World's best baristas rate Melbourne's coffee

Judge Petra Vesela samples coffee from Australian champion Matt Perger at the World Barista Championships.
Judge Petra Vesela samples coffee from Australian champion Matt Perger at the World Barista Championships. Photo: Simon Schluter

''When you talk about cities for drinking coffee,'' says Stephen Leighton of Has Bean coffee in Stafford, England, ''people talk about Portland, people talk about London, people talk about Melbourne. They're the three places that get mentioned regularly as great coffee cities.''

Leighton is in Australia as MC of the 2013 World Barista Championships, held at the weekend. The flamboyant Englishman turned up at the final in a bright red suit and bowler hat, and kept the crowd entertained with an announcing style like a Spanish football commentator: ''Maaaaatt Perrrrrrrrgerrrrrrrrrrr ...''

Does he think Melbourne had a head start in coffee with the influx of Italians in the 1950s?

''Some would say not a head start,'' says Leighton. ''What I think you've done is adapted that and changed it into something that's not Italian, it's very, very Melbourne.''

Irish barista champion Colin Harmon says: “I had huge expectations coming here. There have been WBCs [World Barista Championships] held in countries where the coffee isn't necessarily very good, which seems like a strange contrast, but coming to Melbourne, it's hard to find bad coffee, it's hard to find bad service. I was very impressed with Market Lane; St Ali South was excellent; there's League of Honest Coffee.''

The youngest barista to make the final six, William Hernandez from El Salvador, who finished third, didn't have much time to get out and sample Melbourne coffee, but he loved Axil Coffee Roasters in Hawthorn, where he was based for training.

''First of all because they roast El Salvador coffees, and second because they roast their coffee right there in the shop, which is really cool to watch,'' he says.

Roasting rules

The in-house roasting is one of the things that makes Melbourne special, but it is also the variety of roasting going on.

New Zealand's Nick Clark says: ''Coffee-wise I'd probably say Patricia's. Amazing service, really good people, and they mix their coffees up from different roasteries as well.''


Clark hails from Wellington, home to Coffee Supreme, which set up in Melbourne in 2002 and helped spark the specialty coffee surge here. ''You're taking all our people, mate,'' Clark says.

He says Proud Mary is ''probably the best cafe experience I've ever had. As someone who has built and run cafes, they're hard to pull off, and those guys just kill it. And I was really impressed by League of Honest Coffee - really cool set-up and amazing coffee.''

Pete Licata, the bald and bearded US barista who won this year's championship, and who looks like a Bushwick extra from Girls (but who hails from the far more prosaic Kansas City), was on his first trip to Melbourne.

''I only got into a couple of cafes,'' he says. ''Proud Mary, Veneziano. A couple that I was walking down the street and saw.

"The coffee is always very good. It's been very impressive to see that you can go into any place and get a really nice coffee.''

Candice Madison from London, one of the judges in town for the barista comp, named Proud Mary, St Ali and Brother Baba Budan.

From Melbourne to Dublin

Carl Sara, the New Zealander who is chair of the barista competition's advisory board and a former competitor, says he was really enthusiastic about bringing the competition to Melbourne.

''Melbourne has this really unique culture that's a combination of different cultures. Melburnians travel, and they see what's happening around the world, and bring it back. And what they bring back is their interpretation of what's happening. You have the interpretation of flavours for the Australian palate.''

Harmon says there has been a ''ripple effect from Melbourne in Dublin''.

''We supply coffee shops run by people who used to live in Melbourne and were inspired by what they saw here. Melbourne is definitely setting a mark for other cities to follow,'' he says.

''You're proud of what you do in your own country, you're proud of the standard, but everybody says, 'Yeah, but you should get to Melbourne.'

A little part of you wants to get out and taste it and go, 'That's not that good', but you get there and you go, 'You know what, it is, it's really excellent.'''