Melbournes canny king of coffee
By Leanne Tolra - The Age
Bean There - May 2, 2006
ON THE day they met, Peter Wolff doggedly sent back four cups of coffee made by aspiring barista David Makin before he was grudgingly satisfied.
The exchange saw Wolff, a master roaster at Veneziano Coffee, offer a rather annoyed Makin a job.
He saw in Makin someone who "wanted to know how to improve his skills and to better understand the alchemy of coffee, and ultimately get it right for his customers". Makin saw someone who could teach him.
Makin joined Veneziano eight years ago, and Wolff says they began building the basics and reconditioning the young baristas techniques, before Makin was ready to enter Victorias first barista competition in 2003.
So when Makin took out the Australian Barista Championship in Sydney two weeks ago, following three years in a row as the Victorian champion, he was quick to credit his boss with his success.
The competition in Sydney was tight. Makin defeated NSW champion Scott Callaghan by five points out of a possible 300, and former Australian champion Hazel de los Reyes came third by just half a point.
Last month, at the Victorian Barista Championships in Melbourne, Makin almost saw his Victorian title slip from his grasp as he dropped and smashed two of his coffee cups just as the competition clock began to tick. But with crowd support and four technically brilliant espressos, he finished his presentation 20 seconds early and retained the title, which allowed him to compete in Sydney.
"You have nightmares about all the things that can go wrong in a competition like that, but dropping those cups was not even in my worst dream," Makin says.
During the competitions, baristas must present each of four judges with an espresso, a cappuccino and a creation of their own, known as a "signature drink", all within 15 minutes. The espresso, the base for all coffees, is where most points are scored.
The national competition, which has been running for five years, has always been won by NSW competitors, including Paul Bassett, who also became World Champion Barista in 2003.
Bassett, who watched the Victorian and national titles, says more baristas were taking the competition seriously and this showed the trades development.
"David engaged the judges and created an environment during the Sydney competition where it was his espresso bar, and his coffee proved itself as well," he says.
Bassett says that too often "coffees sensory experience is lost in the search for a coffee hit. Coffee has all the sensory attributes of wine, but a lot of people still dont understand that.
"But I do think its great to see how seriously people are starting to take good baristas."
World Barista Championship judge Justin Metcalfe, who headed the judging panel in Sydney, says Makins determination would help him rise to international status.
"More than anything else, these competitions are about the baristas and helping them improve their standards. If they take what they have learned back to their cafes and the coffee improves, we have achieved something," he says.
Wolff agrees, saying the competitions expose the role of the barista in the cafe market.
"The coffee industry has for many years done little to promote the skills of all those involved in bringing your daily cup to the table.
"The focus is changing in coffee, but slowly, and there is a core band of baristas nationally who are at the forefront of this," he says.
The organiser of the Victorian competition, Maria Paoli, says Makins attention to detail was one of the reasons for his success.
"He travelled to Sydney a few days early and adjusted his roast to work with the Sydney water, and even had a chef help with the ingredients for his signature drink," she says.
"His performance was brilliant. He will be a fantastic ambassador for Victoria at the World Barista Championships in Bern, Switzerland in May."
Makin estimates he spent about 10 hours a week for five months preparing for the competitions, honing his skills and developing his signature drink - this year a coffee anglaise that uses cream, sugar and egg yolk, flavoured with vanilla bean and topped with a toffee made from dark-brown sugar.
For Makin and Wolff, the competition titles also have a practical use. Makin works as a barista trainer, consultant and salesman for Veneziano.
"Davids confidence has grown at each event," Wolff says. "To succeed takes dedication, attention to detail, being humble and open to new ideas, and David has grown in all of these as a person.
"The skills he has gained add to his ability to sell and train our customers and their baristas."
Makin oversees 50 different cafes for the company - checking their grinders, water temperatures and steam pressure - and searching out new business.
Bean There asks if we can sneak in, watch him at work and taste the result, but Makin laughs: "You wont find me making coffee at a cafe in Melbourne."
There are three of the companys cafes where he spends much of his time training others: Cafenatics in the city, Coffee Minded at Southbank and Smoothe in South Melbourne.
Spot him if you can.