MASTER roaster and pioneer North Coast coffee processor, Rebecca Zentveld counts herself lucky that she was able to enter her industry just before the explosion in coffee demand in Australia.
Her parents-in-law, John and June Zentveld, established the North Coast's first commercial coffee plantation at Newrybar in the late 1980s, and soon after Rebecca and her husband John moved from Melbourne to the family farm, to take part in what would easily become a revolution based on caffeine.
North Coast coffee is a bit different from other global varieties, in that it has a sweetness and subtleness to its flavour, as well as a lower caffeine content, all thanks to the fact that it is grown further south than any other coffee in the world.
The temperate climate and low altitude are critical factors in the development of the local Arabica coffee bean.
In the early years, from 1994 onwards, market demand for the Zentveld's coffee was for local guest houses, which primarily wanted a coffee suitable for the plunger.
"I really developed my roasting profile to meet that demand," recalled Mrs Zentveld. "It was a true niche market and I credit Wendy Taylor of Taylor's Guest-house for encouraging me."
Mrs Zentveld said the flavours that were inherent in the sub-tropical Arabica bean meant Zentveld's plunger coffee had a sweetness of flavour, with chocolate overtones and brightness on the tip of the tongue.
"Our beans and the way we wet processed them were perfect for plunger coffee," she said.
However, tastes in Australia were rapidly changing and the Melbourne coffee scene and the demand for espresso-style cuppas would soon take the country by storm.
"I wanted to develop my roasting profile," recalled Rebecca. "Espresso-style coffee was where the Australian market was going - even before the US and the UK.
Mrs Zentveld worked on her roasting skills and developed an espresso with smoothness and complexity of flavours, but while the bean was conventionally processed using the 'wet method', the flavours she strived for simply weren't there.
Was it the mild bean or was it the processing?
Mrs Zentveld's answers were provided during a chance visit by Italian coffee expert Ernesto Illy, who toured the Zentveld's farm with his own personal agronomist in 1998.
"Ernesto really was a guru of coffee at the time. He was the one who explained the chemistry behind the espresso process. He was well respected."
Mr Illy advocated that the Zentvelds try the 'dry' processing method, in which beans are left to over-ripen on the bush until they wrinkle-up like a sultana.
"This is a method growers use in Ethiopia and Brazil. The flavours of the over-ripe fruit are infused into the coffee bean."
The dried fruit and its seed are then left to 'settle' for three months before hulling and roasting.
The resulting coffee bean contains that intensity of flavour necessary for a full roasted espresso.
"It is spicy with almost fruit cake notes," said Mrs Zentveld.
Today, Zentveld's harvest 20-40% of its crop for espresso, with the rest processed for plunger-style coffee.
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