Australia International Coffee Awards winners reveal secrets to success

BeanScene talks with the winners of this year’s Australian International Coffee Awards to find out their secrets to success.

Over three days in March, a panel of coffee experts congregated in a mass blind tasting to award the smoothest, most flavoursome, and most refined local and international coffees in the industry’s revered annual roasting competition.

New South Wales roaster Danes Specialty Coffee took home the coveted Champion Australian Roaster for the second year in a row at this year’s Australian International Coffee Awards (AICA).

Owner Paul Jackson says the back-to-back win was a shock and makes him more determined to continue producing high quality coffee. 

“It’s a humbling surprise. I’ve been in coffee for 25 years. To have been honoured like this says that I’ve been here for a long time, but it doesn’t make me irrelevant,” Paul says.

“For our espresso blend, we used two high grade origins. One was a washed Kenya and the other was an Ethiopian ascension blend with an abundance of fruity flavours. When combining two blends, one is going to be more dominant, and the other more submissive. To get the right balance and the right percentage we continued to practice and experiment to create that uniqueness that gave us the right roast profile.” 

The Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria (RASV) hosts the annual coffee roasting competition. This year it received more than 800 entries from more than 150 local and international coffee roasters including coffees from Australia, New Zealand, China, Greece, Hong Kong, the United States, and the Maldives.

Coffee Tech aims to give producers a bigger platform and distribution outlet through entering their coffee in competitions.

Using the RASV scoring system, the judges awarded a total of 330 medals at the Melbourne Showgrounds from 20 to 22 March. Any coffee awarded 54 to 60 points was presented a gold medal, 49 to 53 points a silver, and 44 to 48 a bronze.

The judges awarded 15 gold, 100 silver, and 215 bronze medals to exemplary coffees.

Eight trophies were presented including Champion Australian Roaster, Champion International Roaster, Champion Direct Trade or Microlot Coffee, Champion Espresso, Champion Milk-Based Coffee, Champion Soy-Based Coffee, Champion Filter Coffee, and Champion Cold Brew Coffee.

As well as the prestigious Champion Australian Roaster title, Danes won the single origin category for its Kenya Gakundu and silver for its Kenya Ndiaini in the cold brew category.

Another roaster to share success at this year’s AICA was Coffee Tech from Auckland NZ, winning five of the AICA trophies, including Champion International Roaster, Champion Direct Trade Coffee, Champion Espresso, Champion Milk-Based Coffee, and Champion Soy-Based Coffee. It also was awarded seven gold, 21 silver, and 15 bronze, finishing with 48 awards in total. 

Coffee Tech Founder Alan Zuo says the secret to his success comes down to his meticulous sourcing and roasting.

“We will test the product that we’re given more than 20 times. We’ll try different profiles for that chosen coffee and try to find that sweet spot. Each bag that gets sent to us, we mark where it comes from, the soil, and its density,” Alan says.

“When we have the right profile and we know what works, we keep developing the same blend using the same equipment, in the right room temperature, and we keep building that profile in hope it performs well at international competitions.”

Alan says his aim is to highlight the quality work of famers by using their beans at coffee competitions. He hopes this will give them a bigger platform and distribution outlet.

Darks Coffee Roaster was awarded AICA Champion Filter Coffee for its Bourbon Ateng Super Indonesian.

“A lot of them don’t have the resources to produce, roast, and test their coffees. We do, we have those resources. We brew and test those coffees for them and the best ones get entered,” Alan says.

“Regardless of the outcome from any competition, we provide the farmers with a complementary analysis report on how well the coffee performed, so they can improve and so does our coffee.”

Alan adds he can already see the exposure coffee farmers are receiving from their AICA competition win, with more consumers asking about the coffees’ origin and purchasing the winning products.

This year’s AICA Champion Filter Coffee was awarded to Darks Coffee Roaster for its Bourbon Ateng Super Indonesian, scoring 55.54 out of
60 points.

Company Co-Founder Adam Hills says that while the roaster is not known for its filter coffee, this style is hugely important to his business as it’s a great method to showcase Darks to a wider audience.

Adam adds that it was their goal to win gold at AICA, yet he was pleasantly surprised when he did.

“We were up against people who used exclusive high-quality products. We knew we needed a coffee with a unique cup profile and to utilise a natural Sumatran was an opportunity we grabbed with both hands. Our tasting notes were simple featuring candy cherries, toffee apple, and Riesling, but it was balanced,” Adam says.

This marks Darks’ 15th award in AICA competitions, and Adam still feels as though it’s his first.

“We’ve been entering these competitions since 2016. It’s great industry recognition. It gives myself and my team more confidence. The overall standard in coffee is mind-blowing and to win is recognition of us doing a good job,” Adam says.

Adam uses this win as a reflection on his career in coffee and the people who played a part in his journey.

“I credit those who showed me the business side of the coffee industry and who taught me to roast. Their knowledge is invaluable,” Adam says.

With more roasters and baristas putting their best cup forward, winning roasting competitions such as the AICA is becoming harder, differentiating the best from the good.

“The coffee world is only growing and with that, standards are only getting higher,” Adam says. “It pushes us as a company to continue to put our best foot forward and produce the best quality.”

This article appears in the June edition of BeanScene Magazine. Subscribe HERE.

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