Australian International Coffee Awards celebrate the craft of roasting

australian international coffee awards

The 2020 Australian International Coffee Awards provides roasters a chance to put their brand on the map in a rigorous judging process that celebrates the complexity and craft of roasting.

Australia is considered a leader in the global coffee industry. That high regard is brought to the fore every year in the Australian International Coffee Awards.

In 2020, the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria (RASV) awards program received 800 entries from 172 roasters across 15 countries. Kirsten Stubbings, Manager of the Australian International Coffee Awards, tells BeanScene there was an overall quality improvement in coffees submitted in the competition this year.

“[Head Judge Melissa Caia] was impressed with what Australian and international roasters on the whole are producing, which was reflected in the results,” Kirsten says. “It’s also reflected in how happy our exhibitors are with the results, because it feels as though they’ve received accurate feedback.”

Using the RASV scoring system, any coffee awarded 44 to 48 points received a bronze medal, 49 to 53 points a silver, and 54 to 60 points a gold. A total of 291 medals were given out in 2020 – 184 bronze, 92 silver, and 15 gold.

The top scoring gold medal coffees in each category – Espresso, Milk Based, Soy Based, Filter, and Cold Brew – win a Best in Class Trophy. Three more trophies are awarded tp the Champion Australian Roaster, Champion International Roaster, and Champion Direct Trade or Microlot Coffee every competition.

australian international coffee awards
The 2020 AICA‘s esteemed judging panel was led by Melissa Caia (centre, bottom).

This year, Campos Coffee took out the Champion Australian Roaster title, as well as Champion Direct Trade or Microlot Coffee, and Champion Filter Coffee for its Panama Esmeralda Super Mario Geisha.

Founder and CEO Will Young describes the award as a recognition of the hard work the Campos team has put into its roasting and green bean buying programs over more than a decade.

“I feel like we’ve been building up to it for so long. It’s a testament to the experience and knowledge of our roasting team,” Will says.

“Then there’s all the time we spend working with the Cup of Excellence – we’ve got seven qualified judges in our team – and the Best of Panama. That teaches you a lot about coffee, connects you with producers, and helps with knowing what coffees to select for competitions.”

Super Mario was sourced in a private auction from Hacienda La Esmeralda in Panama. Campos Coffee sold the coffee in 18-gram single serve pouches to make it more accessible price-wise for baristas, roasters, and those who would appreciate it most. Will says a good relationship and communication with its producer, Rachel Peterson, helped Campos bring the best out of the coffee.

“We’ve been buying coffees from Hacienda Esmeralda every year for the last decade, but this one was particularly brilliant. Rachel visited us in Sydney last year and we worked with her on the coffee. After discussions and cupping, she gave us feedback on how to get more out of it. This was invaluable.” Will says.

“Quite often in coffee, feedback goes in one direction with roasters telling growers what can make their coffee better. But in a healthy relationship where you’re close with the farmer, you realise they can help you make the most of their product. They know their product better than anyone. They’re the ones processing and cupping it every day.”

Super Mario wasn’t Campos’s only coffee to receive recognition. Its Blade Runner blend received a silver medal in the Milk Based category, and its Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Worka Sakaro won silver in Filter and bronze in Espresso. Campos’s Colombia La Negrita Geisha Natural won bronze in the Espresso category, and its Panama Elida Natural ASD won bronze in Filter.

Will says Campos’s success, particularly in the pour over Filter category, reflects its commitment to “ultra-premium” coffees and the producers behind them.

“Pour over is where price differentiation happens [in the café]. These higher prices move the industry in a good direction, because it shows people good coffee is worth paying for. You’ll have to spend more if you want spectacular tasting filter and that same concept applies to all coffee. We believe people will increasingly gravitate to higher quality coffee both in café and at home,” he says.

“I’m thrilled these are the coffees that placed in the competition. The truth comes out when these coffees, which are thought of as the best in the world, still win medals when judged blindly.”

Will is excited to share more coffees from these producers with the wider community and in the 2021 Australian International Coffee Awards.

“Competitions like Australian International Coffee Awards help a lot in showing what it is that is important in coffee. We really want to win it again. We’re a pretty competitive bunch and our roasters are hungry for the gold,” he says.

Caffe Artigiano in Taiwan was awarded Champion International Roaster at the 2020 AICA.

Of the 2020 Australian International Coffee Awards’ 173 exhibitors, 67 international roasters submitted 248 coffees for consideration. Claiming the title of Champion International Roaster was Caffe Artigiano in Taiwan, which also won Champion Espresso for its Super Species and Champion Milk Based Coffee for its Super Coffee.

Caffe Artigiano Taiwan was formed in 2011 and now also operates in Hong Kong, Macau, and China. As well as the gold medal winning Super Coffee and Super Species, the roaster’s Fruit Collection won silver in Espresso and bronze in Immersion.

