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10 Incredible Moments From The New Zealand Coffee ...

10 Incredible Moments From The New Zealand Coffee Symposium

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In early November 2013, Sprudge.com co-founder and editor Jordan Michelman traveled to New Zealand to take part in the 2013 New Zealand Specialty Coffee Symposium. Normally we attend these things to cover them; this time it’s a bit of both, as Mr. Michelman was both a featured speaker and documentarian at the event. Here’s his take on 10 memorable moments from the NZSCA Symposium, accompanied by gorgeous and evocative original photography by Michael CY Park

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SCAA Director of Symposium Peter Giuliano got things started, with an openly biographical talk that discussed at length his previous work in developing the sustainability and “Direct Trade” practices at Counter Culture Coffee. Mr. Giuliano is an engaging and practiced public speaker, which you’d rightly assume would be something of a given considering his current job title. But there was a pronounced TED influence at work here as well, perhaps owing to Mr. Giuliano’s many contributions to the coffee service at that event, first as a part of Coffee Common, and now with the SCAA itself. Peter takes a “less is more” approach to the way he uses slides and visuals – a key phrase here, a photo of himself in his 20s at a coffee farm there – with the overall effect being a sort of oral storytelling that fits Mr. Giuliano’s style effortlessly.

If you’d like to learn how to speak in public at events – coffee focused or otherwise – watching Peter Giuliano makes for excellent learn by example.

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My personal favorite talk at NZ Symposium came courtesy of artist Dick Frizzell. A household name in New Zealand, Frizzell is like a Kiwi hybrid of Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, but imbued with a genuine love of kiwiana and kitsch that differentiates him from many pop artists. His talk was almost like a stand-up comedy routine, just wildly brilliant, and largely what you would expect from someone I heard described as “New Zealand’s greatest living artist.” Throughout his hour on stage, the audience was rapt and laughing, as Mr. Frizzell documented his career path from advertising artist to gallery exhibitor. Truly fascinating stuff.

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The influential Auckland journalist Simon Wilson (editor of Metro Magazine) was another speaker featured in the main hall. Mr. Wilson’s magazine publishes an annual “50 Best Cafes” and “50 Best Restaurants” list, and he outlined the fascinating editorial process he and his staff use to make their selections each year. This talk was not without a bit of controversy, as Wilson pulled no punches with the crowd, telling the audience that when it comes to the 50 best cafes list, “it’s not about the coffee.” In his magazine’s opinion, the baseline for coffee service in Auckland is high enough that any cafe considered would have to be doing a reasonably good job – a fact I can’t help but agree with, as I noticed “50 Best” stickers adorning every nice cafe I visited in Auckland.

The Q&A section got a little heated, as Mr. Wilson that there was no one on his staff roster with formal coffee training or barista experience. Offers of calibration were thrown out by audience members in advance of next year’s list. For a conference that prides itself on challenging talks and promoting debate, I’d say this session was a huge success, and was certainly the most hotly discussed talk in the social hours and car rides that followed NZ Symposium.

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Another absolute highlight of the day came from Salvatore Malatesta, the Melbourne-based proprietor of St ALi Family‘s roster of specialty coffee brands. An endlessly energetic man in private conversation, Mr. Malatesta was firing on all cylinders on stage, as he talked the audience through the different identities and market placements in the Family, which includes Sensory Lab, Clement, and several more, including St. ALi itself.

A financial success in his early 20s after opening a successful chain of cafes at Melbourne University, Sal’s talk was candid about goals for the future, and the brand families that inspire him in his work, including LVMH, the international luxury group that operates Luis Vuitton, Dior, TAG Heuer, and several revered champagne and Scotch whisky brands. Equal parts intellectually dense and linguistically playful, Mr. Malatesta maligned “hipsters” while in the same breath conceding “but I employ them,” and referred to Sensory Lab co-owner and Australian Barista champion as “our Walter White.”

Should you, dear reader, ever be afforded the opportunity to hear Sal Malatesta address a room, I suggest you get there.

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Michael CY Park captured this lovely moment outside with Sal Malatesta and his daughter, Serena.

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One of the breakout session talks was hosted by Nick Clark (Flight Coffee, NZ Barista Champion) and David Burton (Jack’s Coffee). That photo you see above includes their introductory image – a silverback gorilla, meant to represent Mr. Burton, and a baby gorilla, meant to represent Mr. Clark. Their discussion centered around the idea of creating some degree of standardization amongst New Zealand shops for what customers can expect when ordering at a given cafe. Should “espresso” always mean the same thing? Does a “cappuccino” have hard and fast rules that every good shop should follow? As you’d expect, the public question and answer portion of this talk was lively.

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Excellent coffee was everywhere at New Zealand Symposium, prepared by Kim Boyd and her team from Coffee Supreme, representing a diverse group of roasters from up and down New Zealand. The first cup I enjoyed that morning still stands out, a Panama Esmeralada Geisha roasted by Nelson, NZ based roaster Emma Markland-Webster, pictured above.

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There were around eighty folks in attendance at the NZ Symposium, a pronounced intimacy that can be lost in larger format events. The NZ Specialty Coffee Association boasts some remarkable numbers: of the 200 coffee roasters in New Zealand, about half of those are members of the NZSCA. There’s a very real sense of community that exists here, beyond the natural competition that exists in any market.

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That striking fellow above is Al Keating, the Managing and Creative Director at Coffee Supreme, caught here looking in on one of the talks in the main room. Mr. Keating’s talk during the break out sessions was uniformly well-received, and I had a chance to spend a great deal of time in Coffee Supreme’s cafes in Auckland and Wellington during my trip. You’ll hear much more about Coffee Supreme in our upcoming Wellington and Auckland cafe features.

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Like Mssrs. Clark, Burton, and Keating, I was one of the small group breakout speakers at NZ Symposium. Speaking at this event was a huge honor for me, a professional highlight in my #Journalism career. The theme for all of NZ Symposium was “Walk The Talk”, and I tried to do right by that concept by doing the most radical thing I could think of: being really honest about my own successes and failures in the online writing world. My time on stage gave me a chance to champion the work of our paid team of contributors and desks at Sprudge, including Alex Bernson, Eileen P. Kenny, Ben Blake, Leif Haven, Julie Wolfson, and more.

I also kind of just got to tell “the story of Sprudge” – where the name came from, how my fellow co-founder Zachary Carlsen and I first met in eighth grade, and his own considerable resume as a specialty coffee professional. Again, having a chance to speak at the New Zealand Symposium was an honor and a privilege, and an experience I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. A huge thanks is owed to event organizers Carl Sara, Kim Boyd, Jessica Godfrey, Emma Markland-Webster, and everyone at the NZSCA, for putting on a world class event for the coffee community in their tiny, humble, and beautiful country.

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(From left) NZ Barista Guild Chair Nick Clark, SCAA Symposium Director Peter Giuliano, and Carl Sara of the NZSCA.

New Zealand cafe coverage and much more coming soon on Sprudge. Photos by Michael CY Park, courtesy of the New Zealand Specialty Coffee Association. 


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