It’s not often that I hop on a plane from my adopted home in Melbourne, head back to my home town of Perth and find that the temperature is actually cooler on arrival in the West. With scorching temperatures across Melbourne this past week, the cooler temperatures on the West coast were an added bonus of my trip to Perth to run the Judges’ Workshop and help out with the AASCA WA Coffee Championships which were held this past weekend. While competitor numbers were relatively low, the attitudes of the competitors and spectators alike brought the event alive and were clear evidence of the health of the specialty coffee scene in Perth.
The Judges’ Workshop on Friday set the framework for the days to come. Judges from a wide variety of companies and backgrounds gathered at the Australian Barista Academy in Northbridge to get the low down on the rules, regulations and score sheets for the World Barista Championship and the World Latte Art Championship formats. Memories certainly flooded back as I reflected on the first Judges’ Workshop I hosted in WA over 6 years ago. It was held at the Academy within the first few months of setting it up. With a fresh renovation at the WA branch of the Academy, there was a strong sense of déjà vu as we welcomed our passionate judges to the building.
The event kicked off properly on Saturday with the WA Barista Championships. With some great support from a range of sponsors spearheaded by Café Culture International, the Championships were hosted in the spacious surrounds of the foyer of the BHP Billiton building in conjunction with Small Print Coffee. The barista championships require the competitors to present a collection of four espressos, four cappuccinos and four signature drinks to a panel of four sensory judges. The judges use the extensive score sheets (found at www.worldbaristachampionship.com) to assess the beverages. Scores are based on a number of criteria including balance of acidity, bitterness and sweetness, accuracy of flavour descriptions, foam quality and the creativity of the signature drink. Roving around the stage, two technical judges and a head judge also keep an eye on the competitors’ consistency and cleanliness in the preparation of the drinks. We had a great panel of judges with experienced judge, Mimma Battista, head judging the field and Elisha Mauger (current Australian Cup Tasting Champion) and Karim Decima as Tech judges. Ron Ngo, James Mandy, Jonno Parkes and John Craft assessed things on a sensory level.
Three competitors stepped up to the plate. First on stage was our very own Charles Stewart, who now works with our customer support team, but previously headed up training at the Academy. With his distinctive moustache made firm with determination, Charlie rolled out an engaging presentation focused around seasonality and traceability which are important lynchpins of the Five Senses ethos. Serving up coffees prepared with Finca La Nube from Ecuador, Charlie talked the judges through this tasty coffee which stole his heart. Having recently been featured in the Taza Dorada (or Gold Cup), it was bought by our head green bean buyer, Jen Murray, and her partner in crime, Juliana Nobre, in September last year. Air freighted from Ecuador, the Finca La Nube represented the height of fresh crop, seasonal coffee. Charles’ signature drink looked at extending both the inherent flavour characteristics and the seasonal focus. Local jamming apricots, left on the tree until slightly overripe for intensified fruit sweetness, were reduced to syrup which formed the base of the drink. With an espresso layered on top, the drink was finished with the height of coffee seasonality — a delicate tea made from dehydrated coffee blossoms (from ‘Finca Kaya McCarthy’ in North Perth). A rare sight, let alone tasting opportunity, as coffee blossoms generally only last on the tree for a few days every year!
Next up was Caitlin from Milk’d Café in Maylands. A first time competitor, Caitlin brought her natural service skill to bear with a calm and good natured performance, finishing up her presentation with a cold signature beverage which I’m sure the judges appreciated as the temperature outside rose quickly. Her signature drink, named ‘The Caitlin’ kept things focused on the essentials, with a drizzle of local organic honey in the base of a glass and an espresso shot poured over the top. It was finished with a big cube of ice and a swirl to bring the beverage temp down.
Nic Hind followed Caitlin with another steady, paced presentation. Nic’s been on the WA coffee scene for many years now, and this was his third time competing. His experience and the time spent in preparation showed with a well organised, precise layout of his comp gear and the detail that was passed onto the judges. With a new coffee business in the works, Nic roasted his own coffee for the competition and presented a blend of Colombian and Brazilian coffees. Nic’s signature drink saw a mango and saffron reduction layered with a shot of espresso and cream. The aroma of fruit wafting across the stage tantalised the whole crowd!
Day one wrapped up with a free form Latte Art throwdown; free entry and $100 hard cash put on the table by Just Coffee Insurance sweetened the pot. The fierceness of the competition was only outdone by the psych outs and trash talking taking place. Battling it out with calm confidence, Jeremy Hulsdunk from Five Senses took out the final prize with a final display of four rosettas in the cup. Not a bad effort from a past WA Barista Champion!
The first half of day two saw six incredibly competitive baristas step up to show their skills in designing unique patterns on the surface of milk coffees in the AASCA WA Latte Art Championships — no mean feat with the judges looking on. The level of skill showcased was truly impressive and this was one of the most closely contested competitions I’ve seen in a while. Emerging supreme from the battle was Rie Moustakas from Gloria Jeans, pouring a five leaf tulip in an espresso cup (!), a latte containing a ‘tulip bunch’ and a designer beverage that was a hybrid of the increasingly popular peacock with the lesser seen phoenix. Rie’s ability to hold steady under pressure and control the flow of milk proved key to securing her place to represent WA in the upcoming National Barista Championships.
For the final championship of the weekend, 12 competitors stepped up to partake in some coffee slurping in the AASCA WA Cup Tasting Championship. Competitors have to identify the odd coffee out in eight sets of triangulations. This competition is a perennial favourite, with some thumping music and much supportive cheering by the crowd amping up the atmosphere. Live results over the three rounds of the competition revealed a tight spread of scores, but the day was finally won by Ru from Dukes Coffee roasters who accurately chose 7/8 odd cups correctly in 6mins, 28seconds. Coming a close second was Jeremy from Five Senses Coffee, with 6/8 in 4mins, 6 seconds and in third position Jonno from Dimattina with 6/8 in 5mins, 1second.
With excitement running high after the Cup Tasting Championship, the day wrapped up with the final announcement of the AASCA WA Barista Champion. First place was taken out by our dear Charlie Stewart! We’re all super proud of Charlie and the effort he put in to getting prepared in the short time between the announcement of the competition and the actual event. We’re all looking forward to cheering him on at the nationals. Second place went to Nic from Precision Coffee and third place to Caitlin from Milk’d in Maylands. As always, huge props to all competitors who have the courage to get up on stage and present coffees in front of their friends and peers!
With their recent wins under their belts, Charles, Rie and Ru will be heading over to Melbourne later in the year to represent WA in the finals of the AASCA Australian Coffee Championships. We wish them all well and have no doubt that they’ll do this passionate West Australian coffee scene proud!
For those of you who’re keen on getting more involved with coffee competitions — either to lay down your brews on the judging table or just to head along and learn and mingle — keep your eyes on the WA Barista Community Facebook page, as there are plans afoot to host the WA Brewers’ Cup and WA Coffee in Good Spirits (alcohol mixing!) championships towards the end of March. In addition, plans are already being made to set dates and gather help in getting the next WA Barista Championships locked in around mid-November. With stacks of notice and now that peoples’ palates have been whetted by the excitement of the past weekend, there will no doubt be a strong showing of competitors repping some interesting takes on specialty coffee!