After spending four years perfecting his craft, Nicholas McInerney has been crowned Zarraffa’s Barista of the Year for 2016.
The Zarraffa’s Beenleigh team member beat 26 of his counterparts from stores across Queensland and Western Australia to claim the prestigious title.
Following two rounds of heats, the six best competitors met at Royal Pines Resort on the Gold Coast in October for the final challenge – a 45-minute competition in which they had to serve a latte, an espresso and a signature drink to a panel of industry judges.
Competitors were judged on flavour profile, stage performance and coffee knowledge, with a $3,000 prize on the line for first place. Brooke Dissington from Head Office and Shyarna Day from Runaway Bay came second and third respectively.
We caught up with Nicholas for a chat following his win.
Congratulations on being named Zarraffa’s Coffee Barista of the Year! What did you do to take the title?
I put in lots of hours training after store hours and was preparing for a minimum of two to three nights a week between the rounds. I got feedback from the judges after each round and experimented with things to get better. I entered the competition last year and bombed pretty hard, so I did lots of run throughs and lots of practice.
Can you tell us about your signature drink?
I really wanted to do something with chocolate and coffee that wasn’t a mocha. Basically I melted a single origin dark chocolate from Ecuador in a fondue, put a teaspoon of the melted chocolate in an espresso cup and poured Guatemalan espresso over the top of it. I garnished the crema with a few squiggles of the chocolate, so when the judges had a sip, they got a bit of chocolate as well the espresso. I then got them to stir it back and forth 10 times so they didn’t combine it too much and the coffee was still the hero. I then asked them to take two further sips after that. The reason I got them to do that is it takes it to the point just before the espresso fully ends so you don’t just get a mouthful of chocolate, you get the dominant espresso flavour, which was one of the judging criteria.
How did you get started as a barista?
I’ve been a barista for four years and have been with Zarraffa’s that whole time. My brother is an electrician and he was wiring up the Beenleigh store and saw there was a free spot so he hit up the franchisee, Nick Daswani. I got the job and realised I actually really enjoy making coffee. Zarraffa’s do training from scratch, where other companies tend to want people with experience, so I was pretty lucky.
What do you enjoy about being a barista?
Just the fact that there is so much to learn. I’ve only been in it for four years, which is not that long. I’m only an apprentice. You can make it as complicated or as simple as you want to. It’s fun making coffee for people and myself.
How much coffee do you drink a day?
I can get pretty excessive. If I’m really knackered I’ll probably have three or four, but I’m trying to cut down. Some of our customers have five, six or seven a day!
What is the trick to making the perfect coffee?
You could fill a whole page! Get a grinder, because coffee is best ground fresh. For brews you’ve got to have fresh water; try not to use tap water. If you’ve got a filter, use filtered water. Keep the beans in a good spot and don’t let them sit out in the light (if you’re lucky enough to have a wine fridge, store them in there). There are also hundreds of forums and videos online with good coffee recipes.
Can you really tell what a person is like based on their coffee order?
No! I started drinking fusions and half-litre lattes and now I drink espressos and filter coffee. Your palate develops and evolves as you get older. I can tell someone’s personality by how they talk to me at the till, but not really by their coffee.
Lastly, what do you plan to do with the $3,000 prize money?
I’m going to Japan next year on a snow trip, so it’s going to help out with that. I’m also going to look into purchasing a home coffee roaster.