Drowning, not waving.

I’ve recently read 2 pieces that, to me, were unintentionally related.

James Hoffman’s Hipsters, Coffee And Authenticity”, questions the perceived aloof Baristas & customers associated with a “Modern” coffee culture, whilst Alan Frew’s April 2014 newsletter questions “Solutions in search of problems”.

Like others in the coffee industry, I’ve also been well and truly guilty of focusing on detail, trying to control process to the ‘enth degree, and looking for complexity in everything.

Although I’m a firm believer in having a comprehensive understanding of the brewing process, and how to affect the results, I don’t think it really needs to be over complicated in application during service. Certainly not when it comes to efficiently serving consistent quality.

If you assume that the Barista is using quality coffee, and it’s roasted (and perhaps blended) to suit the application (espresso, espresso in milk, filter etc.), then there’s a simple process to follow.

  • Appropriate Dose + appropriate water volume @ appropriate temperature + appropriate brew time + appropriate extracted volume = tasty coffee

There are a bunch of established standards for preparing coffee, and when I follow the standards, I’ve found that the cup is tasty. These “Standards” have been around for decades, and they’re “Standards” because they work. If some aren’t reinventing the wheel, they’re certainly reinventing ways of describing a wheel turning. Whenever I’ve used a refractometer to diagnose my brewing, it just confirms that I got it right (and so did the Roaster).

I also find it amusing that when Baristas are preparing “Brewed” coffee, they are fastidious with dosing and following brew recipes to achieve designated brew formulas and extraction yields. Digital scales are the norm (and refractometers are desirable kit). However, why is it that when it comes to espresso, those same Baristas want to dose by sight, or rely on timed grinders? Some even refuse to use volumetrics, arguing they’re able to produce more correct and more consistent extractions visually (you’ve got to be kidding???). A traditional dosing chamber is far more efficient AND more consistent. Use of digital scales for espresso in a busy bar is too slow, as is pre weighing for the now popular EK43, and if you’re using a blend, grind on demand is more likely to produce inconsistent dosing of that blend and its required balance of components.

Unfortunately, this attitude of grind on demand at all costs has pervaded customers’ perceptions. Some in our industry tell consumers to avoid cafes who don’t grind on demand for every cup. Surely it’s more important to focus on correct dose, extraction volume and extraction time than coffee that was ground 5 or 10 minutes ago.

It really does seem to be more about the theatre, and the perception of quality, rather than the substance.

Moving along

In August 2012 I moved on from Retail Food Group as their Senior Barista Trainer to join the Melbourne institution that is Genovese Coffee.
It’s a pleasure working with a passionate, 3rd generation, genuine espresso focused family, and it’s brought me back to the basics of good espresso as well as the fundamentals of consistent, practical coffee preparation.

1 Week to go.

Scottie Callaghan has completed his preparation, is packing his gear, and flies to London tomorrow. Next Wednesday at 3:52pm (GMT), Scottie will be representing Australia in the 2010 World Barista Championships at the Olympia Exhibition Centre, Earls Court, London.

I’ve been fortunate to be one of the many people who have helped Scottie refine his presentation.  It’s been a privilege watching Scottie rehearse, and I’ve enjoyed tasting the mighty fine coffee he’s using for competition.

He’s had some great support from the likes of Emily Oak, Saxon Wright, David Makin, and Paul Bassett to name a few.

Paul Geshos (Mecca Coffee) is roasting his competition coffee and, along with everyone else, is determined to have Scottie serve up the tastiest coffees and be the outstanding Ambassador for Specialty Coffee that he is.

It’s also been great getting to know Scottie.

Like so many people in the Australian coffee industry, he’s very generous of himself and his time.  He’s incredibly humble, so I’ll spare all of the conversations we’ve had, but I’ve picked up some great tips for Barista Competition along the way.

I’m leaving for London this weekend, and I can’t wait to be at the extraordinary event that the WBC is.  It’s going to be great catching up with the people I’ve met at the WBCs in Tokyo & Copenhagen, and supporting the other Australians competing in the other Specialty Coffee competitions being held alongside the World Barista Championship.

