Monin Coffee Creativity Cup winner Honoka Kawashima details her winning coffee mocktail

Monin Coffee Creativity Cup

Monin Coffee Creativity Cup winner Honoka Kawashima and runner-up Daniel Wilson discuss their unique coffee mocktails, representing New Zealand and Australia respectively on the world stage, and striving for innovation.

New Zealand’s Honoka Kawashima from Frank’s Coffee was the last competitor to take to the stage in the international final of the Monin Coffee Creativity Cup in Malaysia this past November. As she waited on the sidelines for the other 40 competitors to have their turn, she repeated her script again and again.

Some may say the best is left till last, but also against Honoka was the fact she didn’t have a strong level of mixology experience as many of the other competitors.

“Going into the final, I was hoping to maybe finish in the top six,” she says.

The Monin Coffee Creativity Cup is not your standard barista competition. Each competitor is tasked with creating the best tasting coffee-based mocktail using Monin syrups, but they must also embrace the four other senses in their created beverage: touch, smell, feel, and sound.

Honoka’s drink told a story. Each component was a symbol of her past, which she hoped would resonate with the judges.

“I remembered back to my childhood of drinking amazake, a fermented rice drink, with my family every New Year’s Day,” she says.

“I know amazake isn’t the most common drink, so I presented some to the judges to show them how it can change the taste of coffee.”

Honoka also added a floral element on top of the amazake, paying homage to her grandmother’s garden.

“She grew lots of osmanthus flowers which have a very floral and fruity aroma,” she says.

These stories were repeated to the judges as the drink was prepared, while images of the coffee farms in Colombia where Honoka sourced her beans were displayed, providing an educational experience before the drink was served.

“I talked a lot during my presentation, which I hope made it a more enjoyable experience [for the judges],” she says.

To finish the drink, Honoka added two of her favourite Monin syrups to the espresso and amazake base – cane sugar and black forest – which she says are a perfect addition to the Colombian coffee.

“I set the base of the coffee first before choosing the ingredients, so I know what will work best with the blend,” she says.

The beverage not only impressed the international judges, but embraced the sensory and innovation criteria all Monin Cup Creativity winners must possess.

“I’m just so happy that I won,” Hanoka says.

After moving to New Zealand in 2018, Hanoka competed in a number of coffee- based competitions, mostly in the latte art field, but nothing quite like the Monin Creativity Cup.

“I really like competing in general because it gives me a challenge and it helps me develop my skills,” she says.

“The Monin Cup was very different, but the process of preparing was very similar, as I was able to apply some of the techniques I had used from previous competitions.”

Honoka wasn’t the only Oceanic representative to succeed in the 2023 event. Australia’s Daniel Wilson finished right behind her, with his Monin Amaro beverage landing him in second place.

After taking home the Monin Cup prize at the Australian competition in August 2023, Daniel soon turned his attention to the Malaysian international final.

“I wanted to change things up with my drink,” he says. “When I was chatting to the [Monin] team, I thought it would be best to make the drink a bit simpler to put together.”

As such, he took the creation he presented at the Australian competition, a botanical sour mix with a large variety of ingredients, and redesigned the concept.

“I went up to the Monin studio in Sydney and I got to open up the vault and check out all the different flavours they had,” he says.

Daniel’s new signature mocktail for the final included four Monin flavours mixed with espresso, pink grapefruit, Monin bitter, cinnamon, and frosted mint syrups.

“It’s a bit of an unusual combination, but when layered together well, it creates a very unique flavour profile,” he says.

The five senses were a key focus for Daniel in preparation for the final. He says sound was the most difficult and abstract of all the senses to bring into the frame.

“Behind the idea of the drink was the notion of contrast, specifically contrasting flavours from the city and the country because that encapsulates the way I think about coffee,” he says.

“We tend to think about coffee as a city- based drink that people have on the way to work, but being a roaster myself, I think about it more as a natural product.”

As a result, Daniel looked to set the ambience of the scene through a mix of sounds that could transport the judges to a different place.

“I got one of my favourite chill drum and bass tracks that represented more of a late-night vibe and combined it with some Australian bird sounds from the country,” he says.

The soundtrack to the tasting was just one of the added elements Daniel included in his presentation. He had many different experiences when trying the drink himself and wanted to show this variety to the judges.

“Every time I tasted the drink, it felt different depending on how I would drink it,” he says. “I provided the judges with a tool kit featuring a spoon and a straw so that each way of drinking it could provide something new.”

Daniel credits Monin for helping him experiment with new flavours and concepts, both before the final and while in Malaysia.

“Especially after the national round, they were really helpful in formatting drinks with me,” he says. “They looked after us well over there, and it made for a smooth and easy time.”

Daniel says the mix of competitors from around Asia was a highlight, as the varying backgrounds among those who progressed to the final introduced him to new concepts and methods.

“We had some competitors who were bartenders, and some who were baristas, and a few in between,” he says. “Whenever you get such a big mix of people, it’s interested to see how they approach things when it comes to putting their drinks together.”

He adds that the coffee culture shared across Australia and New Zealand is likely what separated he and Honoka from the crowd.

“We’ve got a very strong coffee background here, and I feel as if it came through in our presentations,” he says. “I wish I could have tried Honoka’s drink as well.”

Danny was one of the first competitors to present in the final round of the Monin Cup. While he was preparing his drink in front of the judges however, Honoka was backstage, focused on her routine and preparing her story.

Honoka will continue her own story of success when she visits a coffee farm in Indonesia during its next harvest season as part of her winning prize. She will have the opportunity to get up-close to the cherry- picking process for the first time in her life, and continue her passion for story-telling.

“I’m really excited for this trip because I’ve never visited a coffee farm before, but it’s always been something I’ve wanted to do,” she says.

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This article appears in the February 2024 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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