He looks like Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver and shoots from the hip. Olden (but golden) veteran of ASCA, Bruno Maiolo was awarded honorary life membership at MICE2017 for his services to specialty coffee in Australia. We asked him to reveal a bit about what it has meant to be involved since the early days of specialty, and where we are going in the future. Are you talking to me?
Martin: Bruno, you have been involved with ASCA for a long time. What was the first job you got involved in coffee, and did you know then that it would lead to such a long career?
Bruno: I have been involved for the better part of 15 years. I served on the ASCA board in varying capacities for six straight years helping to shape ASCA, the barista competitions and specialty coffee in general.
My very first job was as a barista, strangely enough. I started in the spiritual heartland of espresso Lygon St Carlton with the Brunetti family (just a coincidence people close to me called me Brunetto). I indeed learned the barista craft in one of the two most iconic espresso houses, Brunetti’s, while having close ties with the other, Pellegrini’s. Sisto and I served the same coffee (don’t believe the rumour out there that we had our own “special blend”) Vittoria Brazil Rex – for those of you who have been around long enough you remember it.
There was no third wave back then just the Carlton crew stirring things up. I loved my “work” but it was more than that, it was about the relationships and even friendships with the customers that always kept things interesting and real. Nothing has really changed – except how light we roast and how we even put filter roast coffee in espresso machines for some strange reason and expect it, or at least try and convince / brainwash people that it tastes good. Don’t get me started on how much coffee we put in shots theses days, 20 – 24g using double ristrettos as bases? What happened to the good old 7g? Some roasters are making a lot of money. Notwithstanding all this our coffee world is still fundamentally about relationships – from seed to cup. That is probably why I am still in it and can’t see myself doing anything else, it’s all I know and I am still learning.
Martin: How did you first get involved with ASCA?
Bruno: I first got involved with ASCA in a volunteer capacity helping the Victorian chapter run competitions. I quickly wanted to get more involved so I calibrated as a judge. I saw so much potential to improve the competitions and increase the exposure to the general public that I eventually got elected onto the ASCA board and pretty much took over running competitions. I would like to think that I set the benchmark running bigger, better, slicker and more inclusive comps and pushing Specialty Coffee to the masses, which has flowed through to present day.
Martin: When did you realise that Australia was really pushing the international coffee scene forward as a leader?
Bruno: As we grew up in coffee years in Australia, around eight years ago we started to figure more heavily on the world stage at Barista and Latte Art Comps fielding World Champions across various disciplines and continually placing in the top 12. We had to be on a good thing and yes the world was looking at us Australia. So this was the catalyst for Australia’s rise as a coffee leader. The Melbourne coffee scene was becoming white hot with talented Baristas, entrepreneurial café owners and a mad coffee loving public that could not get enough of it – coffee! It is our staple, we do not function without it, we do not eat without it, we do not have meetings without it, we simply go without everything – except coffee! It drives us all.
Martin: What are your top magic moments that have cemented your love for working and volunteering in the coffee industry?
Bruno: The crowning achievement (through lots of hard work by all on the ASCA committee at the time) was securing the 2013 World Barista Championships in Melbourne. The best ever held, and the first time outside America or Europe.
My second best moment was when we had the terrible bushfires in Melbourne a band of us Baristas and roasters packed vans and trailers with coffee carts and donated food, coffee, milk, drinks and various supplies and headed up to the affected area and setup camp in the relief centre in Alexandra with the displaced people who had lost everything and were living out of tents with a very uncertain future. We ran 24 hours a day across the weekend from Thursday night when we got there till we left on Sunday night providing them with coffee anytime day or night. But it was more than coffee, it was a shoulder to cry on, someone to listen to their plight, someone to offer a word of comfort or just a hug. Through our coffee carts we brought hope and friendship.
Going back to what I said earlier, coffee is still about relationships. I can for my part say that I have never served a more satisfying brew than the ones I served to those in need. This what makes coffee so special.
Martin: What makes you feel positive about the future of our industry, and what worries do you have?
Bruno: The people in coffee never cease to amaze me. I’m so impressed with our exponential growth on all levels within the industry from consumption, the proliferation of cafés, the advancements in equipment, and the deeper understanding of coffee at the farm level. This all leaves me feeling positive about the future in coffee.
My main concern is over the saturation of places to get a coffee. One would think that the more coffee we serve, the better the industry will get. But in fact the opposite is true. We don’t drink exponentially more coffee (our consumption only rises slowly), yet there are exponentially more places to drink coffee. This will inevitably lead to lower quality coffee being sourced, roasted and served, as it will become simple economics for those in the coffee food chain. More than five years ago I said to a bunch of roasters that coffee prices would fall to a dollar. They thought I was nuts and well here we are today as low as 80 cents, from a petrol station of all places! The coffee pie is only so big, we are already in a dangerous position where we are dividing into thinner and thinner pieces.
Martin: Who are the people (the main protagonists in your coffee biography) through the ages that have helped you stay motivated and onboard with ASCA’s vision?
Bruno: I have had the pleasure, and sometimes the pain, of working with lots of people in the ASCA family over the years. I worked with four different ASCA presidents during my time on the board and the various other sitting members as well as the operational volunteers behind the scenes. Don’t get me wrong – we did not all agree on everything – and I believe I would be correct in quoting one former president as summing me up as “someone who shares his opinion freely” and another “is anyone ever left in any doubt what you think?” Well the way I see it you just tell it like it is. I am not PC most of the time and need a filter some of the time but some of my ASCA emails among the board are legendary. You all know them and are probably having a chuckle right now but I would not change a thing. I won’t be drawn on mentioning specific names but I would like to thank all those I have come into contact with through ASCA, because I am a sum of all those parts.
Martin: Do you have any gems of knowledge to inspire future ASCA members to get involved?
Bruno: I would not be the person I am today without my involvement with ASCA. The contacts, friendships, relationships all spurned out of some involvement with ASCA activity. I would totally encourage all members to get involved as volunteers. You get the 2nd best seats in the house come comp time – on stage with the baristas. Moreover, I would totally encourage more judges to come forward and immerse themselves in the delirium that is completion time. Here you get the best seats in the house – at the table with the barista tasting some amazing coffees and being taken on their coffee journey.
I have certainly had the pleasure of judging for more than 13 years and have loved every minute of it. Getting involved in judging is probably the best thing you can do to increase your coffee knowledge. It has given me the opportunity to provide positive no nonsense feedback and guidance to competing Baristas on how they can improve within the frame work of the WCE rules and coffee life in general. It has also provided me the opportunity to mentor new judges and help them on their coffee journey. It has helped me grow in all facets of my personal and professional life. There is an abundance of support for new and existing judges with very talented and experienced judges to help you along. I cannot implore how important it is to get involved with judging and how rewarding it is!
Bruno: My family, my customers and my ASCA family… Thanks
Bruno is owner at C4 coffee roasters,
Rear 15 Graham Rd. Clayton Sth. Vic. 3169