Metro Tunnel dig finds 167-year-old preserved coffee beans

Metro Tunnel

An Australia-first discovery deep below the CBD has revealed Melbourne’s famed coffee culture may be decades older than first thought.

More than 500 coffee beans have been unearthed in a Pompeii-like deposit near the site of the future Town Hall Station, one of two new underground CBD stations being built as part of the Metro Tunnel Project.

“Like the organic remains found at Pompeii, the beans have been carbonised, which has led to their preservation. It’s almost like the grocer locked up and left and then we get to see inside 167 years later. There’s nothing like this type of deposit in Australia,” says Excavation Director Meg Goulding.

Before construction on the entrances to the underground Town Hall Station could begin, an archaeological excavation took place to recover and document artefacts from the site.

The perfectly preserved beans, from as far away as Sri Lanka, were stored in a grocer, which burnt down in the early hours of 19 September 1855, some 170 years ago.

“It’s wonderful that the Metro Tunnel Project, which will change the face of Melbourne, has also given us this incredible insight into the city’s past,” says Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan.

“The area surrounding the new state-of-the-art Town Hall Station will no doubt be home to Melbourne’s beloved coffee culture for generations to come.”

Archaeologists also excavated a variety of food remains, including biscuits, preserved fruits and pasta as well as goods sold by the shop in the middle of the Gold Rush.

It’s believed the Gold Rush drove an increase in coffee consumption, despite the city’s coffee obsession having long been attributed to late 19th Century Melbourne coffee houses and then the waves of Greek, Italian and Turkish immigrants in the 1940s and ’50s.

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