Choosing competition coffee, with Matthew Lewin

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With applications for the 2019 ‘Best of Honduras: Late Harvest’ auction now open, we spoke to Australian Barista Champion Matthew Lewin about coffee, competitions and why he chose to use coffee from Honduras on the world’s biggest coffee stage.

  

PO: Choosing coffee for barista competitions is often tricky. What kind of coffees did you try and what made you decide on Honduran coffee for your nationals campaign?

Matt: Nowadays there are so many coffees to choose for competition and as such there’s so many reasons to choose, or not to choose a particular coffee. My choice was all about ‘why’?

During last year I realised more than ever that cups of super premium, specialty coffees in good cafes have become noticeably more expensive (due to many factors – mainly quality increasing).

I believed that specialty needs to consider bridging the gap between the everyday customer’s expectations of what a cup of coffee costs and the reality that top tier coffees annually will continue to become perceivably unattainable and even more elitist to the average consumer. This will create even greater disparity between ‘everyday’ and ‘top end’ coffees.

I want us all to see coffee the same way together. That doesn’t infer we should all drink the same thing, but rather it would be nice to have a greater appreciation for all coffees by all consumers. Even if a consumer will never buy a $20 cup of coffee, wouldn’t it be nice if they could acknowledge that it can exist! There’s potential for excellence is everything; it’s all about that perception within our coffee market.

 

PO: What was the response like from the judges after your win at the 2019 Australian Barista Championship? What was the feedback/did it motivate you to take it to the WBC?

Matt: It was a mixture of genuine happiness for me and the long journey I’d taken, with excitement and an overall sense they were really proud of me. My journey was unique, by the fact since 2014 every year I’d placed in the finals and I’d achieved every position aside from first, going from 6th to 5th, to 3rd, to 2nd, back to 4th (tough year) and then finally picking myself back to finally win.

The judges, many of whom had judged me over the last six years, have watched me grow from day one. We’ve shared that evolution together and that’s pretty special. So naturall,y this motivated me more than anything else – I wanted to do them and all of the Australian coffee community proud at the World Championships.

 

PO: Many competitors use ‘high-end’ coffees such as geishas and rare varietals. Why did you use late harvest coffees from Honduras?

Matt: It’s very typical in competition to see these expensive, ultra high-end coffee’s that are purpose built for competitions (I’ve used them on occasion). Again, ‘why’ you’ve chosen a coffee is more important than what you’ve chosen. If it was all about the best, highest scoring coffee for competition, then we’d all be using geisha or alike – but how does that choice improve all of our industry? How does that represent all of our industry? Or diversity of the barista or our greater coffee community? These are the questions I ask myself.

There’s a world full of incredible, undervalued and under-appreciated coffee – so let’s celebrate all of them. I think this sounds like an even more interesting, diverse coffee world where we can all learn so much more by celebrating all coffees.

 

PO: Can you describe your favourite aspects/characteristics of the coffees you used on stage?

Matt: My milk based coffee this year was special for a variety of reasons. It was grown on Finca Beti in Santa Barbara, which is owned by Sasa Sestic and named after his wife. We chose this coffee in order to celebrate traditional, familiar chocolate flavours but expressed at the finest quality of what that can be. This coffee went completely against the trend of competition milk based coffees and that was important, because it was all about celebrating what we sell every day all around the world, and familiar flavours. I was extremely proud of this coffee and the reasons why the team and I chose it.

The coffee I chose from my espresso course was again from Honduras, a delicious pacas variety that was semi washed. This coffee was first seen by Project Origin at the ‘Best of Honduras: Late Harvest’ auction in 2018 and as soon as I tried it, I knew that I wanted to share it. No crazy varietals or process, I just wanted its story and flavour experience to again be familiar and easy to connect with. It had notes of citrus, stone fruit qualities and was really sweet and round – perfect for the everyday coffee drinker. I was so proud to be on stage to celebrate these type of coffees.

 

PO: Why are events like the Best of Honduras auction important?

Matt: Firstly, this initiative by Sasa and the Project Origin team says so much about how much they love coffee and truly want to give back to the industry that has given them so much. These events have helped producers in countries to connect to a community, engaging and allowing them to have the opportunity to enter coffees into auctions for feedback on quality. They can then use that feedback loop to elevate quality, sell their coffee for higher premiums and in turn improve their quality of life for their families, workers and coffee sector of that country.

This auction program brings attention and reason to what they’re doing and allows us all to celebrate a country’s efforts even more to produce better coffee. We need to make producers and their work more [sic] well known, so that we can continue to improve quality and encourage a new generation to want to farm in the future.

 

PO: What would you say to anyone who is apprehensive about using Honduran coffees in coffee competitions?

Matt: I firmly believe you’ll see more and more countries that maybe don’t currently frequent the competition stage appear up there. Honduran coffees offer wide a variety of excellent qualities to explore for competition; that’s the great part about them, they can taste like blackurrant, to lychee, floral and everything in between. They’re seriously good and with support from programs like the Best of Honduras auction, they’re only going to get better. I’m more excited than ever to keep working with coffees, unlocking their potential and celebrating diamonds in the rough.

 

Applications for the 2019 Best of Honduras: Late Harvest auction can be found here

For more information on the ‘Best of’ Auctions, visit the Auctions page.

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