The 2015 Melbourne International Coffee Expo is now done and dusted, along with all the usual barista competitions and trade show hijinks. And Let’s Talk Relationship Coffee is in the books, having brought dozens of producers to Melbourne for the first event of its kind in Australia. But this year, there was another exciting addition to the Melbourne coffee events calendar: the inaugural Platform Australia series.
Brainchild of Hannah Hofmann (Silo) and Elika Rowell (Top Paddock) with help from Heath Cater (Coffee Supreme) and Nathan Toleman (Top Paddock/The Kettle Black), this was a unique set of events encompassing a regional AeroPress competition, an elaborate dinner, cuppings, and a Q&A with some of the best and brightest in Australian coffee. Each of these events were held in the same beautiful space that is soon set to become Top Paddock’s new city location.
The Victorian AeroPress Competition was first up, with the raw, high-ceilinged venue filled to the brim with enthusiastic coffee professionals and punters alike. Twenty-seven competitors came to represent in a lively competition on a moodily lit stage, with beers by Sample and delicious burgers by the Top Paddock team. After a fierce competition—judged by Tim Williams (Workshop Coffee Co., London), April Fahey (Coffee Supreme), and Noah Namowicz (Café Imports)—Mac Dixon from Auction Rooms was proclaimed the Victorian champ.
The following evening brought the centerpiece of the program, the Platform Dinner. In less than a day, the space was magically transformed from the battle dome of the night before into a spectacular dinner setting, with long tables covered in abundant greenery and beautiful crockery.
Upon arrival, the first libations were served: a still-fermenting white wine from Mac Forbes, a natural winemaker in the Yarra Valley of Victoria, and a range of beers from Sample. The night commenced with a welcome speech by Hannah Hofmann, followed by an informative dialogue from Tim Williams, explaining why he does what he does, and why—echoing the mantra of Platform—”Quality Is Not An Accident”.
After the talks, the focus moved back to the dinner table, as conversation buzzed around the whole room, and excitement mounted for the delicious things that were headed for the tables. Mac Forbes produced all the wines for the night (curated by Lou Chalmers of the outstanding Melbourne wine bar Clever Polly’s), representing a beautiful range of delicious grapes from Victoria; first up was a 2013 Riesling, “EB07”, from the Strathbogie Ranges, alongside a 2013 Chardonnay, “Yarra Glen”, from the Yarra Valley.
These two were fascinating next to each other—the Riesling, as part of Mac Forbes’ “Experimental Batch” collection of wines, was produced using whole bunches that were placed in a sealed vat for two weeks and fermented using carbonic maceration, before being crushed by foot and the next day pressed into a barrel to finish fermentation. The Chardonnay was crushed and de-stemmed before fermentation, and subsequently aged in a mix of old and new oak. These respective processes resulted in a crystal clear Chardonnay, with quite a mineral and limey finish, while the Riesling was tannic and textural, full of ginger and orange blossom—interesting as the more frequently seen would be a crystal clear Riesling, and a darker Chardonnay with more oak character and tannins.
Wines like these remind us of the power of processing, from grapes in the Yarra to coffee cherries in Rwanda or El Salvador.
From the kitchen came two starters from Jesse McTavish and the Kettle Black kitchen crew—a seven spice squid with cucumber, coriander, Vietnamese mint and bean shoots, alongside king fish sashimi, cray butter, and freshly-churned butter—both light and fragrant, complemented perfectly by the different elements of the vastly different white wines.
For the second courses of the evening, 36-hour short ribs cooked in a sticky soy reduction, served with a raw salad came out, as well as a whole snapper served alongside raw vegetables and figs. The wines served were set to match the richness and complexity of the food, with a 2010 Pinot Noir, “Yarra Glen”, and a 2010 Syrah, “Gruyere”, both from the Yarra Valley.
By this point—I’ll be honest—I’d been enjoying the libations quite a bit and had reached a point where rather than being analytical of what was served, I was instead at a stage where everything just tasted awesome (which is never a bad thing). As a result, my impressions of the Pinot Noir and Syrah were essentially: these are delicious! The Syrah had a dark cherry vibe, while the Pinot was lighter with a strawberry element—all complimenting the food in an enjoyable way. After the mains, there was a delicious dessert of olive oil ice cream and fresh strawberries, served with a beautiful fortified wine of unknown quantities, also made by Mac Forbes.
The following day, a cupping session was held—focusing on the quality and growing potential of Honduras’ coffee growing regions—while the afternoon was host to the final event of the series, the Q&A. Moderated by Workshop’s Williams, the panel brought together Tyler Youngblood of Azahar Coffee in Colombia, as well as the Melbourne contingent of Heath Cater at Coffee Supreme, Andrew Kelly of Small Batch Coffee Roasters, and Chrissie Trabucco from Assembly. The conversation was lively and stimulating, with insights at a number of different levels coming from the panelists and audience alike.
One huge factor of the discussion was the cost of coffee across the chain, and also transparency of those costs. A big point of contention was how much people should be selling coffee for, and if it’s feasible to charge more so as to promote sustainability of the specialty coffee industry. From this came a lively debate from audience members and panelists alike, with many on the side of charging more to customers to help raise the financial tide along the chain.
Across the series of Platform events, there was one constant: community. Even going head-to-head brewing AeroPress, the feeling was still positive and lively, and especially at the dinner the mix of conversations was fascinating. For all the excellent coffee there is to enjoy in Melbourne, community events like this one are few and far between. It’s inspiring to see a corner of the coffee world full of people who believe that the quality they strive for everyday is worth celebrating, and definitely not an accident.
Eileen P. Kenny is a Sprudge.com staff writer based in Adelaide, and the publisher of Birds of Unusual Vitality, the coffee interview magazine. Read more Eileen P. Kenny on Sprudge.
Photos provided by Platform.