In just a couple of weeks, the Melbourne Showgrounds will be filled with the thousands of patrons and cheering competition fans at the Melbourne International Coffee Expo (MICE).
But before then, the only noises on site are those of grinders dialling in, clinking cups and sauces, and the sips and slurps of expert coffee judges.
From 8 – 10 March, the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria (RASV) is hosting the Australian International Coffee Awards (AICA) judging.
Head Judge Melissa Caia of William Angliss Institute says this year’s 820 coffee entries have attracted a high intake of international applicants, with entries received from the United Kingdom, United States, Indonesia and China.
“The international reach of the awards grows year on year, which indicates that international roasters value and respect Australia’s high standards for coffee quality, that they appreciate our style of coffee, and value the opinions of our industry professionals,” Melissa says.
The number of international judges also rose this year, with New Zealand representatives Emma Markland Webster and Jessica MacDonald of the New Zealand Specialty Coffee Association joining the judging panel.
“The awards are a great opportunity to try a wide range of coffee, experience how a competition is conducted, and meet up with our Australian coffee friends,” Jessica says. “Where else do you get judge coffees to international standards?”
Each coffee is blind tasted to ensure the judging process is fair and equitable. Overseeing the milk-based coffee category is Head Judge Levant Doganay.
“I get to taste all the coffee that’s presented. I’m pretty happy with my role,” he says.
“This year it’s clear that the milk-based category has improved in terms of its quality and the number of entries received. This tells us that roasters – both Australian and international – are taking on board expert feedback and adjusting their roast to suit. To keep yourself relevant in this industry, roasters need to be up with evolving styles and trends. In the past we’ve seen light roasts with a slight sour tone as a result, and now we’re seeing the majority of roast profiles achieve a balance with more cocoa, chocolate, hazelnut flavours.”
The number of milk-based coffee entries received this year was almost 300, which Melissa says is a strong indication of consumer preferences among the Australian marketplace.
“Nighty-five per cent of Australian consumers drink milk-based coffee. It’s our staple. It’s how the majority of cafe businesses are making their profit, and it’s what consumers want,” Melissa says. “These awards are a great annual assessment of consumer trends, and its cemented that the milk base category remains dominant.
Also on the rise was the soy-based category, with 26 coffee entries received.
“Soy-based coffee is a growing category, and it’s clear that roasters are getting better at adjusting their roast profiles to suit soy products. Coffees roasted with chocolate notes tend to do very well with soy-based milk, more so than coffee with fruity undertones that heroes the soy more than the coffee,” says Grinders Coffee’s Master Roaster Giuseppe Cianchi.
Other AICA categories include espresso – the second most popular category with almost 200 entries – filter, cold brew, and direct trade or microlot coffees. This year, in response to industry trends, innovation and consumer interests, a new immersion coffee class replaced the previous plunger and siphon classes.
Paul Asquith of Seven Miles Coffee Roasters says judging cold brew coffee on a warm Melbourne day makes consuming 36 entries more enjoyment than a requirement.
“Cold brew is a little easier to judge than espresso because it’s lighter and you’re presented with a finished product from the roaster, so there’s no room for human error in the production or assembly of this drink,” Paul says. “We only awarded one gold and one silver in this category of 36 entrants, but we’ve tasted some really quality coffees with delicious, juicy hints of strawberry, jasmine and cocoa notes.”
Chairing the espresso categories is Ian Callahan of 9 Bar, who knows a “gold medal contender” the moment it hits is palate.
“We look for a golden bowl of yum,” he says. “A gold medal winner must be clean, balanced, have a complex depth of flavour, and something that you taste and makes you excited,” he says.
With two days of judging down and one more to go to identify award winners and Australian and International Roasting Champions, judges say the general consensus is to “hydrate with water, spit, and enjoy the apples on offer” to get through their intense tasting schedule.
The winners will be announced at the AICA presentation on 29 March, and the launch event for MICE2017.
To book tickets to the event, click here.