Australia’s preeminent specialty-coffee event, the 2015 Melbourne International Coffee Expo (MICE) kicks off its 4th annual forum
Our Melbourne correspondent chronicles the first half of the annual Melbourne International Coffee Expo (MICE). Look for her second report on Tuesday, March 17.
BY SHANNY SENA
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE
For two years, MICE played host to a number of competitions organized by World Coffee Events (WBC): In 2013, there was the World Barista Championship, and in 2014, the World Brewers Cup,World Latte Art, and World Coffee in Good Spirits contests. Now that the carnival was over, it felt like everyone was pleased to go back to MICE business as usual ”networking and building on existing relationships.
I planned to walk about MICE quietly by myself, take a bunch of photos, and listen to what people were generally discussing. But I found that I couldn’t get from one stand to the next without bumping into someone I knew, exchanging enthusiastic hugs and the general exclamations of ‘How have you been?’ and ‘I haven’t seen you in forever!’ It took me a while to realize that all these people I knew were an accumulation of the friendships I had forged over the past few years of MICE, relationships I had built, growing stronger and more familiar with each year. Relationships were all around me.
The value of MICE isn’t in the fanfare and grandeur. It’s in the relationships that are built each year, whether between producers and roasters at the seminars, or between vendors who had decided to do joint collaborations with their stands. But most important were the ties that were being strengthened among MICE attendees themselves, relationships built over time, from year to year, not just those made over a weekend (though I did find myself playing matchmaker, introducing documentary makers to food and coffee judges, a pastry chef to a food historian, roasters to distillers and green bean suppliers, cafe owners to coffee accessories suppliers).
There were fewer roasters being represented in the stands this year. The main trend I noticed was the growth in specialty brands started by commercial roasters. This in itself created much discussion among my peers. Some were not in favour of this, as in Melbourne we love to support our small businesses and tend to see big corporations as the enemy. Others were of the view that this was awesome, as commercial roasters were finally seeing the value of specialty and relationship coffee, and wanting to get their share of the industry. Regardless of the motives behind their moves, I believe that it’s just another step towards the future growth of the industry, and introducing more consumers to quality coffee.
One company I would like to mention in particular is Grinders. They were one of the first roasters in Melbourne, setting up shop in Lygon St, Carlton. The shop is still there after all these decades, but the little roaster has not been turned on in years.
This year, the Grinders stand focused on the company’s roots. They had an enclosed laneway around the perimeter which took you on a walk through history. I think we can see interesting things from Grinders this year, as they embrace their humble beginnings and fire up that little roaster that’s been waiting to perform all these years. They’re not doing this under a different brand. By keeping their name, and reigniting their history, they’re bringing about a different kind of transparency. It’s as if they’re saying ‘we are who we are, we’re proud of ourselves, and we can do this too.’
I am looking forward to the second day of MICE. Now that we’ve all had a chance to catch up and see what exhibitors are doing, it’s time to get down to business.
Shanny Sena works in sales and training for Reverence Coffee Roasters in Melbourne, Australia. She has experience in barista competitions, has run and owned her own cafés and coffee brands, and worked for several top Australian roasters. She loves motorcycles, her two puppy dogs, and her husband, not always in that order.