August 15, 2011

Barista Competitions

Craig Dickson, CEO at Veneziano Coffee, has always had a passionate desire to learn about coffee, and he also encourages employees to educate themselves as much and as often as possible.

His philosophy has led to Veneziano Coffee providing competition training and support to many of Australia’s best known and awarded baristas.

As a specialty coffee company, Veneziano Coffee invests a lot of time, money and training hours to participate in barista competitions, and the investment doesn’t just stop with the barista; their contribution also consists of qualified barista judges at a national and international level and their roaster Craig Simon (shown above competing in this year’s Australian Barista Championship) is a world-qualified Q cupper.

Countless unpaid hours go into the preparation for a barista competition, as well as volunteering not just for judging duties, but also assisting with the organising and running of these competitions – not to mention the ongoing education of our baristas and roasters. Until now, the specialty coffee community typically frequented barista championships, while the general public and coffee enthusiasts were not even aware that these competitions exist. So, you might ask, why then do we bother doing it at all? There seems to be a lot of pain for no gain, to be the best of the best. For Craig and everyone at Veneziano Coffee, barista competitions are the very basis of the coffee philosophy the company was built on.

As a specialty coffee roaster, it is all about the coffee, but Craig’s hospitality background means he understands that Veneziano’s café clients need the entire package: great quality coffee, service and training.

As Craig says, “Of course barista competitions definitely help to put specialty coffee on the map and to differentiate the specialty coffee industry from the non-specialty industry, but what does it do for our customers, the cafés? The short answer is an understanding and appreciation of quality. As a specialty coffee roaster, we’ve seen great coffee ruined by an inexperienced barista. The rise of barista competitions has put a spotlight on the last step of the coffee story: actually getting it into the cup!”

The most successful competition baristas train hard at refining their skills. A barista must demonstrate their skills with the espresso machine and grinder, selecting the perfect grind setting for their chosen coffee and extracting at the ideal temperature for the right amount of time on a clean machine. Competition baristas are required to perform under an incredibly high level of pressure while maintaining a calm, professional demeanour, as they take the judges through their coffee choice and inspiration.

Back in the café environment, the barista turns out more consistent coffee and does so with a wealth of knowledge about the preparation – which is really the final important step, apart from enjoying the beverage, in the entire process from farm to café. Competition baristas also inspire and mentor their colleagues, being an ideal way to promote the passion for quality to each staff member within the business. Veneziano Coffee and a handful of other specialty coffee companies also invest in their baristas’ knowledge of the actual coffee itself: where its grown, the terrain, the processing methods and so on. This generates a full appreciation for what they are preparing in the cup, as well as the nuances of each crop and each varietal – knowledge that is usually reserved for the master roaster.

Veneziano Coffee is always striving to source and provide the best quality available to its customers, so that their customers’ baristas can be excited by what’s in the cup and the customer’s enjoyment is second to none.

Coffee competitions such as the World Barista Championship allow roasters like Veneziano to help baristas grow their knowledge and skills, which equips them to be the appropriate spokespeople for specialty coffee – an important aspect to training their customers’ baristas. This often fosters their desire to compete, and as a result, the coffee industry gets stronger and stronger.

“Specialty coffee cafés understand that to produce a consistently great coffee experience for the consumer, made using the freshest and best quality coffee available in the world, roasted to complement unique aroma and flavour profiles, can only be achieved by a barista who is experienced, passionate and knowledgeable about their craft.

“It isn’t really surprising that the cafés that deem coffee quality as number one invest so much in their baristas’ competition needs, in terms of training hours, sourcing interesting and unique coffee and allowing us to provide them with a training room, competition calibrated machine and competition winners as mentors and trainers.”

Since the very first World Barista Championship, much has been done to make the competition more appealing, more educational and more pertinent to those outside of the specialty coffee community, including coffee lovers and the general public. The performance of the baristas has risen to a completely new level of professionalism, and this makes a much more exciting competition, as audiences wait to see who will earn the title of the world’s best barista.

It is reassuring to see that these refinements over the years, coupled with the ever increasing quality of competitors, are beginning to reach the world outside of specialty coffee – gaining more media interest and being a sign of things to come. As coffee is the world’s second most traded commodity, we believe that the level of interest in the world coffee competition will only spiral upwards.

And as Craig sums it up, “Most cafés have the desire to serve better quality coffee to their customers. The barista is the ‘face’ of the coffee and the contact point with the end consumer. The better the barista is at their job results in more customer enjoyment and a better coffee experience, leading to a greater appreciation of the product they are purchasing and consuming. At the end of the day, the customer wins.”

Erin Sampson, Veneziano Coffee’s key account manager, latte art champion and seasoned barista competitor, has just returned from the World Barista Championship in Bogotá, Colombia and coffee farm visits in both Colombia and Panama – the source of her 2011 competition coffee. With our strong and sophisticated coffee culture, it comes as no surprise that Australia always performs well on the world stage, usually making it through to the final round. And 2011 was no different, with Australia’s very own Matt Perger placing third up against other competitors from Japan, El Salvador, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. All finalists made it through from the original group of 53 baristas from around the world.

Some names you might recognise who have spent some time training with Veneziano Coffee over the years.

Erin Sampson, Craig Simon, Jean-Paul Sutton, David Seng, Con Haralambopoulos, David Makin, Zoe Delany, Jessie Hyde, Will Priestley, Remy Shpayzer, Jen Marks, Cassie la Penna, Simon James.

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