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2008 Australian Barista Championship
Author: Luca Costanzo
Posted: June 5, 2008
Article rating: 8.4
feedback: (7) comments | read | write

The 2008 Australian Barista Competition was held on Saturday the 3rd of May and Sunday the 4th. This year's competition promised to be the biggest and best yet, with sixteen people making the trip to compete in the open heats for a chance at the finals. The sponsors were more generous than ever before, with cup manufacturer Detpak taking naming rights, Compak grinders providing a K10 WBC as a prize for each state winner, Espresso Equipment Specialists and La Marzocco auctioning off two competition machines and Davinci Gourmet Syrups, Pura Milk and Cafetto Espresso Cleaning Supplies continuing their support from previous years.

In addition, a plethora of volunteers assisted the Australasian Specialty Coffee Association with the considerable amount of effort needed to run such an event.

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You don't say?
Needless to say, my bid of $5000 didn't get it for me.
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Cameron, the emcee, plugs the naming rights sponsor.
Me, entering scores with John Doyle
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Is the perpetual trophy latte art friendly?
The room starts off quite full. Maybe next year we'll need a bigger venue.

The Open Round

With sixteen competitors vying for a shot at the finals on Sunday, a latte art competition, a barista party and a latte art smackdown, Saturday was always going to be an ambitious day.

My day began at about 7am, doing some last-minute shopping with competitor Simon James for milk and machine wipes. The amount of support that competition baristas require is truly staggering, as I found out when helping out competitors at work over the past few years. Just getting a 28 kilogram Mazzer Robur up two flights of stairs is enough of a struggle, let alone the months of training that most of them seem to put in. But at the end of the day, there can be only one winner.

Volunteering to help at these competitions certainly presents a different experience from watching in the crowd. I was entering scores with AASCA secretary and "Barista Techniques" author John Doyle, but also ended up running around doing various odds and ends to make sure that the competitors and judges had everything that they needed. Fortunately, the competition ran quite smoothly, avoiding all of the pitfalls of competitions past.

None of the machines stalled for lack of water, there were more than enough trolleys for all of the competitors and the judges all seemed to be scoring consistently - surprisingly, even guest international judges Emma Markland-Webster from New Zealand and Ross Bright from Singapore were on the same page. We didn't even run out of pens.

For me, one of the fun parts of the competition is simply having a number of the country's most cutting edge coffee professionals in one place. It was particularly gratifying to see a number of people, mostly supported by Five Senses Coffee, taking the four hour plane trip from Perth to compete.

Fortunately for all of us, Syd Low volunteered his amazing photography skills to document the event, so thanks to him I am able to bring you a photo recap.

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Con Haralambopoulos
Con Haralambopoulos, poured latte art as though it were just another day at work.
Jesse Hyde
Jesse Hyde's cups have to be some of the most successful in barista competition history. They were used to win the Australian competition in 2006 and place second in 2007. Despite deciding to compete and preparing at short notice, Jesse managed to place second. Who wants to borrow the cups next year?
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David Seng
David Seng kept his routine simple in his first year competing, but his tight performance landed him third place. With David Seng, David Makin and Craig Simon as my competition, I'm not ashamed to say that I am certainly the worst barista at work!
Alex Forsyth
Alex Forsyth found an innovative place to store his towel.
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Craig Simon
Craig Simon was fast. Scary fast. Drawing on the Thai technique of balancing sweet, sour and salty, Craig used his time to assemble a rather complicated signature drink containing green curry, mango puree and a number of other ingredients.
Doug Bolzon
Doug Bolzon was last year's South Australian barista champion.
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Kelvin Wong
Kelvin Wong made the clever decision to sit out his state competition and observe, before competing in the national open. With that attitude, I wouldn't be surprised to see him do very well next year.
Kiril Shaginov
When not making espresso runs across the globe, Kiril Shaginov enjoys long walks by the beach and painting grinders.
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Nic Hind
Nic Hind applied some elbow grease to his signature drink.
Paul Asquith
Some good looking shots, courtesy of Paul Asquith.
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Scottie Callaghan
Last year's national barista champion, Scottie Callaghan, volunteered to judge.
Simon James
Simon James pours a traditional cappuccino - he is saving his famous rosettas for next year's latte art competition ... or, perhaps, for his classes.
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Simon James
I am sure that we will see more of these around at barista comps in future. Simon used his thermomix to mix and heat signature drink ingredients, including soy lecithin as a thickening agent.
Tim Adams
Given that Mona Vie contains something like 20 different fruits, can we say that Tim Adams set the record for the most ingredients in a signature drink?
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Tracey Rupe
Tracey Rupe came up with the clever idea of making an espresso version of a sake bomb or a Jaeger bomb. Bug her for it at her cafe, Mooba, in Perth.
Vanessa Moore
Vanessa Moore's delivery was clear and well-paced. Is it any wonder that she is the head trainer at Epic Espresso?
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Vanessa Moore
Vanessa's candles were a nice touch.
Jonny Nease
Jonny Nease became a crowd favourite in last year's barista competition for his "Johnny Cash" blend, music and demeanour. This year, he made a cameo appearance as a judge.