My colleague, Mitch Faulkiner is competing in the World Coffee In Good Spirits Championship, Will Priestly is competing in the World Latte Art Championship, Jonny Pisanelli is competing in the World Cup Tasting Championship, and Rob Forsyth is competing in the World Ibrik Championship.

You’ll be able to follow the action live, so check the WBC web site for video streaming details.

I’ll be updating my Flikr stream with photos of Scottie’s preparation, and action from London when I can, so stay tuned.

London – Here we come!

Ok, so I’m a slack-ass for not posting for nearly a year, and the reason I’m posting is Scottie Callaghan has linked this blog from his blog (so there may as well be something relevant to read). And it’s not like I haven’t been up to anything. Last year, there was the Coffee Chain Challenge, Danes and the Victorian Barista Championships. This year, it’s been the Australian Barista Championships, and now planning for the WBC in London (June), and possibly a trip to Sumatra in April.

In brief……..

Michel’s entered a team (Mitch Faulkiner, Rachael Cartwright and me) and we came 2nd to the awesome team from Cafenatics. Our focus was on team work and speed, and we managed to whip everyone on time, but the Cafenatics cup quality and art gave them the title. Michel’s will be back this year, and we’ll give it a red hot go.

I competed in Danes for the 1st time in 2009. I was looking forward to competing with the different format from WBC, but had to swap my coffee at the last minute. I let the breakdown get to me and I didn’t make the final. (I learnt a valuable lesson about contingencies, and dealing with breakdowns.)
Jesse Hyde (from Dancing Goat cafe in Lt Lonsdale St Melbourne) took the title, and scored an impressive Orchestrale espresso machine and a trip to Italy. Jesse and I roomed in Sydney, and it was great to see him win a title and get such an awesome prize. He’s such a great competitor and great bloke, and Karma rewarded him after his brother accidentally threw away some very hard earned cash that had been set aside for a trip to Italy.

No, I didn’t compete.
I didn’t get my act together in time. I was still trying to perfect my Signature Drink at 11:30pm on the night before the Championship, so I decided it was better to withdraw than present a poor routine.
Caleb’s (5 Senses Coffee) winning performance was impressive, Kris (St Ali & Sensory Lab) scored 2nd with an interesting corn mash Sig Drink, and Talor (Brother Baba Budan & 7 Seeds) scored 3rd with her vintage “Airline” theme and sugar cup & meringue Sig Drink.

This time I was prepared.
Genovese Coffee are roasting my competition coffee, and we went with a simple blend – 60% Kenyan “Gethumbwini” + 40% El Salvador “El Retiro”. Espresso was yellow fruit and dark chocolate with juicy grapefruit acidity (the black currant didn’t come through).
Cappuccino was malted banana and milk chocolate.
My Signature Drink was a banana custard layered under espresso. I love working with texture in my Sig Drinks, and this one has it in spades.
Although we didn’t quite nail the aging, the coffee came on by the Final on Sunday. (Not bad for roasting on a 1kg electric roaster – thanks Adam Genovese & Ben Toovey.)
Competing 3 days in a row is exhausting, and although my goal was to make it through to the Final on Sunday, I was surprised to make it after going 10 seconds over time in the Semi-Final on Saturday. I tweeked my routine and, despite having to redo my 1st Cappuccino handle, I finished in 14:59 in the Final.
I watched my colleague Mitch Faulkiner win the Coffee In Good Spirits Championship, Will Priestly (Cafenatics) win the Latte Art Championship (with Kirby Berlin from the Maling Room hot on his heels in 2nd – next year Kirby, next year), Jonny Pisanelli win the Cup Tasting Championship, and Remedy Coffee win the Roasting Championship.
The top 3 in the Australian Barista Championship were announced, with John-Paul Sutton scoring 3rd. Before they announced the top 2, Ross Quail (AASCA President) announced that for the 1st time the top 2 would be going to the WBC. Scottie Callaghan was called up and then I heard my name…….
Scottie & I waited for the final announcement and the winner was…… SCOTTIE CALLAGHAN!!!!! Scottie was the Australian Barista Champion in 2007, and the World Latte Art Champion in 2006, so he’s got the experience to give the WBC a red hot go.
I’m thrilled at placing 2nd and to be going to London as part of Scottie’s support.  I know I’ll benefit from seeing the very best Baristas in the world competing close-up. (London just happens to be one of my favourite cities too – WOO HOO!)

