Gold medals in the coffee competition at the Sydney Royal Fine Food Show are pretty rare – so rare, says the competition's chief judge, Paul Mannassis, that some years he and his fellow judges don't hand out any at all.
In this year's competition, judged in February, just three gold medals were awarded, including one to an Australian-grown coffee – rather unusual, given the small amount of coffee grown in this country.
To win gold, a coffee needs to score above 90 out of 100. Mannassis says that means a coffee that is rounded, with good depth of flavour in the middle palate and a long finish. "It also needs 'wow' factor."
Sydney Royal Fine Food and Melbourne's RASV coffee awards (which will be judged in March), are about retail coffee. This isn't the bleeding edge of specialty; the coffees are judged by industry people in blind tastings of espresso and plunger brews, with and without milk. So the winners are usually close to what an ordinary coffee drinker would think of as a great cup of joe.
The gold-medal Australian coffee was grown at Skybury Estate in the Atherton Tablelands, and roasted not in Marrickville or Carlton, but in the New South Wales town of Young.
Sydney-born Adrian Capra has been roasting at his Art of Espresso Coffee Company in the state's west for more than 20 years: "I married a Young girl and moved out here," the 48-year-old says.
Like many roasters now, Capra's business is based on direct trade and building relationships with farmers in exotic locations including India, Vanuatu, Ethiopia – and Queensland.
"I like to work with farms that are sustainable and have good employment practices," Capra says. "I made the trek to Skybury last year. They showed me around the farm, showed me the processing. These guys are the real deal."
Capra focuses on specialty-grade coffee. "I only deal with the top 5 per cent of Arabica," he says. "And I see Skybury as a specialty coffee."
There isn't heaps of it: "It's a limited release for us," says Capra. "The crop comes twice a year. I only roast between 20 and 40 kilos. I want to maintain the sense of intrigue around this coffee."
If you find yourself in Young, Capra has an espresso bar at the roastery, with a bunch of Mazzer grinders and a three-group Mirage Triplette. "I think of it as my cellar door," he says. Otherwise, try the online shop at artofespresso.com.au.