Australian Coffee Companies Discuss Handling—and Helping—the Ongoing Bushfire Crisis

We talk to members of the specialty-coffee industry in Australia about how the bushfires have impacted their community and how best to help those affected.

BY CHRIS RYAN
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE

In recent weeks, bushfires have raged in Australia—primarily in its southeastern part—with devastating results. A snapshot of the horror: Fires are estimated to have burned more than 18 million hectares (or 46 million acres), destroyed almost 6,000 buildings, and killed at least 34 people and a staggering 1 billion animals.

The crisis has drawn the world’s attention, with individuals and businesses donating funds for relief efforts. Many Australia-based specialty-coffee companies are among those that have sprung into action, organizing fundraisers and other donation efforts to support their country in its time of need. We talked to several of these companies about how the fires have affected local businesses, what they’re doing to help, and how best the international specialty-coffee community can get involved.

Dealing with the Effects

Though coffee businesses throughout Australia are being impacted by the bushfires, those in the state of New South Wales (NSW) have been among the hardest hit. The Lott Cafe in Cooma, NSW, located close to many of the bushfires, has become a hub for many of the service workers battling the fires to rally and rest between shifts.

The café described the scene in a message to its coffee partner, Australian roaster Single O, who shared it with Barista Magazine Online: “On Sunday morning there must have been more than 100 firefighters, ambos, & police workers in for breakfast … they were so grateful to get awesome coffee. When service workers … came to pay, all our staff just told them, ‘All good, we appreciate you.’ The vibe on Sunday was pretty amazing, the firefighters were so grateful they decided to pull their trucks up out the front of the café and wash down our windows and walls, which were filthy from the ash that fell during the night. … We all felt humbled to serve these men and women.”

Those businesses not impacted by the fires as directly are still dealing with its effects—chief among them, poor air quality across Australia. Mike Brabant, general manager of Single O, says that while their roastery in Botany, Sydney, is not directly in the fire crisis zone, they’ve been breathing in the effects. “The air quality across the country has been pretty bloody shocking, and here in Sydney we’ve had weeks on end of haze and hazardous air quality to contend with,” he says.

Beyond air quality, the bushfires are impacting businesses by slowing delivery times or stopping deliveries entirely, causing some cafés to close temporarily due to lack of stock. “Because of the way Australia is developed it can be difficult to get shipments to people at the best of times, but we have had a huge impact on delivery times as well,” says Lucy Ward, green buyer at ST.ALi Coffee Roasters. “Often something that would take two days in now taking 10 to 14 days due to road access.” These road closures are also hurting tourism, for which this is prime season—visitors aren’t able to access the country as normal for this part of the year, resulting in reduced income for coffee businesses.

Through a raffle and donations through its café, Australia coffee roaster ST.ALi raised over $18,000 for the Australian Red Cross. Photo courtesy of ST.ALi.

At Campos Coffee headquartered in Sydney, chief marketing officer Rachel Pullicino says the company is doing their part to find inventive ways to get their product to their wholesale customers and to encourage people to visit cafés. “We’ve … air-freighted in coffee when there was no other way to get it there,” she says. “We know that there are going to be real long-term effects from these fires and we will all need to support rebuilding, including encouraging renewed tourism to the areas once the threat has passed. To this end, we are having team members assist in cafés on the ground and finding creative ways to encourage customers to visit cafés to help them and their communities recover.”

Additionally, the loss of livestock and infrastructure due to the fires will likely result in price spikes of lamb, wool, and—most directly affecting cafés—dairy. “The true stock losses will not be known for months, so the true impact is yet to be felt,” says Lucy of ST.ALi. “The dairy industry is vital to cafés in Australia, but it is one of the industries that has been impacted the hardest, and this will reflect in higher dairy prices for months to come.”

Helping the Community

All of the coffee businesses interviewed for this story are engaged in fundraising efforts to help the people and organizations dealing most directly with the fires. Sam Low, barista trainer at Code Black Coffee in Melbourne, says: “We have done some fundraising days where we donate $1 for every cup of coffee sold on certain days to the Red Cross Bushfire Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund. Our stores have also used this month’s staff tips to further donate, and the company has decided to match whatever the customers donate. So far we have raised over $4,000 (AUD).”

Code Black raised over $4,000 for the Red Cross Bushfire Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund through a portion of café sales. Photo courtesy of Code Black Coffee.

Melbourne-based Proud Mary Coffee is also making a host of charitable efforts. “We’re donating all of the proceeds from our online store in Australia and USA to charities assisting relief,” says Tom McAdam, Proud Mary’s head of sales. “We’re providing direct support for our wholesale customers affected directly by fire in their community, and some of our staff are volunteering to run donations to needed areas.”

For those outside of Australia, many donation opportunities are available to support the organizations working to fight the fires and help those affected—see the list below for links. Additionally, Australian coffee professionals say one of the best ways to support Australia is to engage with the country, especially when many people come to town for the Melbourne International Coffee Expo and World Barista Championship and World Brewers Cup in May. “When you come to MICE/WBC 2020, book a little bit of leave as well and get out into the country,” says Lucy of ST.ALi. “Be tourists and spend your money in these towns, drink the wine, eat the local produce, and support the people by providing income. Go and visit these places and help them build a thriving tourism industry again. Post beautiful pictures and share the wonderful things we have to offer, and not just the tragedy.”

With summer still in its early stages in Australia, the bushfires, unfortunately, are likely nowhere near their end point. Here are a list of organizations—provided by the sources interviewed for this article—to which you can donate and learn more about efforts to combat the fires:

Australian Red Cross
Wildlife Victoria
Wires Wildlife Rescue
NSW Rural Fire Service
Country Fire Authority Victoria
Givit
Bushfire GoFundMe
Animal Rescue Collective
Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal
Australian Lions Foundation
Buy a Bale

About Chris Ryan 235 Articles
Chris Ryan (he/him) is Barista Magazine's online copy editor and a freelance writer and editor with a background in the specialty coffee industry. He has been content director of Sustainable Harvest and the editor of Fresh Cup Magazine.