Anyway, my flight to London is booked. I have a side trip to Lille (France), and my Slovenijan friends are coming to London too.

I got to hang out with Scottie Callaghan on his recent “Expand My Espresso Reference” trip to Melbourne. We visited Auction Rooms, 7 Seeds and Proud Mary. Tasty espressos at all (and syphon at proud Mary just for a change up). Mark Dundon and David Makin had some good tips, and will no doubt be providing advice and support in the lead up to WBC.
Scottie’s got a heavy schedule planned, leading up to the WBC. He’s competing in Singapore, and then he’s visiting Sumatra; Scaninavia; Europe and the US.

I’m possibly going to Sumatra in April as part of a tour organised by Andrew Ford, but I’m not sure if I can get away yet. I’ll keep you posted.

Did I say brief?????

That’s all for now……

Mother’s Day @ The Maling Room

Ysolde, mum & I met up with friends at The Maling Room for lunch today.  Despite the workload of Mother’s Day service, Kirby & Andreas pumped out stellar coffees all afternoon – tasty & great art!  I had dropped in on Friday morning, when Andrew quickly brewed a french press of some Aricha from Seven Seeds.  Wow!  Wild strawberry sweetness.  However, it didn’t really work as spro, but not to worry, the house blend was rocking!

They have a couple of Robur-Es on the bench (on loan) at the moment.  They usually rotate through 2 Roburs during service, because they run hot.  The Robur-E doesn’t overheat, so they only needed one.  Cool! (literally.)

For those of you who haven’t heard, Kirby won the Pura Latte Art Comp. last weekend at Cafe Biz.  Another feather in the cap of the 2009 Australian Coffee in Good Spirits Champion.

Click for pix.

Coffee Jazz

I love improvisation in music.  It’s not something that comes easily to me, and I don’t spend much time playing these days.  Improvisation is one of those things were I need to get “In the Zone”, and when I’m there it’s a magical experience.  But it’s a case of making time to play, and coffee has been all consuming for some time now.  Not that being consumed by coffee is a bad thing – far from it!  I’ve just been feeling the urge to crank up the bass again, and instead of drooling over a Robur-E, my ears yearn for a Hartke VX410.  But that’s another story.  Back to I recently saw some great coffee improvisation at Celebrate The Bean.  At the Coffee Snobs tent, someone was roasting coffee using a heat gun mounted over a bread maker (purchased from an op shop).  A thermocouple was mounted through a hole in the plastic casing of the bread maker, and hooked up to a lap top running some temperature logging freeware (from Coffee Snobs I think).  Brilliant improvisation!

Transmission Restored

If you’re reading this, thank you for popping by again, after all this time.

Much has happened in the world of coffee since my last post – The Australian Barista Championships, The Michel’s National Barista Competition Final, and of course the World Barista Championship in Atlanta.  Outside of coffee, my iBook has finally been replaced by a MacBook, my niece-in-law gave birth to her 2nd son, and Ysolde celebrated her Aunt’s 90th birthday in the Bay Of Islands – New Zealand (and got to meet her Aunt’s 45 year old lover – a married Catholic man!).

Australian Barista Championships

I packed up the Thermomix (and the rest of my kit) and headed to the Gold Coast.  Donny at Veneziano had roasted up a blend of Kenyan “Kichwa Tembo” and a pulped natural bourbon from Serra Negra, Brazil.  I got my hands on it 2 days before comp, and it was exquisite!  It was like drinking a cherry liqueur chocolate.  In milk it became more of a hazelnut milk chocolate.  My signature drink was a bit of a piss take – given the ribbing I get from some quarters because I work for a chain of patisseries, I created a liquid strawberry mocha short cake.

The upside down, strawberry mocha liquid shortcake – more than a mouth full!