The Finals

After the grueling, strict timetable that Saturday presented, the finals kicked off at a more civilised 11am on Sunday. This time, the crowd had a higher portion of the general public as opposed to industry personnel. With several competitions under his belt, our emcee Cameron managed to keep the competitors relaxed and the crowd entertained. A spare espresso machine kept the crowd caffeinated, with competitors serving as baristas. And before we knew it, the event was over.

Given that my ability to observe all of the competitors from behind the scoring laptop was limited, I interviewed the place getters to get more insight.

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Aaron Kindred
Aaron Kindred from Tasmania has competed several times before. He was one of the few competitors to use an Australian-made tamper, this one by Coffeelab Design.
Anne Cooper
Anne Cooper from Queensland has trained over a thousand baristas and is currently learning to roast at Di Bella Coffee. She decided to serve her signature drink in portafilter baskets, sealing the holes with hot caramel cooled on a gel pack.
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Anne Cooper
Anne set her table with a mirrored box in front of each judge. When instructed, the judges opened the boxes, revealing the signature drink ingredients, a portafilter and a straw to drink with.
Ian Callahan
Ian Callahan's signature drink involved garlic and parmesan cheese. I wonder if it will be on the menu at his new cafe, Blue Chip Espresso in Adelaide?
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Kallum Wilkinson
Kallum Wilkinson from the Northern Territory poured some nice latte art.
Patrick Connolly
Patrick Connolly from the ACT measured his signature drink ingredients using a syringe.

Hazel De Los Reyes - Bonus Interview!

Hazel de los Reyes, our World Barista Championship representative in 2005, runs a small coffee roastery called Coffee Alchemy in Sydney. I thought it might be a nice bonus to interview her for this article and was lucky enough to catch her on her mobile phone between roasts.

This year, Hazel's competition routine presented a very roaster-influenced study of the exceptional Australian Mountain Top coffee. The 2007 crop of Bin 549 had started to mellow as it aged and was no longer quite the well-rounded, fruit-driven powerhouse that it was last year. In contrast, the 2008 crop was tasting a bit too fresh. Hazel simply did what Goldilocks should have and blended the two together to create a harmonious and balanced blend.

Although Australians mainly focus on espresso, Hazel is interested in all brewing methods. She commented that her competition blend is particularly good through a siphon brewer and, when pushed, she agreed to make it available to the public via her web page. Unfortunately for Hazel, her interest in other brewing methods ultimately put her at a disadvantage, when the judging panel penalised her for beginning her presentation with a cupping. Ever bubbly, Hazel acknowledged her disappointment with the penalty, but commented that she still had fun and looks forward to seeing David compete in Copenhagen.

In sharp contradistinction to her low-tech interest in cupping, Hazel modified her BNZ espresso grinders with the doserless Mazzer funnels, after consulting with Brian from Espresso Parts. Is it any wonder people call her the "Queen of Beans"?

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Hazel treats herself to a brief sauna in her setup time.
Check out the grinders.
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Memo to self: find Microplane grater.
Espresso. Yum.
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Hazel pours at the table.
Head judge Emma Markland-Webster imbibes.

Jen Murray - 3rd Place - 740 Points

When I called Jen Murray, she was mucking about with her leftover competition coffee at the Five Senses Roastery in Rockingham. With a wide variety of equipment and coffee at her disposal, being a trainer at the West Australian Barista Academy might just be the perfect job.

Jen's coffee journey began in Montreal, but was accelerated when she met former World Barista Champion Paul Basset whilst working in Byron Bay. Perth coffee guru Corey Diamond of Epic Espresso put her in touch with Five Senses coffee and the rest, as they say, is history.

Between training courses, Jen was able to try out a wide variety of different single origins. Originally, she was considering using a blend, perhaps containing some Colombian or Ugandan coffee. Shortly before the competition, Jen tasted all of her options and shelved her plans in favour of a standout single origin from El Salvador, the San Emilio. Jen notes that the coffee was nearly a month old on the day of the competition. This approach of selecting the best coffee on the day from a selection appears to be gaining popularity.

Jen's signature drink was an infusion of fig and lavender, topped with a shot of espresso. You might say that it was like an "Americano" or, if you are Australian, a "long black". Unfortunately, on the day the super-quick induction cooker heated the infusion more than intended. Jen didn't miss a beat and simply decanted the infusion to cool it down.

