Coffee brews controversy

15 10 2009
One of Melbourne's well-known coffee lanes, Degraves St

One of Melbourne's well-known coffee lanes, Degraves St

Some of Australia’s renowned coffee connoisseurs raise concerns over the international reputation of Melbourne’s coffee standard and culture following recent controversial claims in an article published in The Age.

John Bailey, in his article, True Brew, published on 22nd of August 2009, wrote ‘Melbourne: you don’t know coffee.’ The article, reporting on Melbourne losing out to Sydney with regards to coffee standards and culture, was brought to the attention of many like Steve Agi, the director of Melbourne Coffee Review.

He said, “Whoever who made the statement is just trying to stir the pot. A blanket statement like that is totally inappropriate as far as assessing a state’s or a city’s abilities.”

Maria Paoli, an accredited barista judge and cafe reviewer, also dismisses the claims, saying, “Melbourne is now barista training capital of Australia. Baristas come here for training because the standard is better. The coffee houses are growing. Cafes are growing. You only need to get into Brunswick, Doncaster, Westfield shopping centre to see the sort of roasting houses we have here. To make a flippant comment like that shows ignorance, shows that these people haven’t actually gone down to doing any sort of comparison. They’ve just come to that thinking to cause controversy.”

Despite the growing coffee standard and culture in Melbourne, it was reported in the article, that the general standard of coffee in Melbourne, instead of improving, has worsened over recent years.

“That’s just ridiculous. No one does it better than Melbourne. Both coffee culture and coffee standard. You don’t have these alleyways with cafes or like Degraves where you’ve got whole strips of cafes, that sort of culture in Sydney. Given that Melbourne has one of the only three Slayers in the world, a top end coffee machine, it says a lot about the standard of coffee in Melbourne and also about how seriously we take coffee here in Melbourne,” said Steve.

Many like Steve Agi, though, would like to see Australia uniting to produce better coffee quality and culture instead of states trying to outdo one another, only to hamper the learning process.

He said, “The comparison is ridiculous. Those people need to get over talking about Melbourne versus Sydney and talk about Australia’s coffee culture as a whole in general. Rather than being divisive, they should be talking about unifying the industry and stop being childish about this Melbourne, Sydney thing. Leave that to the football. We’re only hampering our own learning process.”  

Agreeing with Steve, Ross Quail, the President of AustralAsian Specialty Coffee Association(AASCA), said that judging coffee should be saved for actual competitions where there are clearly defined parameters.

He said, “As a president of a national association, what I would like to see is that Australia has a unified presence in the coffee community. I think what we have to do is to recognise the good in all of our areas and avoid this Australian trend of knocking one place over another. I would say, on a personal level, yes, I would like to see a Victorian win a national barista championship but none of us could do this journey on our own. We need all the help of everybody involved. Then, it’ll be truly national. We’ll then be able to say Australia is a powerhouse on the world stage for coffee knowledge and specialty coffee production and roasting.”

Here are some of Melbourne’s prominent hot spots which will brew your senses with their aromatic coffee and funky culture:

To watch the upcoming national barista championship live on January 29th, 30th and 31st 2010, click on the following link: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/gun-barista-challenge

Details of intra-state barista championships are as follows:
New South Wales: 24th October 2009
Western Australia: 7th November 2009
Queensland: 12th December 2009

Watch St Ali , a prominent cafe in Melbourne’s coffee scene, welcoming the arrival of one of the only three Slayers in the world here:

Devi Rajaram

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