Moustaches groomed, crowd bustling, aprons pressed…the baristas make their way into the glowing Merlo blue Torrefazione to compete head to head in the annual Barista Championship. Only one would be crowned the Merlo Coffee Barista Champion.
The first of two heats kicked off with a bang in early May at our state-of-the-art Fortitude Valley training facility. Coffees were pushed out left, right and centre. At 6pm on a Tuesday night, the aroma was filled with flavours of our Single Origin roast, the Colombian bean.
Over two heats and within a set time of 8 minutes, 28 nominated competitors were tasked to produce 2 short blacks, 2 cappuccinos, and 2 mezzos to the best of their barista ability. When time ran out, they were required to clean down the machine and their area. Our Education and Training Manager prepped our baristas with the message, “Make a plan, back yourself, and remember that you’re great at this!”
These baristas were the best of the best. Those that used their time wisely strategically thought about the order they would make their coffees. The finished products were assessed by our expert panel of coffee gurus on technique and quality. In a separate room, judging each coffee blindly sat the panel of Merlo Coffee CEO (James Wilkinson), Chief Roaster (Steve Olorenshaw), Sales Manager (Justine Rizzi), Head of Operations (Simon Brooks- Q Grader Licensed), and our Education and Training Manager (Frith La Vin Lloyd).
With sorbet and fresh bread to reset their tastebuds, our judges sipped coffee after coffee, assessing the technique and quality.
“After 89 coffees in one night – we’re not sure who had the bigger task, our judges or our baristas?”
Yet, the challenge was still much bigger than that. The grind setting of the machine was intentionally reset at the beginning of each round. Competitors had to adjust the setting to the correct grind by working their palate and reaching a decision for the perfect grind. Some may have practiced for the task prior to the night by making it too fine, then too coarse, and bringing it back in quickly.
As the last baristas standing, Nicole Paulsen, Jaegan Taylor, Jordan Smith, Stacey Warwick, Ian Huby and Harry McGovern entered the grand final in late May with the highest scores. They were challenged with producing 4 short blacks, 4 cappuccinos, and 4 mezzos within 15 minutes.
Along with the prestige of being crowned our 2017 Barista Champion, our top three baristas won some fantastic prizes to expand their coffee making skills at home. These prizes included the AeroPress kit (3rd place), the Chemex kit (2nd place), and an all expenses paid trip to Melbourne for two (1st place).
With only 10 points between them, the night of the final revealed our top three baristas as…
1st: Ian Huby (Paddington)
2nd: Stacey Warwick (Southport)
3rd: Nicole Paulsen (Fortitude Valley)
Congratulations to all our barista competitors for rising up to this incredible challenge!