Mars Huang, Founder of Caffe Artigiano Taiwan, says entering in the 2019 Australian International Coffee Awards helped him learn what judges look for in a coffee.

“I chose to enter this contest to see how my ‘direct fire’ roast would be evaluated in such a high mature market like Australia. I got some good results last year and thought a lot about how to improve it for next time,” Mars says.

“We really improved compared to last year. The cupping notes from judges showed that they appreciated the flavour complexity of Super Species and the blueberry ice cream of my Super Coffee.”

Super Species is made of 50 per cent Kenyan, 20 per cent Guatemalan, and 30 per cent Ethiopian coffees. Each bean is roasted until the end of first crack then post mixed.
Its other house blend, Super Coffee, is a mix of Guatemalan, Colombian, and Ethiopian coffees. These are roasted until the point of second crack then post mixed.

Mars says Taiwan has a coffee market surprisingly similar to Australia, with a large number of micro roasters creating a need to differentiate.

“It may be the place with the highest roaster density in the world and each one has its own unique character. Because of that, there is a lot of competition between each coffee shop no matter if it’s in the high-priced specialty coffee industry or to-go market,” he says.

“The coffee drinking habits are related with food culture. Compared to Hong Kong and Macao, most consumers in Taiwan enjoy coffee with milk, like a latte or flat white, much more than espresso.”

Mars says winning the awards has already led to increased interest in his coffees. It also allows Mars to spend more time on the parts of his business he is most passionate about.

“I would rather focus on roasting than marketing or advertising. But people around the world now know Caffe Artigiano because of the Australian International Coffee Awards. More consumers want to buy Super Species and Super Coffee, wondering why it won the champion [titles], especially in Hong Kong and Macao,” he says.

“Winning Champion International Roaster is amazing, of course, but whether or not I won, joining the contest motivated me to explore new ideas. I believe I will enter the competition next year with different ideas and new blends.”

One other hotly contested award was handed out at the 2020 Australian International Coffee Awards ceremony on 12 March.

Gourmet Espresso in NZ pairs its award winning Ice Brew with a curated dessert.

In 2019, the Champion Cold Brew Coffee award was not presented after no entry in the category received a gold medal. In 2020, only one business rose to the challenge.

Gourmet Espresso in New Zealand opened in 2020 so Founder Henry Lee could share his love of cold processed coffee with the world. The shop aims to be dairy- and sugar-free wherever possible and showcase the collective efforts of the best of the coffee industry, from organic farmers to master roasters and brewers.

The café is only open two afternoons per week, serving exclusively ice brew tastings with a rotating menu that pairs with the coffee. Henry tells BeanScene he spent seven year perfecting his “Ice Brew” method, which was behind the two coffees he entered in the Australian International Coffee Awards.

“Cold brew is a new introduction in New Zealand and most existing suppliers of cold brew are very commercialised, either being too diluted or lacking specialty taste profiles,” Henry says.

“While I had complete confidence in my winning taste, there were many chefs and baristas that were hesitant and critical. I entered my Ice Brew creations into Australian International Coffee Awards 2020, in a bid to compare myself against international peers and to gain recognition for my work.”

Ice Brew OsmEsp won the coveted gold medal while Ice Brew RSEsp picked up a silver. Judges approved of OsmEsp’s complex aromatics, delicate profile, and tasting notes of peaches, cocoa, papaya, and blossoms.

Henry says during New Zealand’s lockdown restrictions, he took time to further refine his coffees, and looks forward to sharing his improved ice brew method on the new platform the Australian International Coffee Awards has provided him.

“My goal is to become a pioneer in innovative cold process coffee brewing, so that my bottled coffee can be exported to the rest of the world, especially to the gourmet food sectors,” Henry says.

“Winning the Australian International Coffee Awards 2020 Champion Cold Brew Coffee trophy had a profound effect on my advertising and marketing… I am creating a new crowd of followers who are intrigued in exploring new dimensions of coffee.”

Since the Australian International Coffee Awards was first held in 2013, RASV’s Kirsten says the awards program has become recognised around the world as an opportunity for roasters to receive valuable feedback from some of the world’s top coffee experts. In 2020, the awards moved from judging on paper sheets to an inhouse-developed tablet system to capture more comments and information from the judges.

“This has attracted more international roasters to enter the Australian International Coffee Awards to benchmark their products on an international scale and leverage their trophy and medal wins in order to promote their businesses and expand into new markets,” Kirsten says.

“Locally, Australians are more interested in coffee than ever before. Consumers are actively engaged, and learning about their products, where it comes form, and its quality. A medal is a distinguishing mark that helps inform their purchases.”

With the awards boasting a high retention rate of exhibitors, the RASV plans on growing international participation and reaching exhibitors in new countries for the 2021 Australian International Coffee Awards.

“There are many international roasters who are producing coffee of outstanding quality,” Kirsten says.

“It’s really reflective of the constantly improving quality of the coffee being produced on an international scale.

This article appears in the June 2020 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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