Ben, our roaster and Matt, our Roasting and Service manager packed their bags (well, their toothbrush and a spare shirt at least) and headed to Melbourne for the 2019 Melbourne International Coffee Expo (MICE). A month and a bit later, they’ve finally recovered!
Fueled by coffee by day, and community and likeminded conversations by night, by all accounts it was an intense but thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding 5 days.
We caught up with the fellas to get a bit of a rundown on their time in Australia’s self-proclaimed coffee capital.
The purpose of the trip was not only to experience MICE 2019, but also to explore what was trending in the coffee scene on the other side of the country. We were also excited to spend some time with our fellow Australian, as well as international, industry professionals. Wanting to jam as much as we could into the little time we had, we jumped on the early-bird flight on Tuesday morning, armed with our pre-prepared food and drink vendor hitlist.
The first on the list was Top Paddock in Melbourne’s south east. Not to waste any time, we headed straight there from the airport for breakfast slash lunch, as well as to plan the rest of the afternoon and the days to come. I’m yet to decide whether it was because it was juxtaposed against what Australia’s finest airline labeled as “eggs”, or whether the food was in fact some of the best we’ve ever tasted! Either way, it was a great place to start and set the food (and coffee) bar for the week very high indeed.
The next day’s itinerary included the annual “Firestarter” roasting workshop held at Project 281 in Brunswick, with Equilibrium’s Anne Cooper and special guest Rob Hoos all the way from Portland, USA. With a few hours to spare that afternoon, we decided to head there to catch up with Anne and to check out the great cafes (and bars) in that end of town.
Whilst up in that neck of the woods, we stopped in to Code Black and tried what we all agreed was one of the best filter coffees we’d ever had. From Code Black we took a short stroll to Wide Open Road just around the corner. Unfortunately it was closing time just as we arrived… the silver lining though, is that we caught the Barista just about to jump on his single speed bicycle and meander his way down the multicultural streets to his student sharehouse abode, where we can only presume the beards rival Karl Marx’ and the tattoos are enough to make even the most broadminded parent question where they went wrong.
But I digress. He accurately advised us that it was now passed coffee drinking time, and suggested we try the beverages that the other local institutes had to offer. We couldn’t have agreed more! On a side note, the rooftop bar at The Cornish Arms comes highly recommended.
Day 2 – Let’s do this.
We couldn’t think of a better way to prime ourselves for the busy day to come than a hearty breakfast and yet more coffee. In a backstreet warehouse in South Melbourne is St. Ali. The team there are essentially the pioneers of specialty coffee in Melbourne and have been credited with being a massive contributor to the third wave of coffee movement. They led the way and started the converted warehouse factory café roastery scene way back in 2005.
Armed with a full belly and our Adenosine receptors sufficiently fooled, we headed back up to Brunswick to join 30 odd other baristas, roasters and coffee passionate folk for 2019 Firestarter. As if to test our willpower, the taxi drove the length of Sydney Rd, taking us straight passed the Cornish Arms… Not today, Satan!
The Firestarter course aims to provide foundation knowledge and practical, hands-on experience in roasting specialty coffee for coffee industry professionals and even coffee enthusiasts looking to improve their current skills and knowledge. Regardless of experience, this course is tailored to meet and satisfy all learning needs and skill sets. The day included insights into all aspects of roasting, from green bean evaluation based on region/origin, variety, process, screen size, moisture and density all the way through to understanding chemical and physical reactions, RoR, development ratio, profile data analysis, manual profile logging and profile data logging with software such as Cropster. We also spent time analyzing roast results through cupping/tasting. It’s fair to say we were fairly caffeinated by days end.
The knowledge and experiences shared by Rob Hoos, Luiz Roberto Saldanha of Capricornio Coffee Brazil along with Anne Cooper was invaluable. If you ever have the opportunity to spend time with any of these incredible people, DO IT!
After such an intense and overwhelming day, we had to take a few moments to take it all in, debrief, and chat about how best to apply what we’d learnt to our practices back in Perth. We’d heard about a little watering hole called the Cornish Arms just down the road… It’d be rude not to, really.
Day 3 – The struggle is real!
Feeling like a 3yr old that didn’t want to take a nap incase they missed out on something, by day 3 we were realising that maybe experiencing EVERYTHING that Melbourne had to offer coffee-wise in 5 days was a little optimistic. Want to know the best medicine for these kinds of feelings? Caffeine! Want to know where to source this liquid gold in Melbourne? Pretty much anywhere. We chose Higher Ground at the Spencer St end of Little Bourke St. Another absolutely delicious feed and equally as delicious coffee, and we were ready to join 12000 other coffee aficionados and immerse ourselves in MICE 2019!
MICE is the largest dedicated coffee show in the Southern Hemisphere. More than 145 exhibitors filled the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC), demonstrating specialty coffee, technology, and trends. We engaged with coffee roasters, baristas, green bean traders, coffee producers, coffee equipment suppliers, and machine manufacturers. As well as seeing many old faces, we also formed new relationships with likeminded coffee-folk. It’s exciting to share the passion of the Australia specialty coffee industry with other industry leaders, influences, business owners and employees representing the entire coffee supply chain – From that humble cherry to your daily cup-of-joe.
As well as the MICE Product Innovation Awards, commending game-changing products introduced over the past 12 months, MICE also saw Australia’s best baristas battle it out at the Australian Specialty Coffee Association (ASCA) 2019 Australian Coffee Championship.
There really was something for everyone at the expo, and WAY too much to see in one day… So we went back the next day too.
Day 5 – Would the boss mind if we missed our flight home?
When it comes to coffee roasting consultants, generally one of the first names that comes to mind is Scott Rao. We’d got wind that Scott was holding his Roasting Masterclass at Veneziano Coffee Roasters on our last morning in Melbourne. Scott doesn’t often venture down under, so we would have been mad to not make the most of the opportunity. Veneziano’s Richmond roasting HQ is just a short taxi ride down Bridge Rd from the city and is a must see as a coffee-holic. The roasting equipment is visible behind glass and the café is a great demonstration of fancy coffee brewing equipment and competent baristas working together in a ballet-esque performance. The oval shaped island counter in the middle of the room gives coffee lovers a prodigious view of the masters at work.
There’s more to roasting coffee than just turning it from green to brown. Too much to cover in just 3hrs! But Scott gave it a good crack. Amongst many other topics, he shared with us his take on roasting drum RPM, temperature probe size and placement, drum airflow, gas pressure, roast levels/development, RoR and between batch protocols. Definitely a great way to spend our last morning in such an amazing city. Thanks Scott!
So many mixed feelings! I mean, we quite like Perth and our coffee family back home, but to be honest, I think we’re in love. The hustle and bustle of such a vibrant city, the tantalizing sights and smells, the multicultural diversity and the capability to satisfy the taste buds and stomachs wildest desires at any time of the day or night was enough to make even the most loyal question whether the flight booking change fee really is as excessive as it seems.
Until next time, Melbourne, you’ve been spectacular!
Matt and Ben.