MICE 2019 Takes it Back to the Basics

Australia’s only coffee-dedicated trade show, the Melbourne International Coffee Expo (MICE), held for the first time at Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC), brought more than 140 local and international exhibitors together from Thursday, February 7, through Saturday, February 9, to network, educate, and celebrate.

Michelle Johnson & Demelza Jones

The three-day event—which has become an annual reunion for producers, importers, equipment and brewing manufacturers, roasters, and baristas—welcomed its highest number of pre-registrations than ever before. This year’s attendance totalled in at 11,978 people, nearly 1,000 more than the record outcome the previous year.

MICE show director Simon Coburn attributes the growth of MICE to new exhibitors, such as Vertue Coffee Roasters and Cartel Coffee Roasters in the Roasters Alley space, along with new origin country, El Salvador. Another addition to the show was the Espresso Bar, which Coburn says “opened up an opportunity for roasters that specialize in the espresso side rather than filter,” and brought in new exhibitors including Cottle Coffee and Merlo Coffee Roasters.

photo by Anastasia Prikhodko

This year, the expo shifted from Melbourne Showgrounds to the city center, making the trade show “more accessible, and easier for the city café market to attend even if it’s for an hour or two,” says Coburn.

“When MICE was first conceived,” he continues, “it had to be accessible to a market that hadn’t had an event before, so cost was critical to get the show up and running and Showground was a really cost effective way of doing that.”

Coburn says that MICE and the coffee industry itself have come a long way.

“It’s now exceptionally professional, so we needed to shift to a more professional venue,” he says. “We are trying to present ourselves on the world stage as world leaders and we need a world-class venue to do that.”

MICE cupping room, photo by Anastasia Prikhodko

At the end of 2018, with MICE having been around for seven years, Coburn says the team had to take a step back and do a bit of soul searching.

“What we really wanted to do was take it back to the beginning,” he says. “MICE is an opportunity for people to do business together but that wasn’t necessarily what MICE was about when we created it.

“The show was [initially] about being a place where the industry came together, accessible for international attendees, and for people to get together to catch up, network, and as a consequence of so many people at one place, business was done,” he says. “So what we really wanted to do with 2019 was to remind people why MICE was started and just try and take it back to basics.”

First-time exhibitors, husband and wife Andre Selga and Nadia Moreira, run Adelaide-based Southland Merchants, a Brazilian green bean exporting company. Selga says their reason for attending the expo is to showcase Brazilian coffee and “show that Brazil’s got more than the chocolate, nutty flavors that roasters are used too.”

Selga says that having two of the Southland Merchants’ farmers travel from Brazil to attend the expo was a highlight, as well as being able to see and connect with other coffee roasters, exchange information, and get feedback from roasters.

Coburn estimates that roasters and café owners made for about 55–60% of the expo’s attendance.

“The roasters and green bean buyers who exhibit at MICE are bringing an extremely sophisticated level of education to the industry,” he says. “It’s not about pouring a cup of coffee anymore, there’s so much that goes into it. What was once perceived as a casual industry is now a professional, educated and sophisticated market.”

Strategic project manager at Five Senses Coffee, Ben Bicknell says the expo works as a catalyst to bring together an engaged and passionate group of coffee pros.

“We really focus on using this opportunity to showcase not only our coffees but also our people—the core of our business,” says Bicknell. “We really just try to provide guests with an opportunity to come and have a chat and learn some more about us—what we’re doing, why we do it, and critically, make sure they have a cup of delicious coffee in their hand while we talk.”

Five Senses featured a range of tasting flights at the show, which allowed guests to get to learn the stories of some of the company’s coffee producer relationships. Several of the company’s producers joined the team at MICE this year, including Sammy Demisse of Keffa Coffee (Ethiopia), Henrique Cambraia from Fazenda Samambaia (Brazil), and Keremba Warioba of Communal Shamba (Tanzania). Five Senses also donated 20 percent of all its coffee sales during the show to a medical center near Communal Shamba’s coffee-growing region in southern Tanzania.

photo provided by Five Senses – Will (centre) serving customer (left) the Communal Shamba from Tanzania tasting experience and assisting with the information is Karimba (right) from Communal Shamba.

Evidently, organizing an event of this size in Australia comes with its own set of challenges. Coburn explains that although the isolation of Australia in terms of travel is an obstacle, the biggest issue the organizers faced in the last period was the world economy.

“The price of coffee has really hit a lot of producing countries and that impacts whether people have budgets to go and do shows around the world, so that has been the biggest challenge,” he says. “We have a goal to establish MICE as one of the four or five top events globally that the coffee industry wants and has to be at, and I think it’s probably getting close to being one of those.”

In terms of new elements for 2020, Coburn says the show’s Roasters Alley, which has been in play for three shows now, is set to undergo a relaunch and will feature a completely different format and view. Additionally, Melbourne is set to host the 2020 World Barista and Brewers Cup Championships at MICE from May 4–7, 2020.

“For coffee professionals globally, hosting the World Coffee Championships is a dream come true,” says Craig Dickson, managing director of Veneziano Coffee Roasters, in a statement. “Melbourne hosted the industry’s premier event for the first time in 2013, and to see it return to our city which is so rich in coffee culture, is an honour and the ultimate celebration of the Australian coffee industry.”

Competition & Award Winners

Product Innovation Award—Judge’s Choice: The Energy Bar, The BrewBar
Product Innovation Award—People’s Choice: Milkit Dual Milk Tap, United Supplies
Eleonora Genovese Australian Coffee Woman of the Year: Gina Di Brita, founder of Numero Uno Coffee Roasters
2019 Australian Vitasoy Barista Champion: Matthew Lewin, ONA Coffee
2019 Australian Pauls Professional Latte Art Champion: Jibbi Little, jibbijug
2019 Australian Brewers Cup Champion: Yanina Ferreyra, Project Origin
2019 Australian TCX Cup Tasters Champion: MJ Kim, Shamble Coffee Brewers