2018 Australian Brewers Cup Champion Heath Dalziel not just first time lucky

Heath Dalziel

The past year couldn’t have been more of a surprise to me. At the beginning of September 2017 I would have said I’m not interested in competing in coffee championships. Little over a year later, I placed 10th in the 2018 World Brewers Cup (WBrC).

The Brewers Cup is a platform that can mean something different to each competitor. For me, it was a way to challenge myself and grow personally by getting out of my comfort zone. Through doing it, I not only accomplished these goals but managed to push myself professionally and developed my coffee knowledge immensely in a short space of time.

It’s a very personal competition. There are no barriers between us and the guests, which changes the engagement. You only have one coffee with which you can impress the judges. This makes it easier than the Barista Championship in some ways, but it also means that your first impression is the only one you’ll get to make with the judges.

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I first got involved in the Brewers Cup after some not-so-subtle encouragement from Ona Coffee Founder Saša Šestić. Ona is my café Third Time Lucky’s roaster, and he came to visit. We spoke about comfort zones, and he encouraged me to get out of mine.

Saša and the Ona team were endlessly helpful in my competition journey. They helped me be the brewer I am today and I can’t thank them enough. Before my regional competition, Saša said to me: “It would be nice to win, but the most important thing is you will be a better brewer after.” I think that says everything about Ona.

Throughout this whole competition cycle, I basically went from being a novice brewer needing to build a foundation at the regional level, to developing a deeper understanding of coffee brewing for nationals, and built on that further for the world championship.

I think all competitions, regardless of level, whether at home or overseas, are similar. The stakes get higher, which changes the mental game, but looking at it now, I don’t think there’s much difference between the nationals in Australia and the WBrC. Our bar is set so high that the work required to win at home isn’t any different to the world stage. 

My WBrC presentation had two major themes. The first was the heat curve, which for my competition coffee involved using a falling temperature curve to achieve more colourful, expressive brews. The second was my love for the shared experience that is coffee. I’ve always found it a bit sad when customers say they “can’t taste” different coffees and miss out on new experiences for fear of being wrong or not being able to tell the difference.

I’ve personally been lost at the cupping table at times too. I found it helped to associate taste with colour. My love of psychedelic music and hobby as a liquid light projectionist for live music shows gives me a good understanding of colour, and how you can connect one sense to another through a phenomenom called synaesthesia. I took this idea and applied it to tasting coffee. This led me to learn much quicker and better connect with coffee. I truly believe it can help others to taste and connect too.

I brewed my coffee with a metal V60 pour over for the WBrC because I like the expression it gives, and the ease with which you can change variables to enhance qualities. I learned the foundation of this method after a session with Saša and Ona’s Head Trainer Devin Loong. Sam Corra, the Australian Brewers Cup Champion before me, also helped me hone my techniques throughout the 12 months before the world championship. This training led me to look at using variable temperatures to achieve cleaner brews that enhanced colourful aspects of the coffees I was using.

The rest of my preparation involved staying a couple more hours a day at Third Time Lucky to practice. I try not to overwork. If things were going well, I’d quit while I was ahead, and if they were going poorly, I’d quit before things got unproductive. 

While training, I learned the best and simplest ways to improve my brew recipes was to experiment a lot, and only change one variable at a time.

This article features in the MICE 2019 showguide: A coffee lover’s guidebook.  To see the FULL article, pick up your copy of the showguide at MICE.

Heath Dalziel of Third Time Lucky is the 2018 Australian Brewers Cup Champion

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