There’s just one week to go before the Melbourne International Coffee Expo (MICE), but already the smell of freshly brewed coffee is filing the air at the Melbourne Showgrounds.
From 8 – 11 March representatives from across Australia are gathering to sip and savour the country’s best roasted coffee in the judging of the 2016 Australian International Coffee Awards (AICA).
Conducted annually by The Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria, the AICA celebrates and promotes coffee roasting excellence.
“The standard of coffee entries has been really good this year,” said Acting AICA Head Judge Melissa Caia. “The judging panels have been efficient in getting through the coffees quickly but with great respect to each.”
This year the AICA has received more than 650 coffee entries. Each judging panel is tasting between 20 to 25 coffees a day.
“By the end of the day everyone’s a little palate fatigued but the caffeine keeps us energised. Most of the judges are used to drinking copious amounts of coffee anyway so we have a higher tolerance, and we also love what we do,” Melissa said.
Behind the scenes, a dedicated group of baristas and volunteers prepare different types of brewed coffee for the judges to assess. The categories include espresso, milk-based, soy coffee, filter coffee (plunger and siphon), and cold brew.
“The hardest part when preparing the coffees is considering the different roast profiles when dialling in,” said Pullman Tampers’s Mark Ruta.
“Every coffee is so different, some are at the light end of the spectrum, some are dark, and then there’s everything in between. It’s my job to prepare each coffee exactly the same – 20-gram baskets and a 20-gram extraction. If it’s not perfect, it doesn’t go out to the judges.”
In a separate room, panels of judges are assembled to taste each prepared coffee, based on attributes such as taste balance, after taste, tactile balance, cut through, flavour, aroma, acidity, and body.
“It’s a blind judging process so we don’t know where the coffee’s come from, when it was roasted, or how it was brewed,” Jonathon Sciola of Promised Land said. “We’re not judging solely on the taste, but how the coffee is roasted, so at the back of our minds we have to question whether the roaster has done their best to bring the best out of the coffee. “
RASV’s Ross Karavis says the standard of the AICA wouldn’t be possible without the dedicated group of judges who have travelled from across the country to generously donate their time to the judging process.
“We are very luck to have such a high calibre of judges representing a diverse mix of our industry, including roasters, café owners, green bean buyers and farmers,” he said.
One such representative is Australian coffee grower Zeta Grealy of Wirui Estate in Carool, New South Wales.
“It’s always good to stay in touch with the industry and its progression and trends, so I was more than happy to come to Melbourne for the judging. Working up north is a bit isolated so its great to come to events like these and catch up with industry friends,” Zeta said.
This year the RASV will be awarding a total of eight awards, including Champion Australian Roaster and Champion International Roaster, Champion Espresso, Champion Milk-Based Coffee, Champion Soy-based Coffee, Champion Filter Coffee (plunger and siphon), and for the first time, a Champion Cold Brew and Champion Microlot/Direct Trade trophy.
The Champion Microlot/Direct Trade can be won by any brew type fitting the criteria. As for the new Cold Brew category, it was a popular one with roasters, and judges alike.
“Many of the judges were keen to have this category to assess because it’s a great, refreshing drink for warm weather like what we’re experiencing in Melbourne at the moment,” Sasha Jade of Fat Poppy Coffees said. “The difference with cold brew is that it can be served however you prefer it. We have received some entries with specific serving recipes, such as pouring it over ice or with milk.”
Results of the 2016 AICA will be announced as part of the launch party for MICE2016, taking place at Meat Market in North Melbourne on 16 March.