MONIN helps expand tastebuds beyond traditional beverages

MONIN Creativity Cup

It’s time for beverage innovation to take centre stage and lead café menus into afternoon aperitivos that can help boost revenues, customers, and expand tastebuds beyond traditional coffee beverages.

When it was Danny Wilson’s turn to prepare his routine for the MONIN Creativity Cup Australian final, he went into professional mode. He methodically laid out his ingredients one by one, and positioned golden spoons next to each of the judges with individual straws. When it came time to start his five-minute presentation, the crowd was hopeful that Danny was ready, but it was he who asked the crowd if they were.

As the clock began, Danny talked about the inspiration behind his ‘Stargazer’ drink, designed to transport the drinker away from the city lights and allow nature’s symphony to take centre stage. He constructed a beverage that bordered on cocktail appearance, topped off with theatrics and a hint of speed towards the end when the clock’s ticking seconds got the better of him.

But it was enough. With the judge’s scores locked in, and a beverage that embraced espresso and MONIN’s salted caramel syrup, Danny was crowned the winner and Australia’s best hope of winning the international title in Kuala Lumper in November.

“I produced a tasty combination of flavours on the day. Everyone enjoys yummy drinks, and when you can get the balance just right and everything tastes exactly how you want it, that’s all you can ask for,” says Danny, a Head Roaster at Ona Coffee in the Australian Capital Territory.

“There was a lot going on with my flavours. There was sweetness from the MONIN salted caramel syrup, and the added botanicals, so a little cola helped to stabilise all those ingredients and add some freshness. It’s a familiar ingredient and one you associate with the city. Cola and coffee – it sounds like a weird combination, but it works really well.”

The MONIN Creativity Cup aims to find the most innovative, progressive, and creative coffee mocktail designed by industry professionals. MONIN Advocacy and Innovation Manager, John Davidson, says the competition is also designed to show people how to explore different MONIN flavours in coffee beverages in a fun and creative way.

“As always, MONIN is not asking to be named on a menu or placed on the top shelf of a bar or café. They just want to create an arsenal of flavours, aromas, and textures that people in kitchens, cafés and bars can use to create an interesting signature service,” he says.

“What we saw at the MONIN Cup Australian Final was people at that top level of creativity, using coffee as their mechanic and baseline of flavour, then adding a variety of additional notes. We had a head roaster using citrus flavouring, a bartender make a foam, and our winner using textures in a really innovative way. He was able to bridge the gap between a pretty standard pantry item – cola – and an incredible coffee using a MONIN product. What you’re left with is a signature serve that speaks to a wider palette of ideas than what we see on an everyday café menu.”

On the night, the finalists presented three very different drinks, some that divided the crowd, and the judges, but what separated each of the beverages, John adds, was Danny’s confidence and level of professionalism.

“Everyone has the capability of making a good drink but what separates good to great is the way you present yourself to the judges. Faith and trust in what you present is almost the invisible garnish on a drink. Everyone puts the same three ingredients into a daiquiri but somehow some are just better than others. I know it’s pretty lame to say the secret ingredient is love, but it is, and sometimes that secret ingredient, is confidence,” he says.

The top three MONIN Cup Australian finalists from left: Milann “Max” Murakami, Jake Mai, and Danny Wilson.

MONIN Australia will work with Danny to ensure he’s prepared for the MONIN International Final, where he will aim to impress three industry judges and a technical judge, in the hope of taking an international title, and the chance to win a trip around Asia on a coffee- inspired getaway.

John is confident in Danny’s ability, but more importantly, he is thrilled that MONIN has created another connection point within the Australian coffee scene.

“Every year, the competition will get bigger and bigger, and it will always be about creating delicious serves. Drinks don’t have to be re-engineered. There are only 12 notes playable in music but we keep coming up with new albums every year. MONIN has 170-odd flavours in its range, so I don’t see this creative industry running out of ideas,” he says.

Break the mould

While the world has always looked to Australia for coffee innovation, John says it’s time for Australia to look at the world for beverage innovations.

“From Los Angeles to Singapore, the Melbourne coffee menu consists of three types of drip or batch coffee with origin, place, process, and altitude listed, which is amazing, but there’s still a disconnect in communication as to what exactly is in a cup,” John says.

“Twenty years ago, people determined the wine they drank as black and white. Then, people started to say ‘I drink sauv blanc because it’s fruity. Then they started to say ‘I like New Zealand sauv blanc because it’s tropical, fruity, and dry. With coffee, the general consumer may drink batch coffee, and they know it’s from Ecuador, for instance, but they’re still on that journey that the wine consumer in Australia has gone on for a long time. There’s still a way to go.”

The reason being, John adds, is due to consumer interest, and a willingness to experiment. It’s about drawing a connection to land, terrain, and harvest, which is something John says Australians especially care about as a great farming nation.

“The gatekeepers of wine were originally the wealthy. As small bar licences were more readily available and smaller wine producers started to rise in Australia and New Zealand, and the rest of the new world throughout the 80s, people started to really define what they liked. At that time, espresso coffee in Norton Street in Sydney and other Italian populated areas, for example, was really bitter,” he says.

“The wine and the coffee industry have expanded at a similar rate, but wine got a bit more of a head start because we’ve been growing it in this country for more than 150 years.”

Now, as young people are more discerning about what they drink, John says the key moving forward, and at speed, will be to continue conversations in cross communities and industries, from wine and cocktail to restaurants and farming. He adds that competitions remain the best way to funnel all that knowledge into one platform.

In time, John says the most confident and educated baristas will be those that acknowledge macchiato sales are plummeting after 2pm, and are brave enough to experiment with another kind of coffee beverage, like Danny’s ‘Stargazer spritz’ with refreshing and sparkling soda and espresso.

“Baristas don’t need to dilute the story of where the coffee is coming from. They need to amplify it and MONIN is a great tool to do that,” he says. “Bring out the dried tannic, flowery tea notes of a black coffee, and infuse it with MONIN’s lavender, violent or hibiscus syrup. MONIN has quick, consistent solutions that won’t become the hero of the drink. Keep the coffee as the hero but provide the rhythm section behind the lead that is coffee.”

This idea was on full display at the MONIN Creativity Cup, and through conversations at the Melbourne International Coffee Expo. MONIN presented visitors with two black coffees, one from Brazil and one from Ecuador, with tasting notes. Guests were encouraged to understand the tasting notes, such as floral or citrus, then add a tiny dash of MONIN flavouring to complement the flavours.

“For example, if someone tasted apples in the black coffee, we encouraged them to look for more orchard fruits like pears to add to the beverage. People were shocked with these quick, simple twists on traditional black coffee,” John says.

“It’s not like we’re loading the coffees with vanilla or caramel flavourings, we’re simply injecting a few complementing drops of MONIN flavours that break up the palate a little more, such as sour notes with citrus or cherries, or tart flavours like pomegranates or hibiscus.”

In a time when the hospitality industry is hungry for innovation and ways to drive more business and revenue, John says café should consider MONIN’s affordable artillery of flavours to create serves that bring new customers into a store, and a community together to share ideas in the form of national competitions.

“This is how we’re going to move forward: together, with creativity, and community,” he says.

“And Melbourne has to keep its foot on the pedal and keep the guys in Los Angeles at bay, and the baristas in Bangkok at arm’s reach, because the coffee they’re serving is amazing. We have to keep pushing the boundaries with beverage innovation.”

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This article appears in the October 2023 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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