I reduced fresh strawberries with some dark brown sugar using the Thermomix (yes, Sammy Piccolo used one at the WBC in Atlanta.  I think I’ll post about the Thermomix next).  After 8 minutes, it had a jam like consistency.  I strained the jam and combined the liquid with some double cream.  I then poured some of the strawberries & cream into conical sherry glasses and topped with espresso.  To create the shortcake texture, I garnished the top of the drink with highly refined roasted hazelnut meal.  With the 1st sip, the hazelnut meal and espresso combined to produce the lingering shortcake experience (the hazelnut meal was so highly refined it melted on the tongue).  With the following sips, the espresso merged with the cream & strawberries – initially enhancing the cocoa flavour in the espresso and leading to a creamy strawberry finish.

Syd Low has posted great photos of the ABC at http://syd-low.com/09aascachamp (I’m in the photos from the Friday & Saturday highlights).

If you didn’t know already, Tim Adams won the ABC, with Zoe Delaney 2nd and Con Haralambopoulos 3rd.


As I mentioned, Donny at Veneziano roasted my coffee, and I thank him and the rest of the Veneziano crew for their support.  I also have to thank Elanora Genovese from Genovese Coffee for the loan of the mighty Robur-E.

The Michel’s National Barista Competition – Final.

Michel’s ran state heats at the end of 2008, and we held the final at our National Conference in early Feb 2009.  Competitors served 2 espressos, 2 cappuccinos and 2 signature drinks in 6 minutes.  The winner was rewarded with $10,000 worth of travel!  Yes, we take coffee seriously at Michel’s.

World Barista Championship, Atlanta.

Although I enjoyed the WBCs in Tokyo and Copenhagen, the budget wouldn’t allow for the trip to Atlanta this year.  I spent much of my online time leading up to and during the WBC, following Emily Oak, Luca Costanzo and Anya Sereda (amongst many) as they blogged, logged and uploaded their way around the States.  It looked like a fantastic event, and the added attraction of SCAA, really made me green with envy!  The competition looked fantastic, with some exciting and risky performances.  They say they’ll have performances available on ustream soon, so stay tuned.  The only bummer was Carl Sara from New Zealand not making the Final.  I was soooooooo looking forward to a showdown between Carl & Sammy Piccolo of Canada.  In the end, Sammy came 2nd behind Gwilym of the U.K., with Michael Phillips of the U.S.A. in 3rd.  Tim Adams came 13th and Carl Sara made 8th.

Syphon Brewing Demo at St. Ali.

St. Ali ran a Syphon brewing Demo back in February.  They had Mieko, the 2006 Japanese Syphon Brewing Champion, demonstrate her brewing technique.  I’ve got photos on my flickr, and I may post more about what I learnt on that night.  The night reminded me why I bought a syphon brewer a year ago, so it’s had a work out since.  The stand out coffee so far has been a Kenya Kitamaiyu from Seven Seeds, with a lovely stewed apple & strawberry flavour and crisp acid.

It’s back – The Coffee Chain Challenge.

The Coffee Chain Challenge is on again as part of Cafe Biz in Sydney, on Sunday May 3rd.  Michel’s are entering a team, and we hope to win the title once again.  Cafenatics from Melbourne will be competing, as will (I’m pretty sure) my old team from Coffee HQ.  David Seng will head up a tough team from Cafenatics, and I think they’ll be the team to beat. While I’m in Sydney, I’ll take some time out to finally visit some of the cafes and roasters I’ve wanted to see for years.

More soon.

‘Tis the season.

I’ve come across a couple of “Programs’ in the last couple of weeks that are philanthropic in nature.

Give a laptop, get a laptop, change the world.

XO LaptopWhen I was in Perth recently, I met Michael of “Grendel” fame, while at Tiger Tiger with Andrew Tang from Spring café (Subiaco).  I was introduced to Michael in the middle of an informal demonstration of what seemed to be a toy laptop.  Michael had been explaining to Andrew some of the features of the laptop:  How it could be dropped from a height of 2 metres without damage; how it could be charged with a rip cord generator, solar panels or even a car battery; how the laptop is used to teach children how to learn (not just teach them “Stuff”); how the screen can be viewed in direct sunlight; how easily and cheaply the keyboard could be replaced to suit language (the next model will have a touch screen keyboard so software will determine the keyboard layout – further reducing cost).  The list of features goes on…..

