The bean-all and end-all of coffee

Barista champion Caleb Podhaczky and judge Ben Bicknell test Guatemala coffee beans, which will be featured at the ...
Barista champion Caleb Podhaczky and judge Ben Bicknell test Guatemala coffee beans, which will be featured at the temporary 'coffee farm' at Queensbridge Square. Photo: Melanie Faith Dove

WHAT does a coffee tree look like? Coffee devotee and landscape architect Brenton Beggs couldn't say until he looked it up last year as part of his research on a project to create an ''urban coffee farm'' in the centre of Melbourne as part of the city's annual food and wine festival.

Beggs suspects that like himself, thousands of Melburnians, who are quite discerning about their beans, baristas and favourite coffee styles, have gaps in their knowledge of where their morning lattes come from. ''I always thought [coffee beans] grew on little bushes or something, I didn't know they grew on substantial trees,'' he says.

The bean's journey from tree to latte is what Beggs, food festa organisers and some of the city's biggest coffee names had in mind as the basis of their designs for a temporary ''coffee farm'' beside the Yarra in Queensbridge Square next month. The farm will become the centrepiece of the festival, starting on March 1, and feature about 1500 non-coffee-related plants to make the space look green and 150 coffee trees grown especially in New South Wales.

Beggs, part of his firm Hassell's ''young designer'' team that planned the farm, said they tried to create a terraced feel like a farm on the side of a mountain using the existing red stairs at Queensbridge Square. They are also incorporating structures that represent coffee's logistical journey, including timber pallets, packing crates and a brew bar and education centre (which will include a display about the history of coffee in Melbourne) in shipping containers.

Coffee for sale at the temporary farm will be prepared by a rotating roster of cafes including St Ali and Market Lane Coffee. The brew bar, using coffee from the Guatemalan National Coffee Association, will also have workshops and classes.

Ben Bicknell, of roasting company Five Senses, says the vast majority of coffee that ends up in Melburnian cups is sea-freighted from countries around the equatorial belt. Figures show that last financial year 10,600 mass tonnes of coffee was imported to Melbourne, up from only 1200 mass tonnes in 2002-03.

''We've got this strong link with the consumer and this cafe culture but there's this huge other story that goes into our everyday coffee and that's what happens at the farm and at coffee origin,'' says Bicknell. St Ali barista Matt Perger, the reigning World Brewer's Cup Champion, agrees.''Like anything, consumers always don't really need to understand the back end … they just want to know it tastes good and they can get it quickly, and don't really think about logistics. But I think it's good to know that there's a lot more work to coffee than picking something and putting it in a bag.''

Perger also hopes the farm will give Melburnians more insight into the coffee process so they might be more willing to pay a premium. ''It will also help to make consumers pay a fair price for quality … which is a lot more than they currently are,'' he says.

Natalie O'Brien, head of Melbourne Food and Wine, said the farm was chosen to resonate with the festa's ''earth'' theme. ''We want to educate people with coffee and its origins, just like other things we drink and eat and understand where they come from.'' It will be open daily throughout the festival, which is sponsored by The Age, and ends on March 17.