Over the weekend of February 8th/9th in Sydney, an event called Rootstock took place in the contemporary multi-art centre that is Carriageworks, located in the south-western suburb of Eveleigh. This year was the second instalment of the annual, all-encompassing, organically-focused food and drink festival, and it was bigger and better than ever.
Rootstock is a festival with many facets – a day and night public marketplace packed with stalls from Sydney's best and brightest eateries, as well as ticketed class sessions run by masters in food and drink – which brought in thousands of the city's wide-eyed and hungry food-loving public.
While the event is primarily focussed on food and wine (with lengthily-titled sessions such as “The Semantics of Australian Wine and the Rite of Communal Laughter”, or “Cooking with Australian Native Bush Foods & Celebrating Carriageworks with Kylie Kwong”), this year there were two masterclass events that gave time and and space for serious discussions about specialty coffee.
The first of the two coffee masterclasses, “The Impact of Varietal on Taste”, occurred on Saturday and was delivered by Dylan Johnson, bar manager and coffee curator at Paramount Coffee Project. Mr. Johnson outlined a path through the taxonomy of various coffee varieties and the development and function of hybrids, while highlighting their impact on flavour.
The talk culminated with Mr. Johnson walking the class through a comparative tasting of five varieties sourced from the experimental varietal garden at Hacienda El Roble in Colombia. Sydney-based boutique coffee roaster Reuben Hills had prepared samples of many different varieties, including HR61, HR62, Gesha/Wush Wush (combined green due to a shipping incident), and Mokka, which they contrasted with an heirloom Ethiopian Kochere. The tasting was a fascinating exercise, and frankly delicious, offering attendees at Rootstock a kind of field guide to the complexity, intricacy, and contrast between different coffee varieties.
On Sunday the markets were packed, and two of Sydney’s pre-eminent roaster/cafes brought their wares to the carnival. Sample Coffee had prime position amongst the bakers and sandwich wielders at the entrance, bringing their trusty old La Marzocco Linea and a full filter menu, the highlight of which was a delicious cold drip Kenya. Up the other end tucked in with the foragers and town planners, Mecca Espresso ran a La Marzocco Strada EP and served their full espresso menu, with their Ethiopia Bokaso espresso tasting especially clean, floral and sweet.
As the Sunday markets bustled along through lunch, Mecca Espresso and coffee producers Finca La Soledad held the second and final coffee masterclass of the weekend, called “All the Way from Guatemala”. The course offered a comprehensive cross-continental exploration of the steps taken from the farm all the way up to roasting, with the goal to bring ever-increasing quality to the cup.
The class began with a video call to Raul Perez, a fifth generation farmer at at Finca La Soledad in the Acatenango region of Guatemala. Raul gave an insightful and thorough look at the varied processes and steps that they take to control quality on the farm: from the the soil naturally fertilised by the active Volcan De Fuego; the 45 hectares of coffee trees, 44 hectares of rainforest and 1 hectare that encompasses their wet mill and accommodations; a variety of coffee cultivation experiments, some taking as long five years to come to fruition; and steps they take to ensure quality is preserved, such as all of their coffee being shipped in GrainPro bags.
Mark Howard, roaster and head of quality assurance at Mecca Espresso, then talked the class through the many thorough systems of checks and balances he uses day to day: moisture readings, Cropster roast-profile curves, and production cuppings to name but a few. While some of this may read as quite dry information, both Mr. Howard and Mr. Perez were engaging and insightful throughout, as they explained the management of their goals and purposeful quality focus throughout the whole process. All of these steps, of course, leading to the ultimate goal, which is consistent and delicious coffee.
Rootstock has grown tremendously in its second year, moving to a bigger venue with more vendors, masterclasses, and drinks. For the first time, coffee moved out of the marketplace and was represented with a high standard of quality in the masterclasses, which bodes well for future festivals, and for the greater Sydney coffee scene as it interacts with, and is inspired by, a very high Australian standard for food and wine.