Judge enjoys a good pour over coffee
Olivia Carson lives and breathes coffee.
Not the sort made of granules you chuck in a cup, then pour in the milk and hot water, nor the Italian-style coffee machine produced-brew.
Hers is a world of specialty coffee, a tiny industry run by self-confessed coffee geeks.
Olivia works for the speciality coffee business Five Senses in Melbourne, but returned home to Nelson for her Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology graduation with a Bachelor of Commerce last month. She finished her degree last February, majoring in management, doing her last paper through summer school.
She will return on January 5 to Five Senses to the "fabulous" job she scored in April, just two weeks before the Melbourne International Coffee Expo, affectionately known as MICE, where she judged.
She is a world-accredited Barista Championship, Latte Art and Brewers Cup judge, and has just gained her Q (quality) graders qualification. That entailed sitting 26 exams in six days and the achievement puts her among the highest qualified coffee professionals in Australia and New Zealand.
It's a "massive deal" to the former Waimea College student who left school at 16 to work as a receptionist for Fruitfed Supplies, transferring to Auckland at 17 to be an accounts receivable clerk then working for ASB Bank before returning to Nelson.
It was when her family opened Ambrosia café in Richmond in 1998 that she got her introduction to the hospitality industry, and coffee.
She thanks many in the business community in Nelson for helping shape her future, including Nigel Price, the original owner of Pomeroy's Coffee and Tea Company, new owners Leigh Thompson and son Hayden, and "queen of coffee" Emma Markland-Webster for giving her confidence to get into judging.
When the owners of the coffee cart at Nelson's 1903 Square, Rachel and Ben Holmes decided to sell, Olivia "just could not imagine anybody else running that business but me". So she formed her company Crema Espresso while studying at NMIT, employed barista Ben Self, and went on to run two carts - the other doing the rounds of festivals and events - for five years.
Her judging experience began when Emma talked her into going to the regional barista championships in Wellington and Christchurch, and that has flowed on to this year judging the national semi and finals. Compressed into three days of competition meant a lot of coffee tasting, to the extent Olivia ended up with caffeine poisoning, not sleeping for 48 hours, feeling wired as well as groggy and suffering terrible stomach cramps. All this the day before she was to fly to Melbourne for world judging certification exams.
Assessing the quality of coffee through "cupping" involves uniform measures of coffee and water, allowing three minutes for the coffee to steep, cracking the top to release the aroma, clearing the top and after about 11 minutes start tasting.
‘'You want to taste at 70, 40 and 20 degrees because as coffee cools often the quality drops out or increases or different characteristics come through," she said.
Then the coffee is assessed for those characteristics, potential taints and aroma, the sweetness, how pleasant it tastes, the acidity, viscosity and balance.
A speciality coffee has to score over 79 points.
Olivia has a good palate. ‘'I am an acutely high medium taster bordering on super taster, but I'm not sure, I have not had it tested."
She talks about coffee parameters. ‘'It sounds pretentious but what we are looking to do is replicate goodness. If we measure qualities and parameters there is a greater likelihood of repeatability. We have started measuring, we have made things very quantitative rather than qualitative."
Her favourite coffee is a pour-over Kalita brew recipe of 15gm coffee to 250gm of 93.8 degree Celsius water. She brews 50gm for 30 seconds then does two more 100ml pours for four minutes.
Her best speciality coffee find has been a Lotus Panama Geisha, rated 90-plus, which a South Korean competitor was using at the Melbourne expo in May. She has been searching for it since and found some roasted in a coffee shop in Melbourne a week before she came to Nelson.
The speciality coffees the company she works for buys come from small harvests bought direct from the growers in countries such as Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras and Sumatra.
Olivia's qualification allows her to buy green beans from origin. The Q grade was introduced as a means to provide a common language about quality between growers and buyers. However, she doubts she will make full use of it.
"To be honest I live at the bottom of the world where there is no-one growing coffee so for me to use that qualification to full effect I would have to go to origin to buy but I am not that sure I am that ambitious."
Heading back to Melbourne, she also has judging for the World Latte Art championships to look forward to in May and is likely to go to the World Barista Championships in June in Rimini, Italy.
"It sounds glamorous but judging is volunteering. I love it. I think it's important to keep growing and progressing the knowledge because hospitality has always been an industry that has never been represented as a career option in New Zealand. I believe it's important that the expert nature of our industry is exposed so people gain awareness and appreciation of the skill level that is required.
"If there are more people who know more, people will get a better result in their cup, a delicious coffee."
- The Nelson Mail
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