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Melbourne to host WBC2020

From the March 2019 issue.

Australia’s coffee capital will welcome the World Coffee Championships Down Under in 2020. GCR explores a city bursting with pride for its coffee culture and a community ready to embrace the next phase of its coffee evolution.

Australia’s coffee consumers are very connected to the coffee industry. It’s not uncommon to overhear friends making weekend plans to try a new café, a home brewer asking a barista to grind their newly purchased beans for AeroPress, or Australians complaining about how hard it is to find good coffee overseas. Not surprising then, a recent comment on the city’s train service opened another line of conversation: “Have you heard the news? Melbourne is hosting the World Barista Championship (WBC) next year.”

The message is out, the news confirmed, and the reaction is excitement from industry and die-hard coffee fans alike.

Melbourne will become the first city outside of the United States to host the 2020 World Barista and Brewers Cup Championships together for a second time. More than 85 licensed national barista champions from across the world will descend on Australia’s coffee capital when the prestigious coffee competitions take place at the Melbourne International Coffee Expo (MICE) from 4 to 7 May, 2020.

“We can’t wait to welcome the global coffee community to Melbourne,” says MICE Show Director Simon Coburn. “Australia is a renowned coffee destination, and now we’ll get to present our sophisticated coffee culture to a global audience. If Melbourne’s coffee culture wasn’t already on the world map, it will be after we host the World Coffee Championships.”

Culture evolution
Less than 100 years ago, coffee was virtually unheard of in the country. Australia was a typical British colony of tea drinkers. A small amount of coffee was grown in Australia in the early 1880s, but that died with the rising costs of labour. Although many of Australia’s neighbours grow coffee, it is fairly isolated from the esteemed farms in Latin America that are popular among the specialty coffee field.

The industry is made up of passionate individuals and companies. However, the country’s success as a popular coffee consuming nation is not about the availability of quality coffee, but the result of a series of lucky circumstances.

This includes Australia’s first green bean trader, Austrian Ernest Singer, importing quality Arabica coffee from neighbouring Papua New Guinea; the huge wave of Italian immigrants and their love for espresso in the 1950s; the third wave specialty coffee movement; and rising Australian incomes resulting in high annual growth of 2.2 per cent in the café and coffee shop market, estimated to be worth about A$9.8 billion according to a 2018 IBISWorld report.

What really sets Australia’s coffee industry apart, however, is the vast majority of independent coffee shop operators. The challenge that Starbucks had trying to set up in Australia is a good example of this. In 2008, the US coffee giant had to shut down 61 of its 85 Australian shops when its shops lost US$143 million over eight years.

By the time Starbucks entered in July 2000 with a selection of sweet drinks, the country had already established a strong network of small, independent cafés boasting espresso-based beverages.

The result of this is an incredibly competitive industry of roasters and café operators that continue to push forward and service a population of just over 24 million.

The winner from this rich Australian history of coffee is the consumer, who has access to such a broad range of quality coffee.

Today, Melbourne is a melting pot of coffee shops hidden in laneways, tiny shop fronts, and clothing stores. Its reputation as a dedicated coffee city is thanks to its educated and passionate baristas and the consistent high standards found in million-dollar establishments to a temporary caravan pop-ups. Most of all, its the discerning consumers who push businesses

to bring their best. They know the difference between good and bad coffee, and are acutely aware that coffee is a crucial part to Melbourne’s cultural identity. 

WBC returns
Every year, the seven World Coffee Championships head to different cities across the globe, going to the Specialty Coffee Expo, World of Coffee, and other trade shows. World Coffee Events (WCE), an event management organisation, selects each host city through a solicitation and vetting process designed to evaluate level of community interest, host preparation and support, and suitability under the Events Site Criteria framework.

Just like the host cities of the World Cup and the Olympics, a huge global audience of baristas and coffee professionals is expected to descend on Melbourne for the 2020 event, and to explore the city’s unique coffee culture.

“Melbourne is the epicentre of sports and cultural events. It makes complete sense to have the World Coffee Championships hosted in the city that has led, in many ways, the global coffee renaissance. What better choice to host the competitions than a city that treats its coffee as seriously as its sports?” says ST. ALi Owner Salvatore Malatesta.

Unofficially dubbed “the Coffeelympics’, the WBC is the preeminent international coffee competition. It focuses on promoting excellence in coffee, advancing the barista profession, and engaging a worldwide audience with an annual championship event that serves as the culmination of local and regional events around the globe. 

2015 World Barista Champion and Ona Coffee Founder in Canberra Sasa Sestic says the announcement of Melbourne hosting the WBC is another example of Australia’s coffee culture influencing the world coffee scene.

“The Australian specialty coffee community is among the most innovative and inspiration in the world. We are so proud and excited to once again host the WBC to share our love of specialty coffee with the world,” Sestic says.

Australia will also host the World Brewers Cup (WBrC) competition, highlighting the craft of filter coffee, manual coffee brewing, and service excellence. While milk-based coffees represent more than 90 per cent of Australia’s coffee orders (flat white, latte, cappuccino), Managing Director of Veneziano Coffee Roasters Craig Dickson says that filter coffee is gaining traction thanks to more roasters providing quality filter roasts and baristas educating consumers on this tasty alternative to dairy or plant-milk beverages.

“Australian baristas serve some of the best filter coffee on the market. Visually, there’s nothing more appealing than walking past a café with a barista pouring into a V60 or agitating a syphon. For this reason, it’s extremely exciting to have the world’s best brewers in town next May. No doubt it will build the profile for filter coffee even more,” Dickson says.

For coffee professionals globally, hosting the World Coffee Championships is a dream come true. Melbourne hosted the industry’s premier event for the first time in 2013, and Dickson says to see it return in 2020 to a city so rich in coffee culture is an honour.

“It’s the ultimate celebration of the Australian coffee industry,” he says. “Australia has a proud history of podium placings in the world coffee competitions, and 2020 proves an incredible opportunity for one lucky Australian to fly the flag for their own country on the world stage, in front of a home crowd.”

MICE2020 will take place at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre and host the WBC and WBrC over two stages. MICE has become the largest dedicated coffee show in the Southern Hemisphere. The event launched in 2012 with the purpose to connect buyers and sellers, and bring industry members together in a dedicated space.

The 2019 event, which concluded in February, saw the highest daily record attendance figures in the event’s eight-year history. Total attendance for MICE2019 across the three-day event was 11,978, an increase over the previous record year in 2018, and that number is expected to climb with the show floor already selling fast.

With an already impressive coffee culture, some may ask, ‘where to now for the Australian coffee market?’ but the answer is simple: Melbourne in 2020.

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