First published on 21 Mar 2012. Updated on 20 Jun 2012.
So Matt Perger’s official job title at St Ali is ‘Coffee Guy’. But what else can you call a precocious 21-year-old who has won the title of third best barista on the planet? The Rain Man, maybe, but Perger’s story is more one of obsessive perseverance than OCD. “I tend to latch on to something and I don’t let go until I fully understand it. I’ve tired of other things, but no one has mastered coffee.”
Perger’s story sounds like a coffee version of Karate Kid. He was just a Bowral lad who dreamed that coffee could be better than hot swill; who searched the internet, travelled to Sydney’s best brew houses and competed and failed miserably at state barista comps. Determined, he sought inspiration in Copenhagen and Norway, and returned to take out the NSW barista title. Last year, he took on the World Barista Championships and placed third. Right on, grasshopper.
During this montage, in 2010, Perger was persuaded to move to Melbourne. Two years on and his CV boasts Market Lane, Axil and now St Ali, where he spends his days doing stuff that ‘Coffee Guys’ do. Namely, training baristas, improving sourcing and refining blends. Perger’s working to push their roasts to the lightest edge possible. “As we improve, we’re moving towards unadulterated coffee. It’s a fruit, and you should taste that – not ash.”
This month, Perger will be competing in a new coffee competition at the Melbourne International Coffee Expo. “There’s no espresso, so it’s plungers, filters, aeropress– anything without pressure.” Which is a whole different ballgame to the razzle-dazzle flaring involved in classic barista competitions. “It’s just pure coffee, and how good it tastes – which I think is the way the whole industry is going.”