Fifth is brew-tiful

Matt Ross talking to the judges at the Meadow Fresh NZ Barista Championship. Photo: Andrew Turner.

If Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie can conquer America as ‘New Zealand’s 4th Most Popular Parody Duo’, then there’s a formidable future ahead for New Zealand’s fifth top barista, Matt Ross.

The Flight of the Conchords duo previously referred to themselves as  ‘New Zealand’s fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo’, but as of 2014 refer to themselves as ‘the almost award-winning fourth-most-popular folk duo in New Zealand’.

It’s clearly ‘Kiwi as’ to be fourth.

But why be fourth when you can be fifth? 

Matt, owner of Mt Zion Coffee at Our Place, not only won fifth place in last weekend’s Meadow Fresh NZ Barista Championship, but he came fifth in the 2019 NZ Latte Art championship. It’s reassuring to have a local barista who is so consistent with his work.

He’s also starting his fifth week at Mt Zion, after previously working at Folk.

“I’ve been a barista for about five years,” says Matt. “Over the past few years I’ve wanted to branch out and do my own thing.”

He’s entered the NZ Barista competition for the past two years.

“There wasn’t one last year because of Covid. It got postponed twice and then cancelled.

“I entered for the first time a couple of years ago. I really loved the competition scene and meeting all the amazing people from around the country.”

Asked about the coincidence of coming fifth in both the NZ Latte Art and NZ Barista championships, Matt says he seems to like the number five.

He grew up in Auckland, which is where he developed his love of coffee.

“It was really random,” he explains. “An awesome Christian couple from a coffee shop in Auckland gave me an opportunity. I dove in, loved it and stayed there.”

Matt and wife Hannah came to Tauranga when Hannah started studying at BTI. His newly-opened shop, Mt Zion Coffee, derives its name from the Bible.

“Mt Zion was a place of community, a place of gathering,” says Matt. “That’s what we want our coffee shop to be about. People can come and feel like they can be themselves and have a place to hang out.”

The NZ urban subculture of coffee enthusiasts is always in pursuit of the elusive aroma of an artisan roasted coffee, with downtown Tauranga home to espresso and special-brew specialty coffees.

Some 12 New Zealand baristas went to Upper Hutt, with six competing in the finals in front of four judges. They used La Marzocco, 2 group, and Linea machines to make their coffees, with a Mahlkonig E65s grinder provided.

“We had to make each judge a short black, a milk beverage and a signature beverage – 12 in total,” says Matt.

His signature and original beverage is a coffee cocktail but with no alcohol – an espresso with ingredients added to highlight the flavour.

“One of the big flavour notes in my coffee was plum. I used plum juice made using sous vide. It’s really tasty.”

The winning barista took home a sweet $2000 and gets to travel to The World Barista Championship in 2022. But Matt brings home his own bragging rights. Fifth place!

His bigger vision is to open into a larger space where he can run a training café.

“Both Hannah and I have worked a lot with youth, who struggle to find a job, may have dropped out of high school, or just need people to show them that they can do something with someone who believes in them. That’s our big vision.”


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