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Our Coffee: A Journey in Taste and Research

Skybury Coffee founder Ian MacLaughlin Nestled in the heart of one of Australia’s most diverse and rich food bowls is the Skybury Tropical Plantation, home of Skybury Coffee. Just an hour's drive from Cairns and its international airport, the family owned plantation has been growing the country’s best coffee and tropical fruit for the past 30 years.  The region is home to Australia’s largest coffee-growing industry.

Since Ian and Marion MacLaughlin established the plantation in 1987, it has been Australia's oldest producing coffee plantation and its largest exporter of coffee. Skybury remains Australia’s largest exporter of Arabica coffee (about 60% of the crop is exported), and was the first Australian grower to export green coffee to Japan, Europe, Taiwan, Canada and the United States. 

The processing journey

Originally, Skybury utilised a “wet-process” using an aqua pulper (the Ethiopian way), which produced a light coffee with not much to interest the palate. Concurrently, as one of the first pioneers of the Australian coffee industry, Skybury was developing mechanical coffee harvesting and synchronised coffee flowering.  A study tour to Brazil and Hawaii followed, where the company shared its knowledge to groups of Brazilian coffee farmers and the Hawaiian mechanical growers, both of whom also toured Skybury’s facilities in Australia.

One of the issues Skybury encountered in the early days was removing immature coffee from the harvest and a Bentall Aqua Pulper was modified to remove this immature fruit.  The mechanics was based on the firmness of the immature fruit in the modified Aqua Pulper and the concept worked very well. This type of equipment is now used extensively around the world.

However, removing the immature fruit using this method caused a secondary problem. The mature coffee beans and the skins left the sorter as a slurry and there was no pulper known at that time that could then separate the skin from the good bean. Skybury developed a centrifugal separator and invited all of the local growers to the inaugaural pulp! The machine threw beans and skin in all directions and the fellow growers helped dismantle the new equipment and install a second aqua pulper into the line by the end of the day! The Wet Plant taken in 2000

This arrangement produced a washed style of coffee that lacked the harshness from the immature bean but still lacked sufficient complexity to interest the palate.

The following season, Skybury introduced fermentation tanks and modified the aqua pulper to leave some mucilage on the bean and this started to introduce chocolate tastes to the profile.

By 2005, Skybury had firmed up it’s thinking on how coffee processing was one of the factors contributing to the taste profile. Many other factors also played a part: climatic conditions, time of harvest, storage conditions from harvest to processing, washing, fermentation, semi-ferment, length of fermentation, full mucilage drying, time to remove surface water, pre-drying, parchment drying time, ultraviolet light, sunshine and the final moisture content.

Skybury then rebuilt it’s wet plant and made it the fastest processor on the planet, incorporating in addition to the previous equipment, rubbers, rotary sieves, pre-dryers and high levels of UV and pure light in the dryers. Skybury wanted to determine what happened if they harvested the coffee and had it in the dryer after the washing process within 20 minutes. In essence, capturing the flavour of the bean as it was on the tree. It was interesting but still lacked some of the flavours that Skybury was looking for, so Skybury extended the time of various elements of the process with consequential improvements to the end result.

Our taste profile

Skybury has undertaken constant improvements in its coffee processing and has now reached a point where its coffee has a uniquely Australian signature taste profile.  Skybury produces a clean washed coffee, fermented (but not fully), dried quickly of surface moisture and then slowly, so that the coffee cells retain their natural oils.

In addition, ongoing technical improvements to mechanical harvesting techniques have been implemented.  Parameters, such as synchronous shaking, type and length of beater, speed of harvest and tree health have been assessed resulting in an efficient harvesting of mature cherry with less damage to the trees than would be obtained by hand harvesting.

Mechanisation of harvesting and processing also has additional benefits.  With greater levels of control, Skybury can achieve higher levels of consistency in its taste profile year to year than almost any other grower around the world.

Guided by Sustainability

Skybury Tropical Plantation has always been a leader and innovator when it comes to sustainable agricultural management principles. It is not just about farming for today, it is about farming for tomorrow, and in the process making agriculture both environmentally sound and economically dynamic.

It has been a long held belief for Skybury founder, Ian MacLaughlin, that farmers today must be able to meet the growing demand for safe agricultural products, while minimising their environmental footprint, and creating sustainable livelihoods for themselves and others along the supply chain.

For Skybury, which is flanked by two significant World Heritage Listed sites, namely The Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest, it has never been more important to ensure the right balance between farming and the environment to protect these valuable natural assets.

Premier's Sustainability Awards Skybury continues to set the benchmark for industry best practice and integrated pest management while reducing nitrate run off, increasing organic matter in the soils and improving biodiversity in the soil, and in the process hopes to inspire other farmers that it is possible to increase agricultural output in a sustainable and socially responsible manner.

Years of grass roots research and fact finding missions to other mature tropical and subtropical growing nations around the world such as Brazil, Hawaii, Costa Rica, Malaysia, Vietnam and South Africa, has inspired Ian to continue this research at Skybury. This research is focused on achieving the three pillars outlined in the Skybury Environmental Action Plan. Namely farming smarter, more efficiently and more sustainably whilst protecting the environment for future generations and rebuilding organic soil material and biodiversity. The end result for the consumer is superior tasting coffee that has been grown to the highest standard, reducing the use of pesticides and other chemicals, in an environment that is dedicated to the future of sustainable farming in Australia.


The Future

For the future, Skybury is looking at concentrating its efforts on expanding production of a very special original bourbon variety that has not been modified or changed since it was first grown in Ceylon.

Skybury Signature Green Coffee 


Medium - complex


Balanced and rich


Complex, sweet chocolate and nutty.

Bag size

20kg hessian sacks.


To order


Soft and rich in chocolate and blackberry, with a great lingering after taste. Syrup like texture that produces an outstanding espresso or milk based drink.

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