Sensory Lab’s Ben Morrow wins London Coffee Masters

Sensory Lab’s Ben Morrow is the 2016 London Coffee Master’s champion.

Fresh from placing sixth in the World Latte Art Championship in Shanghai, China earlier this month, Ben competed in the London Coffee Festival’s second edition of the competition from 7 – 10 April at the Old Truman Brewery.

Ben was a finalist in the inaugural London competition in 2015, and winner of the New York Coffee Masters event in 2015, but this year he was determined to claim the London silverware.

Coffee Masters is a fast-paced, multi-disciplinary event that’s designed to test the world’s best baristas’ expertise, craftsmanship and dedication. The knockout style competition saw baristas test their skills in Cupping, Brewing, Latte Art, The Order and The Signature Drink challenges. Those who made it through to the semi-finals took on The Espresso Blend round.

The London event was tighty contested between 17 competitors from across the world. Yuko Inoue from Timberyard in Japan placed runner up, and Patrik Rolf Karlsson from Five Elephant in Sweden and Cosmin Mihailov from Bloom Specialty Coffee in Romania were semi-finalists.

In the cupping, Ben correctly guessed 3/6 coffees in the first round, and 4/6 in the second round. Competitors had to taste and memorise the order in which the coffees were placed on the table. The cups were then randomly shuffled and baristas had two minutes to taste and return the coffee bowls back to their original order.

In The Origin category each contender was presented with six coffees, and a table-top map of the world. Competitors had five minutes to taste the coffees and place them on the map in the correct geographical location from where they originate. Ben says this category was “really hard”, although he managed to guess 3/6 and 2/6 coffees correctly.

In the Brewing discipline, competitors selected one of the six coffees presented in the cupping round to brew. Ben made a Colombian Huila Cata using a V60 and AeroPress. “I really liked engaging with the judges and getting a grasp on what kind of coffee’s they like to drink, their preference of methodology and strength preferences,” he said.

In the Latte Art round, the ‘latte art cowboy’s strong wrist action was in full flight. A latte art dice was rolled to determine three different pattern both competitors had to replicate, which included variations of tulips, rosettas and swans. Ben lost just one single throwdown for the entire competition.

Ben says the Order round went “spectacularly well”. In this category baristas were challenged to deliver an order of 10 espresso-based drinks in nine minutes. Ben came in under time by a minute in both the semi and finals rounds. The drinks included classics like double espressos and lattes, and combinations such as mochaccinos and alternate milk drinks such as soy and coconut milk.

Ben’s Signature Drink got crowds talking and heads turning. In this round baristas had to replicate and present the same signature drink as per their online submission video. Ben presented the judges with his Fluidum Vitale, a dink inspired from the book Perfume:A story of a murderer.  “The idea was to try and create a drink that transports the guest to the plantation itself,” Ben said. “I was using Colombian company La Esperenza La Granja’s coffee, both the Cerro Azul and Buenos Aires, which are absolutely stunning with notes of honey, tea and peaches.”

He soaked a peach in an espresso and honey solution first, which he used as a vessel to carry notes of the espresso into the glass. He then brewed the Cerro Azul in a V60 and added it to the glasses. Ben says one of the things that makes the Cerro Azul plantation so beautiful is the late evening coastal fog that rolls in each evening, which also helps with the maturation of the coffee. To replicate this visual, Ben made his own fog out of a seaweed brew and dry ice.

“What you have in the end is this cool mist that smells like the sea, as if you were there in the evening. You blow away the mist and get an intense aroma of peach and honey,” Ben said. “In the cup it was round, sweet, peach and tea coffee.”

Rounding off the seven disciplines was the Espresso Blend where baristas had to create an espresso from the coffees used in the cupping. “I’ve competed in in this category round a few times now so I had a bit of a strategy. Last time the coffees I had chosen were way too acidic for making a blend, so this time I chose two coffees that I really liked and a coffee that would make a good buffer,” he said.

Ben went with a light, juicy Colombian, an Ethiopian, and a natural Brazilian. “I pulled shots up front of each coffee just to get an idea of what kind of flavour notes they had. Then I ground off about 150 grams of each and blended them post-grind to get the ratios absolutely perfect,” he said.

Ben says the key to taking out this year’s London Coffee Masters title was about two core elements: “being confident with my skills and having fun”.

His competition résumé has grown quite considerably in the past 12 months, which includes winning the 2016 Australian Pura Latte Art Championship. So what’s next for the latte art cowboy?

“No Idea. I think it’s time to take a little break from coffee competitions. But… if [Allegra] ever held a Coffee Masters event in Australia, I’d definitely compete for that,” he said.

Ben will now return back to Australia with a sizeable trophy to add to his growing collection, and a giant novelty check for £5000 (approximately $10,000).

“I’m planning on heading to Europe to be with my beautiful girlfriend. So that’s going to help out greatly,” he said.

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