How talent, creativity and sensory sensations helped select the finalists for the 2023 Australian MONIN Cup challenge.
Five baristas were one step closer to a $5000 cash prize and the chance to represent Australia at the world final of the Global MONIN Coffee Creativity Cup challenge in Kuala Lumpur.
The shortlisted competitors competed in the national heat, which took place at Slayer Espresso in Port Melbourne during the Melbourne International Coffee Expo from 17 to 19 August. MONIN innovation lead John Davidson says selecting this year’s Australian finalists was no easy task.
“We received just shy of 50 entries from all over the country. It was such a hard task to narrow down the finalists. I loved seeing how creative baristas can be. What we received were incredible creations from passionate baristas that were not only inventive with their signature serve, but presented well, and had really great personalities, which we knew would shine on stage,” says John.
Each entrant had to submit a unique espresso-based recipe, incorporating at least 10 millilitres of any MONIN product.
“Each finalist was great at understanding the criteria and embracing the five senses in their creations. The barista community really incorporates the illusive sense of sound, and it was evident in entries because most people gave their drink a soundtrack – from jazz with a cocktail vibe, to David Attenborough soundbites. You can tell a lot about someone’s personality by the drinks they present and the music they share,” John says.
John says the level of creativity displayed by the finalists is a sign that the café community is willing to experiment and push the boundaries of their menus.
“MONIN is aware we don’t have opportunity to talk about beans to baristas, but we do have the ability to help baristas make a really fun drink behind the bar, and our finalists have proven they can,” he says.
Danny Wilson, Head Roaster at Ona Coffee in the Australian Capital Territory, will compete in the National Final. Titled ‘Stargazer’, Danny says his creation is designed to transport the drinker away from the city lights and allow nature’s symphony to take centre stage.
“The inspiration for the drink was to create something with depth and complexity of flavour, but that still drank in a fun and engaging way. By combining the complex and aromatic flavour of coffee (an El Salvador natural) and the botanical shrub cordial with the sweet cola and ice cream I could hit a variety of different tastes. The MONIN salted caramel syrup ties the sides of the drink together with its sweet and salty profile,” Danny says.
“Working with MONIN next to coffee has been super fun and easy and something I’m very comfortable with after using MONIN passionfruit in my Espresso Memento cocktail for [my World] Coffee in Good Spirits [routine] last year.”
Danny then built the experience to capture all five senses and lean into the contrast in ingredients that he associates with city and county.
“Visually, the first thing you notice is the twinkling lights of the night sky before you are hit with the aromas of fresh Australian botanicals. The sounds of the bush clash with the pulse of city life and the touch of snow-capped mountains,” he says. “The Stargazer invites you to indulge in an immersive experience.”
For Sydney representative Jake Mai of Stitch Coffee, the MONIN Cup challenge will be his first attempt at joining a coffee competition.
“I saw the post on Instagram and thought ‘wow, I’m curious, let’s give it a go’,” he says.
“I was working in our coffee warehouse and the music playlist on my phone ended and went into jungle music for 45 minutes. It was cool and randomly weird, but it made sense for my coffee entry, so I decided to combine the music with my nature themed drink, and attempt something we don’t often see in coffee,” he says.
Titled Jungle Bird, Jake’s creation combines MONIN watermelon syrup, MONIN grapefruit syrup, a medium roasted washed Colombian coffee served as a double espresso, and carbonated cold brewed floral tea with herbal notes of peppercorn husk, rose petal and salted coconut foam. Jake says it took a week to perfect his idea, and a month to execute it well.
“It’s sweet and sour forward, and introduces some savoury notes, a tiny different texture with a creamy foam on top. It’s a combination that could go wrong but I’ve spent a lot of time testing and trialling it to get it right,” Jake says.
“I used to do bartending pre-COVID, so I’m naturally curious about flavours. Before this competition however, I hadn’t tried MONIN syrups before. I went to a kitchen warehouse to look for the product and immediately saw its grapefruit
and watermelon syrup. It’s the most interesting pairing with coffee but I really enjoyed its flavour.”
Lewis Cambridge from Will & Co roastery in Sydney is excited to reinvent a classic for the MONIN Cup Challenge. Lewis and his wife have always had an affinity for tequila and agave spirits. After spending time with his Mexican best friend, learning about tequila and how to integrate it as the base to a cocktail, Lewis decided to enter the competition with a take on an espresso martini. He replaced vodka for white tequila, added Mr Black coffee liqueur, Will & Co’s Eight-o-Eight House Blend for a smooth chocolate tone, and MONIN’s vanilla syrup to help accentuate the flavour profile of the tequila.
“It’s very important to use good ingredients and pick flavours that complement each other,” Lewis says.
“I’ve been in the industry for a long time but this is my first time competing and getting creative again. I moved to Sydney six years ago and have been up the coast but not down, so I’m looking forward to visiting Melbourne too,” he says.
Milann “Max” Murakami, a barista and bartender at Death and Taxes in Brisbane, is no stranger to cocktail competitions, but taking on the MONIN Cup challenge will be his first coffee competition.
“I’m generally quite experimental as a cocktail bartender so when I’m experimenting with flavours for menu drinks, I absolutely love using MONIN. They have an amazing range of syrups that bring a lot of depth of flavour and creativity,” Max says.
Max doesn’t normally like dessert drinks, but for his MONIN Cup entry, he decided it was the perfect opportunity to bring out his sweet took with a take on a tiramisu.
“I chose an Ethiopian blend from Mailland Project, which is quite fruity with notes of stone fruit, malaises, apricot, and florals. I used MONIN’s apricot and white chocolate syrup to boost the depth of flavour, white chocolate to highlight nuttiness, and foam whipped up in a cream gun to contrast the espresso,” Max says.
A musician and jazz lover, Max titled his drink ‘Take Me Back’ after listing to the iconic jazz song Take 5 while on the first date with his partner.
“We were drinking coffee and cakes while Take 5 was playing in the background. I wanted this drink to capture a moment in time that brought me where I am today. It takes me back,” says Max.
“A lot of people associate this song with being in a café, and I also really enjoy the idea of sitting in a café, drinking espresso and enjoying tiramisu.”
Max will also get the chance to visit Melbourne and enjoy MICE for the first time in August.
“After living in Australia for six years, I’ve never left Brisbane so I’m thankful I get a chance to present my drink in the final. I’m excited to hear what people think about it and try all the other [finalists] drinks. I’m humbled and honoured to be part of it,” he says.
For more information, visit stuartalexander.com.au/pages/ monin-cup-2023
This article appears in the August 2023 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.