Rosebank is renown for its delicious boutique ‘arabica’ coffee beans. John & Nelda Nilon were the first to plant some 10,000 coffee trees in Rosebank in 1987, some 25 yrs ago and the family is well known for their Rosebank Gold, K7 variety of coffee. A Co-op was formed with 20 other coffee growers and a harvester was purchased to keep costs down while the industry was establishing. The group trialled several different varieties and once K7 was selected John set up a seedling nursery to supply the local growers.

Coffee plantation

Coffee 'cherries'
Photo: J.Nilon

Coffee in bloom'
Photo: J.Nilon

Coffee Harvesting'
Photo: J.Nilon

John Nilon

The Northern Rivers Coffee quickly gained recognition due to the distinctively different flavour produced from our sub tropical climate. The climate and soils around Rosebank proved perfect for growing coffee as it was free from pests and diseases which normally effect other coffee areas. The sub tropical climate also provided the long slow ripening period which allows for an extended maturation period. This gives a more complex and unique dark flavour profile which is low in caffeine with a natural sweetness. The coffee tree is a long living plant that can live to 100yrs old.

Growing coffee in Rosebank is steadily declining as the larger coffee growers are becoming more established however 4 or 5 small production farms are still in operation.


Seedlings are planted in 2–2.6m rows, 90cm apart when they are 6 months old. Prior to planting in February the soil is well prepared with dynamic lifter and the onset of rain eliminates the need for irrigation.


Takes place in spring from October to December when the bushes become covered in a prolific display of heavily scented white flowers which only last about 2–3 days. The fruit produced after flowering is called a ‘cherry’. These green cherries grow rapidly for another 6 months and are generally free from pest attack, therefore reducing the need for chemicals & fumigants such as pesticides and fungicides.

At 2 yrs of age the trees are suitable for home use however 3yrs is ideal for industry production when the trees attain a height of 3m.


Coffee is a very heavy feeder requiring fertilising with North Qld banana Mix once a month at a rate of 40kl per acre. This provides plenty of potash. The only other requirement is slashing between rows to control weed growth. The coffee trees require pruning (stumping) when 7–8 yrs old and then every 4yrs after the initial prune. No cherries are produced for 2 yrs after stumping takes place.


Harvesting takes place in September to October once the green cherries have ripened to a magenta — bright red. A good tree will produce 7–8 kilos of cherry = 1 kilo of dried beans (parchment). Some plantations hand pick the ripe cherries when they are at their peak of maturity while other plantations use mechanical harvesters.


Processing Beans

Coffee Roaster


Removal of the fleshy pulp is undertaken before drying. This process involves mutilating or pulping the cherry by soaking them for 2 days. Alternatively they can be sent off for processing and mechanical removal of skins which usually is quicker taking 1 day.


Again 2 methods can be used. The beans can be sun dried for 10 days by simply laying them out on plastic in the sun or a Dryer/Roaster can be used. The computer generated Dryer’s take 32 hrs with an initial heat of 30oC increased to 56oC. The green beans then turn brown and are bagged ready for Hulling.


After bagging the beans can stay viable in their husks for up to 4–5 yrs. The huller removes the husks leaving them ready for use, sale or grinding.


Coffee beans can be mixed at this stage to produce different blend size, strengths and flavours. After grinding the ground coffee is left to cool for 24hrs before packaging.