2017 Australian Coffee Roasting Champion Jack Allisey rides the curve

Few would announce coffee roasting as a deliberate career move after finishing high school. Not even I would have ever considered it a possible moneymaker – graphic design and visual communication were on my list of likely career paths. 

My father was responsible for my introduction to roasting, having had a career in food and beverage manufacturing and coffee distribution. I knew what coffee roasting was and that for someone out there, it was a profession, but it remained at the back of my mind – until I needed a job between tertiary education.

My foray into the roasting world started at a small roasting business packing coffee, which eventually led to lessons behind a 30-kilogram Petroncini roaster. Before I knew it, the in-between job became part time work. I took shifts as a barista at Veneziano’s First Pour and Eureka Coffee, but quickly went back to roasting. The aroma and delicate rhythm of roasting grabbed me very quickly and pulled me into its lair – a hot and dusty warehouse often described as “the roastery”.

Roasting can be monotonous work. However, the hours spent cupping, analysing roast curves, and working with a team and origin partners make it all worthwhile.

From day one, I’ve loved the romance of taking an ingredient and using skill and technique to improve the product. I like the instant gratification you get from turning a lifeless green product into a flavoursome ingredient that so many people get enjoyment from.

Last year was the pinnacle in my roasting career to date. I competed in the first ever Australian Coffee Roasting Championship and travelled to Guangzhou, China, in December to participate in the world competition.

I’m not one for public speaking, so the Roasting Championship appealed to me over Brewers Cup and Barista competitions. It was a chance to showcase the craft I’d spent years developing.

For the competition, everyone was provided with the same green coffee to roast as a single origin and develop a blend. We were then given time to sample roast, green grade, cup, and submit a production roast for judging. The coffee was cupped blind by a pool of judges. Incredibly, I placed runner up.

“World Coffee Roasting Championship (WCRC) Runner Up 2017” is a nice line to have on the résumé, but what it really meant to me was the opportunity to benchmark myself against the rest of my peers and continue the learning curve.

On reflection, there are a few things I wish to impart to fellow roasting competitors.

• Don’t stress about your coffees once you’ve submitted them. It won’t do your mental health any good.

• Know your equipment as well as possible. I had the chance to practice on a W15A Giesen roaster prior to the competition (thanks Yao at Inkofe), and this was incredibly beneficial. I hadn’t roasted on a Giesen before, so getting a better understanding of the intricacies of a different roaster is always a big hurdle on the way to tasty coffee. Part of this is the obvious differences in roast profiles but also muscle memory. Simple things like being able to operate a roaster by feel makes it so much easier to concentrate on what you are doing. This also extends to measurement equipment. I left points on the table at the WCRC by not accurately predicting final roast colour.

• Don’t go in with any preconceived ideas, and be prepared to change on the fly. The coffees provided for the WCRC blend element of the competition were a washed Ethiopian Kochere, a washed Panama Esmerelda, and a natural Chinese Yunnan. The blend I ended up submitting wasn’t what I thought it would be before cupping. I used 40 per cent of the Ethiopian beans, 35 per cent of the Chinese, and 25 per cent of the Panama beans.

• Have fun. Enjoy the chance to relax, turn off your phone and just roast. Talk to the other competitors and share ideas – you may come away with a different way of approaching your roasting even outside of the competition.

With such a large pool of talented roasters in Australia, it’s a rarity that everyone gets together and has a chance to compete on a level playing field – this is what I’m looking forward to most about watching this year’s roasting championship unfold. I’m confident whoever has the chance to represent Australia on the world stage in Dubai will do a great job.

Representing Australia at the WCRC and placing second was an honour on a personal level, but it also speaks volumes for the quality of coffee being roasted in Australia. The standard is so high, and this makes working in the roasting profession so satisfying.

One thing that keeps me interested is the constant learning curve. My early learning came from Justin Metcalf and it continues thanks to the team at Veneziano, including Pat Connolly and Craig “Simo” Simon. Simo is in fact the man responsible for my first “specialty coffee experiences”. When I sampled his 2012 winning nationals competition coffee from El Salvador, it blew my mind. It opened my eyes to what roasting could achieve, and I wanted in.

Those who roast are on a continual ride of growth, discovery, and experimentation – we’re all learning as we go, bouncing ideas off each other, and chasing the dream of flavour perfection. It excites us when we get things right, but we also have the persistence to keep making things better.

Through my 10 years in the industry, I’ve seen roasting shift from an artisan profession to one heavily-data based and scientifically driven. This new phase excites me, especially with the introduction of tools like Cropster and Roastlog making root cause analysis and roast consistency much easier. I enjoy the automation of roasting and working with machines that take the guesswork out, and are more focused on achieving the best flavour outcomes. This movement of data access and education is no different to the shift we’re seeing from baristas pulling manual shots, to using volumetrics, and using automatic espresso machines, grind settings, and tamping devices.

This article features in the MICE 2018 showguide: A Coffee Lover’s Guidebook.To see the FULL article, pick up your copy of the showguide at MICE.

Jack Allisey is the Green Bean Buyer at Veneziano Coffee Roasters and Runner-up in the 2017 World Coffee Roasters Championship. 

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