tastings, coffee connesseuirs can compare Australian grown beans with those from all over the world. With Mareeba the coffee growing capital of Australia the beans are grown, harvested and processed within 20 kilometres before being barrel roasted on-site at Coffee Works.
Rob Webber who co-owns Coffee Works with Wife Annie says, “Many visitors are surprised at the standard of Australian grown coffee. We buy and roast beans from all over the world and the quality and characteristics of the Australian beans are comparable to well-known coffee growing regions throughout the world”.
Many are also surprised to learn coffee has been grown commercially in Australia since the 1800s although it was only re-introduced into Far North Queensland in the mid-1980s.
Coffee and chocolate tastings aside, this humble site also houses the largest coffee and tea museum in the world. Whilst Annie and Rob are significant collectors in their own right this 2000 piece collection was largely put together by the 2011 Cafetto Coffee Roaster Hall of Fame Awardee Ian Bersten.
Bersten who started the well-known Belaroma Coffee brand in 1968 scoured the world to put the collection together over 40 years. Whilst there are a considerable number of rare and significant pieces in the collection my favourites include a Brazilia espresso pot made completely in Australia by Italian immigrants and a dual spout tea pot used by ‘Tea Ladies’ at the Lipton Factory. The latter is really ironic as I don’t drink tea.
For those interested in history Annie says, “We tell the story of coffee not only from a social perspective but how it’s a cultural and political lubricant. Revolutions have started in early coffee houses the world over and we’ve included all of this so as to appeal to the broadest possible audience”. (See some of the featured pieces in the video below).
As someone who has completed this immersive coffee and tea experience multiple times the one piece of advice I would provide is to pace yourself. The coffee museum has been a generation in the making and Rob and Annie have over 25 years in the coffee roasting business. When you complete the experience over a few hours little gems come to light. For Gen X people like myself this might be the psychedelic themed area which houses early electric coffee memorabilia from our childhood in the 60s and 70s.
Considering the population of Mareeba is a little over 10 000 you have to wonder how it houses one of the most significant antique coffee and tea collections in the world. This is solely down to Annie and Rob’s dedication to all things coffee. When the couple heard Ian and wife Helen were selling their collection they flew the couple to Mareeba (via Cairns) to discuss purchasing.
Rob says, “We were the first boutique roaster in the area following the revitalisation of the industry in the 1980s and Ian and Helen were impressed with the uniqueness of Coffee Works. They agreed to allow us to purchase the collection outright. Once that was done we then had the mammoth task of transporting and storing it (for 18 months) until we could set up the building in which it’s now housed”.
Whilst Coffee Works now has over 180 000 visitors a year it hasn’t always been high teas and scones for the husband and wife team. The early days of roasting in their home garage with a 7kg barrel roaster saw complaints to the local council about smoke billowing from the premises and annoying the neighbours. See our interview with Rob below (please excuse the static in the first few seconds).
Ironically this along with an expanding mail order clientele from around Australia and internationally prompted the move to their current premises. Whilst Australia is a very different place from the 1980s every time I hear this story from Rob I wonder what the neighbours think of the success which is Coffee Works.
For me personally Coffee Works and Coffee World is well worth the drive from Cairns to Mareeba. It’s approximately an hour up the Kuranda range but showcases the diverse landscape changes. Within this hour you progress from the shores of the Coral Sea through the dense evergreen rainforest near Kuranda to the savannah lands of Mareeba (400 metres above sea level).
Maybe it’s the coffee addict in me talking but personally I think it’s worth the drive.