If this is a toy, it’s pretty impressive!  Then he told us why the laptop existed.  It’s NOT a toy (although it can be used to play games). It’s part of the One Laptop Per Child Program.  I won’t even try to explain it in detail, but I urge you to read about it and, if you’re in a position to participate in the program, give a laptop, get a laptop and change the world.  (The short version – You buy a laptop for a child in a developing part of the world – making a difference to their community, and you get a laptop for yourself/your child.)  The  previous links I’ve included are to the Australian program, but there are programs around the world.

Sospeso – The Coffee in Suspension.

One of my neighbours is part owner of a café on Burwood Rd in Hawthorn – Sospeso (opposite Swinburne Uni).  I’ve been meaning to get to it since it opened a couple of months ago, but only got around to it last week.  I knew that they were serving Fair Trade coffee, Free Range eggs etc. with an ethical approach.  However I was unaware of the significance of the name “Sospeso”.  It comes from a tradition in Naples where customers can order a “Suspended” coffee.  As a sign of your good fortune, you can order a café “Sospeso”.  You pay for 2 coffees and receive 1.  When someone not so fortunate comes along, they can ask the Barista if there are any “Sospeso” coffees available, and they receive the “Suspended” coffee.  It’s an honour system and, when I was at Sospeso last week, they had 21 “Sospeso” coffees available.  Café Sospeso are looking at how they can distribute these coffees, as the program is in its early days and they don’t have many less fortunate people walking through their door.

I’m delighted by the existence of these 2 programs and, given we’re in the season of giving, I thought it appropriate to post about them.

Perth……. Finally!

I recently spent a week in Perth, supporting a new Michel’s store opening at Morley Galleria.  After a busy work schedule, it was nice to get some time to myself. Having heard so much about the coffee in Perth, I made the most of the 5 hours I had on my last day before my flight back to Melbourne.

Andrew Tang (Spring Café in Subiaco) gave me a hit list, some I knew and some I didn’t.  First stop was Tiger Tiger for breakfast.

Tiger TigerTiger Tiger Cafe Bar

It’s in a lane off Murray St near King St.  The eclectic décor reminds me a little of the original Black Cat Café in Brunswick St Melbourne.  The staff are very casual and friendly – no pretentions here.  I ordered the field mushrooms with Brebirousse cheese served with chiabatta. Mmmmm funky cheese – Love it!  As for the coffee, they use Fiori Coffee through a BNZ (don’t see many of these around) and a Wega. I played it safe and ordered a latte and it was pleasant enough.  As I polished off my mushrooms & cheese, some guys sat down at the communal table with me and asked about my breakfast.  They had all wanted the mushrooms, Brebirousse cheese and chiabatta, but I was lucky and got the last one. The aroma must have been a real tease.

Andrew turned up and introduced me to Michael of Grendel blog fame.  We talked coffee for awhile and then Michael told us about the Give a Laptop, Get a Laptop program – check it out.  I’ll be posting about  2 different Give One, Get One programs soon.




Andrew and the funky wallpaper at Velvet

Andrew and the funky wallpaper at Velvet

Andrew and I then went to Velvet to meet up with Ben Bicknell. If you don’t know Velvet, it’s on King St just up from St Georges Tce.  It has great décor and a justifiably large following.

We discussed Barista Competition – particularly the weighting towards sensory and what the judges are looking for with regard to flavour descriptors.  Our coffees finally arrived (W.A. stands for Wait Awhile as well as Western Australia ;-)),  but to be fair,  they were busy, and I’d much rather receive a great coffee than a poor one.  Besides, after Copenhagen, everything seems speedy.  The espresso was great – a syrupy savoury offering courtesy of Five Senses and the obligatory Robur and Synesso combo, with the “Get out of jail free” Swift (as Andrew Tang put it) for when it gets really busy and hot for the Roburs.