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El Salvador is doing well in the specialty coffee world this year.
Jen starts her performance.
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The women loved the pink RB tamper this time around; I counted at least four.
Once a rare sight, the influx of cheap induction cookers has made them more commonplace in barista competitions.
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Emily Oak slams down the signature drink.
You can imagine the amount of polishing that went on backstage.

Con Haralambopoulos - 2nd Place - 740.5 Points

Con Haralambopoulos is the main man at 7 Grams cafe, where the shelves groan under the seventeen or so trophies that he has won over the past few years. Competing as a working barista is a different ballgame from competing as a barista trainer. Whilst there might be less time to train specifically for a competition, every day is an opportunity to brush up on technical skills and doing so can have benefits for the business. Con encourages all cafe baristas to consider competing for this very reason.

Life as a cafe barista also put Con in touch with a number of interesting people. One of Con's regular customers is a bronze worker and his custom-made pieces lent Con's performance a certain old-world charm. In addition, Con's work has put him in touch with a number of chefs, one of whom helped him to create a signature drink comprised of an orange nectar, a coffee soil (coffee grounds baked with almonds, cocoa, sugar, butter and salt), a warm almond nougat and topped off with a shot of espresso.

We ended our conversation reflecting on the calibre of the competitors. One of Con's favourites from the open was Ian Callinan, the barista's barista. With such a difficult field, it would be difficult for anyone to win. Looking back now, I can't help but smile that Con went on to win the re run latte art competition.

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Con goes through something like 50 kilograms of coffee a week. It's not surprising that his Robur looks a little beat up.
Con's twin brother, Peter, is also a fantastic barista.
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Carleen Chamberlain, Emily Oak, Ross Quail and Rob Forsyth prepare to judge Con under the watchful gaze of head judge Emma Markland-Webster.
Wow that's orange!
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The old-world charm of Con's stove was the complete opposite of the "high tech" induction cooker.
Very tight focus by photographer Syd Low.

David Makin - 1st Place - 848.5 Points

I watched Dave's performance with my heart in my throat. Working with Dave, I had seen first-hand how much work he had put into his preparations, and it all seemed to be going terribly wrong. As the hometown favourite, David was greeted with an absolutely packed room. Unfortunately, with that many bodies packed into a space without air conditioning, the temperature began to rise quickly. The event organisers were unwilling to turn on the air conditioning - to do so would disadvantage both Dave and Hazel, who was in her setup time, by throwing out their grind.

It looked like the heat was getting to Dave. Long ago, I learnt that the only way that you get decent information as a spectator at a barista competition is by timing the competitors' shots. Without exception, all of Dave's were running faster than he usually likes. As soon as the judges left the stage, David downed one of his own carafes of water.

Imagine my surprise when Dave was declared the winner. It turned out that he had been running his shots fast on purpose.

I interviewed Dave for this article at his training room, whilst cupping potential coffees for the WBC. Dave makes no bones about the fact that his job has given him certain advantages in competing, with access to a wide variety of origins roasted as he chooses from the roastery. Today, he was keen to push his advantage for all that it was worth, with Mark, Bridget and Toshi from Melbourne's St Ali roastery and cafe dropping by to join us. We agreed that the Rwandan Golden Cup winner was a stand-out, but making it play nice with others as part of a blend proved to be challenging.

As the cupping progressed, we started to make some more unusual selections. In October last year, David took a whirlwind trip to visit Stumptown in Portland, Zoka and Vivace in Seattle, 49th Parallel and Elysian Room in Vancouver (as well as stopping by the head CoffeeGeek's pad), Intelligentsia in Chicago, the Coffee Collective and Kontra Coffee in Copenhagen and World Barista Champion James Hoffmann in London before topping it all off with a stint at the La Marzocco stand at the HOST convention in Milan.

In part, the purpose of the trip was to work out exactly what coffee a World Barista Champion would need to serve. Despite all of the ideas that were banded about, it turned out that the best espresso blend in that particular cupping session was very similar to the blend that David served at the Australian Barista Championship. Who knows what the next session will bring?

With a long cupping session behind us an no real revelations, I asked Dave why he was even bothering. Dave simply responded that it is all about enjoying what we do.

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I think that everyone would have liked some of that water. It was that hot.
The face of a competitor with two grinders to dial in.
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Every man and his dog seemed to have a digital SLR.
Technical judge Ross Spinelli from Singapore, left, watches as Dave pours a cappuccino.
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Cam must have seen Dave compete three or four times by now, so the banter was relaxed.
After comp, back to the drawing board. Mark and Toshi (left and right) from St Ali drop by Dave's training room to cup for the WBC.

And that is the competition for this year. In part two of this article, I'll cover the other events that went down in Melbourne, including the single cupping competition and various latte art competitions (both official and smackdowns). Tune in, in a few days for the rest of the frivolity!

Article rating: 8.4
Author: Luca Costanzo
Posted: June 5, 2008
feedback: (7) comments | read | write
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