Straight from a trip to coffee farms in Panama to a public presentation in his hometown of Adelaide, it has been non-stop for Heath Dalziel since winning the 2018 Australian Brewers Cup Championship. We sat down with Heath to catch up and ask a few questions about brewing, origin trips and his start in specialty coffee.
What drew you to working in specialty coffee?
I studied briefly after high school but ended up dropping out – I continued working in pubs before moving into the restaurant side of hospitality for a while. I always liked coffee, even though I had very little idea of how to make it well. I guess it has been a gradual journey, but I’m grateful for all the experiences I have had in different areas before arriving to where I am now.
Have you had any major influences/inspirations during your career in specialty coffee?
I have always appreciated interesting flavours, having worked with nice food and wine in various hospitality positions. So, when I tried an espresso from Sidamo, Ethiopia for the first time, I was blown away. My memory is pretty shot, but I remember it having this “Wow!” moment sometime ago in one of my favourite cafes in Adelaide.
The Western Region Coffee Championships was your first coffee competition ever. What was it like to compete, and why did you?
For the most part, it was pretty easy as I had amazing support from friends and the ONA [Coffee] team. I just worked as hard and as diligently as I could, always keeping in touch with the team to discuss techniques and approaches. The competing side of things was a little nerve racking, but really I knew that I was only nervous because of the idea of competition itself, not because I was under prepared. That was a huge thing for feeling comfortable and confident on the day.
Sasa [Sestic] also gave me a solid nudge at giving competing a go. He gave me the motivation I needed to challenge myself. I like challenges but I hadn’t taken one on in competitive context for a long time – Year 9 squash was probably my last foot in a competitive arena!
What coffee did you use in the championships? Why did you select it?
The coffee I used was an Ethiopian Natural Peaberry. Yanina from Project Origin laid this coffee down for me on a cupping table and it was a such complete experience, with big fruits, super high quality acidity, juicy body and laser clean. When it came time for the competition, it was an obvious choice.
Have you found that your perception of coffee has changed in the past 9 months/since winning the regional championships?
For sure! It has really reignited my passion for specialty coffee and understanding the complexities of filter brewing. It has made me push to learn so much more and in an accelerated way. Most of all, it’s put me in a pursuit of flavour in away that I haven’t for a while. It’s great.
When it came to choosing a coffee for the Australian Brewers Cup competition, what were you looking for?
Well, as a matter of fact I changed the coffee I was using the night before competition! At the end of the day, I just like a unique experience. The coffee I ended up choosing, you couldn’t argue with, it was undeniably what it was… Bananas (both figuratively and literally) and that’s an experience that I would think is hard to forget. And above all it was delicious!
You were recently in Panama visiting coffee farms and meeting producers, including Jamison Savage, the producer of your nationals-winning coffee. How did you find travelling to origin for the first tome?
It was really amazing to be in Panama, seeing the origin of so many wonderful coffees and to be at the farm with Jamison, asking him questions about farming and processing. To see and touch the trees and cherries and to smell the flowers was just unbelievable. It really is such a beautiful place.
My favourite part of the whole trip was probably the smell of the geishas in bloom. The aroma that comes from those flowers is such incredible, something I will never forget.
How has working with experimental coffee helped you develop your skills as a brewer?
To get the best out of a unique coffee you need a good understanding and to pay attention closely to details. Paying far more attention to different variables and techniques has really helped me begin to develop more finesse in my palette and technique. Working with unique and experimental coffees is great, because you can really refine certain flavours and elements of an experience you’re looking to bring out of those coffees.
To those looking to compete in the future (and other first timers), what would be your advise?
Have a crack, work hard and worst case scenario, you come away with the experience of learning more about brewing. Who knows, you might just win!
Heath will be representing Australia at the World Brewers Cup 2018 in Dubai, UAE in September.