Suzy McGhee of Villino Coffee in Tasmania is this year’s Australian AeroPress Champion.
“I’m very excited. I can’t actually believe it’s happened, and to do it for Australia – the coffee capital of the world – is a really big deal,” Suzy tells BeanScene.
Suzy, a senior barista, roaster, and marketing/sales employee at Villino Coffee went head-to-head again Nuno Park of Fragment Coffee in Sydney in the Final Round at Fieldwork Coffee in Abbotsford, Melbourne on 1 December.
In a fun preliminary round, Suzy also the most points in four rounds that included brewing a flow control, brewing on the new AeroPress XL, and making a shaken signature drink using Oat milk and Monin Australia products. Suzy used Monin’s Blood Orange syrup and had her drink score a maximum 10 points from judge Luca Constanzo, the 2011 Australian Cup Tasters Champion.
“I’m going to take that 10 to the grave with me,” Suzy says.
She describes the time since winning the regional competition to competing at the nationals as “an absolute world wind”.
With little time for preparation, Suzy went into the competition with a “skeleton idea” of her recipe, choosing to tweak accordingly once she had received the coffee on the day of the final.
“The coffee was a nice, clean Ethiopia. I tried my original recipe, of which I’d taken inspiration from Jibbi Little’s winning recipe last year, which I used in Tassie and liked the flavour of. I did a bit of tweaking to my own palate then tweaked it a bit more,” she says.
For the Australian AeroPress Championship, Suzy used quite a coarse grind, and the maximum volume coffee you can use in the competition, 18 grams. She used 96°C water provided from the competition, added 94 grams of water to the coffee, then stirred it 30 times. She capped with one single paper filter, expressed all the excess air out, and at 1.25 minutes, inverted the AeroPress to its upright position. She plunged at 1.45 for 15 seconds, then diluted the final brew with room temperature water.
“The judges told me my coffees changed quite a lot. For my coffee in the semi-final, I stopped myself from diluting too much. On the second round I kept tasting it and diluted it a bit more, and I’m glad I did that. It really opened up the flavour. It was a good call,” Suzy says.
Judge Anne Cooper of Equilibrium Master Roasters agreed, saying it was necessary to taste each of the competitor’s coffees at different stages of development, from hot, warm, and cold, to give the coffee a chance to change.
“At the end of the day, it was about that final finish and flavour, and the question of whether I would enjoy it at a café,” Anne says.
“The whole competition is about final flavour. Yes, there’s some interesting techniques going into the brewing, but at the end of the day if I’m feeling a bit challenged when I’m judging, the ultimate premise of the competition is, ‘could I drink this coffee in a café? And that really helped me.”
Anne says she was fascinated to see the changes from each competitor from round to round. In the Semi-Final, she thought Suzy had done a heavier brew and Nuno a lighter, cleaner brew, but then they swapped.
“In the Final, for some reason, Nuno went slightly heavier and Suzy went for a slightly cleaner, sweeter balance. I was confidence the winning cup was Nuno’s. I think everyone else thought that too. For whatever reason, I don’t know what happened with the AeroPress Gods, but something flipped, and in the end, flavour is queen,” Anne says.
Suzy hadn’t always found her calling for flavour. She first competed in an AeroPress competition in her homeland of Scotland about 10 years and it “did not do well”.
“Even when I got the coffee in advance, everything I made was bad. I knew I wasn’t going to win, and the judges were right. It was bad,” she says. “At that time, I had taken a break from coffee so wasn’t actively working in it. This time round, I’m back working in coffee again. At Villino Coffee Roasters, we do a lot of cupping at the roastery. I’m also roasting a bit more, so I understand more about coffee too. AeroPress can be about luck on the day, as taste preferences are subjective, so it’s the judges’ preference too. It really could have been anybody on the day.”
With mere hours between the national win and the World AeroPress Championship on 2 December, Suzy planned on getting much needed sleep, hydrated with coconut water, eating a big bowl of muesli for breakfast, and brewing a coffee before heading back to the competition stage.
“I’m going to use the same recipe I’ve been using but also trial something a bit cooler and hotter, just to see if it improves the outcome at all,” she says.