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A clash of local and international coffee culture: MICE 2024


A barista serving coffee. Photo: Patrick Lyne.

The Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC) was a flurry of hands as the Melbourne International Coffee Expo (MICE) kicked off this May, marking the southern hemisphere’s biggest–and Australia’s only–gathering of coffee experts.


“MICE was created in 2012 as a place for the coffee industry to come together,” Show Director Lauren Chartres tells the Swanston Gazette.


“As the only dedicated coffee trade show in Australia, it’s the industry's one chance each year to gather in one place.”


Melbourne, often called a hub for coffee enthusiasts, is the current world leader in coffee technology and innovation.


The line-up includes panels from café owners, exhibitors displaying innovative technologies, and free coffee tasting.


“I’m always excited to see companies that are taking a risk and trying something new,” says Lauren Chartres.


One of the new technologies on display was a coffee bag with a vent, which helps control the degassing of the coffee, brings out the flavour, and gives the coffee less of a bitter taste.


Another innovation was a scent spray that alters the smell of coffee, which was produced by Barista Supplies and won the MICE Product Innovation Award.


Aside from the stallholders, the centrepiece of the exhibition was reserved for the barista championships, where competitors from around the world are judged on the quality of their coffee.


Dao Pirada Tungbenjaphol competing in Australia’s Richest Barista. Photo: Patrick Lyne

But the real stage is given to the international exhibitors, who brought coffee from their home countries for Melbourne to enjoy.


“Australia is the most developed, advanced, and knowledgeable customer base,” said Finca Dulcikafé representative Manuel Ramos, whose coffee from the Dominican Republic is little-known in the international market.


“In 2018 when I started, nobody knew what specialty coffee was, and you guys are at least 20 years ahead of us.”


This sentiment is held by many international figures in the industry, and MICE  has further cemented Melbourne’s spot as the coffee capital of the world.


Being a multicultural country has its advantages, and a lot of Australia’s culture stems from its interaction with other countries and the incorporation of customs and industries.


“Melbourne has a unique coffee culture that stems back to the 1950s when a wave of immigration from Italy brought quality espresso to our shores,” says Lauren Chartres.


“When those first coffee pioneers began their businesses decades ago, they quickly discovered the availability and quality of Australia’s fresh dairy milk and thus, the flat white was born.”


In parts of the world, such as Indonesia, putting milk in coffee is still not a norm.


“Australian coffee, which is South American and South African-dominated, has a chocolatey, caramel flavour” says David Liem, who is attending MICE to promote Indonesian coffee.


“Our coffee is more floral and fruity, which comes from the surroundings of the estate–for example, if they have pineapples near the coffee farm… or if they have cannabis plants.”


The area in which coffee is grown greatly affects the flavour profile, and coffee grown in the subtropical Polo region in the Dominican Republic has a rounded flavour distinct from typical coffee found in Melbourne cafés that source nationally or from South America.


“[Australia] has invested a lot in the roasting and brewing processes”, says Manuel Ramos.


Processing and growing methods can be manipulated to affect the profile, but  It’s not just the flavour and profile preferences that differ from country to country, as the attitude and the way people approach coffee also differs


“People aren’t used to going out to coffee shops”, says Manuel Ramos. 


“They consume a lot of coffee at home or in the office, and it’s a challenge for new specialty coffee businesses in the Dominican Republic because you have to educate the customer.”


Cafés started as café bars, similar to establishments where alcohol is served and examples of this can be seen in Japan in the form of kissaten (meaning ‘tea-drinking shop’), and Melbourne’s most well-known café, Pellegrini.


While Australian café’s use espresso machines, other cultures such as Japan and Indonesia prefer filter and syphon extraction methods.


Displays of new technologies, such as espresso chilling balls. Photo: Patrick Lyne.

“Part of Australia’s maturity as a market can be seen when you go to a regular specialty coffee shop,” says Manuel Ramos.


“You can see the quality of coffee being served is world-class, and you don’t see that in the US or in European countries.”


MICE 2025 will take place March 20-22 at the MCEC.

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