Emanuele at Ristretto

Emanuele at Ristretto


Jesper at Ristretto

Jesper at Ristretto




Next we hit Emanuele’s Ristretto, home of Jesper who was 2nd at the 2009 Western Australian Barista Championships.  Yet another Synesso and Robur set-up, and the digital photo frame on top of the Synesso cycled some great  coffee themed photos.  Emanuele offered us more espresso and we obliged.  More double espresso, but surprisingly the first sip lacked body.  I swirled the cup and found that all of the syrupy sweetness had sunk to the bottom.  Mmmmm – great espresso!  Emanuele offers free coffee appreciation sessions on Friday afternoons, providing great coffee education for his customers.



Ben shot off and Andrew and I headed off to Zekka.  Zekka is at the rear of a men’s fashion store on King St, and opens onto a courtyard with an impressive mural. They use Campos coffee through a Robur and Linea combo.  My latte was good, but Andrew’s espresso had done a “Circuit” before arriving at the table so it was cooler than desired.


Zekka Mural

Zekka Mural















The Bad, The Good and The "What were you thinking?" - Barristers, Cats and Superheroes at Epic.

The Bad, The Good and The “What were you thinking?” – Barristers, Cats and Superheroes at Epic.



Too many Synessos is barely enough!

Too many Synessos is barely enough!

Next was Epic.  I finally made it to Corey’s place after all these years.  I’ve known Corey through Coffeegeek forums since 2003, and although it’s been great to hear about his successes, it was much more satisfying seeing the fruits of his labour.  It was their last day before Christmas, and all of the staff were in fancy dress.  The workload was hectic, so we placed our orders and sat down to watch the show.  Both 3 Group Synessos were working overtime, but the additional 2 group wasn’t being used to relieve the take away orders.  The 3 phase Roburs are rotated every 10 minutes to keep them cool, and the piles of wasted coffee are used to fill sandbags for flooded cities (they are planning to get timed grinders soon to reduce the wastage).  I was warned that Epic serve very short double ristrettos.  Yes it was short (about 20mls), but it was certainly good.  Very fresh, syrupy and savoury (again).



Then Andrew took me to Spring.  It’s a very small café with a huge open window onto the street.  It’s the perfect place to sit on a lazy afternoon and watch the world go by.  They use 5 Senses through a Robur & Synesso combo (of course).  The latte art is outstanding, and the espresso was well made.

As with most small cafes, Spring is challenged with keeping up with demand during busy periods.  We discussed ways of maximising productivity in a tight space, something I see a lot of in my role at Michel’s.

I would have loved to have spent more time enjoying the great coffees at these cafes and had more of the food offerings.  It may not be cheap in Perth, but most of the food and coffee is great.

I was delighted by my morning tour, and I’m grateful for Andrew taking time out to show me around.

The thrill of competition & fun of a smackdown.

It was thrilling competing in the Victorian Barista Championships (held on Nov 8 & 9).  For pictorial action, you can check out Syd Low’s excellent photos of the Barista Championship and Latte Art Championship.  Jesse Hyde won the Barista Championship with a calm, consistent performance, and the standard of competition was excellent.  Erin Sampson won the Latte Art Championship with her excellent performance topped with a rosetta back to back with a tulip.

I’m now preparing for the Repechage at the Australian Barista Championships on the Gold Coast, Jan 30, 31 and Feb 1 2009.  I’ll be posting a more detailed story on my preparation for comp after the Nationals, outlining the fun, challenges and thrills of preparing and competing.  In the meantime, I have to run the Victorian leg of the Michel’s Barista competition this week, and a trip to Perth sometime in the next few weeks.  In Perth, I’m looking forward to finally checking out Epic, Velvet etc.

This weekend I was invited to Cafenatics at QV for a Latte Art Smackdown to help open Joe’s latest store.  Coffee sales were donated to Second Bite.  Joe has moved the Mistral from his Church Lane store to the new QV store, and he also has a cart with a 3 group FB80 out the front – serious firepower!  I was most amused by the vase on the table inside – the last purpose I would consider for a Robur Electronic!

Anyway, we eventually got around to a Latte Art Smackdown of sorts.  We were a bit light on for talent though – 2008 World Latte Art Champion, Con Haralambopoulos; 2008 Australian Barista Champion (and 2nd at the 2008 WBC) David Makin; and 2nd Place, 2009 Victorian Latte Art Championship, David Seng.  Anyhow, here are some photos of the action (there are more at my flickr.)