Brewers Cup Competition

Those of you who follow way to many coffee people on Twitter will probably be aware of the WCE (World Coffee Events) meeting in Dublin last week.  The WCE is a new banner organisation under which the current competitions now fall (WBC, Latte art, Cupping, Coffee in Good Spirits and Ibrik Comps).  There were a couple of new competitions announced, including the World Brewers Cup Competition.  Finally, many of us are thinking, a brewing competition!  I’m pretty excited about it, looking forward to hearing about the feedback and response from the upcoming US regionals.

I am not sure if there are plans to run it in the UK this year, if there are I will post the details.  (And probably enter too!)  If you want a quick video introduction to the competition then check out this video 1:

I’m sure it will generate some criticism for its format, but before people hate on it too much – can we at least try it first to see how it works? 2 Skepticism is fine (and to be encouraged to a point), but this is still being put together by the hard work of volunteers so if you have a better competition and are willing to give up your time then I am sure they’d be very pleased to hear from you.

I’m positive we’ll be seeing more details (rules, regs, scoresheets etc etc) coming out in the next few weeks, including information about the other competition which is the Roasting Competition!  Interesting stuff indeed!

UPDATE: Thanks to Oscar – the rules, regs and downloadables are to be found here.

UKBC Starts!

Talking of competition – the UK regionals kick off next week in the South East, which is being held on Monday and Tuesday in London.  (Details here).  Hopefully people will be coming down to hang out and support some entrants who’ve done the wise thing and made the effort to compete!  There are heats around the UK so come on out to support your friends/favourite baristas!  (I’m not judging this year, so won’t be at any of the other heats sadly.)

  1. Yes, I do seem to be in the video, but no – I had nothing to do with it  ↩︎
  2. This is not because I think the format is bad – more the reaction people often have to competition formats in general.  ↩︎

22 Comments

  1. Hey James,

    i like the format and for the first time it looks for great fun.
    I hope that many other will follow.

    Sebastian

  2. James,
    This is brilliant! I love that consistency is being judged as well as extraction quality.
    Do you know whether they plan to discourage the use of timers and scales as they seem to with the Barista Competitions?

  3. I don’t think technique is questioned – it really is all about the resulting coffee and how good it tastes. I would think, if anything, timers and scales and all sorts would be heavily encouraged as they are a good thing.

  4. Does everything have to turn into a competition? It seems so childish. Why can’t we just get on with making good coffee for our customers?

  5. …because it’s seldom good.
    You can absolutely trace the excellence in espresso to the beginnings of the barista competitions, for example.

  6. To say that you can “trace the excellence in espresso to the beginnings of barista competitions” is a bit of a stretch, and more credit than the competitions are due.

    Excellence is a pursuit by people, not a result of competitions. Had the competitions not existed, those who deliver excellence today would still be doing so. To promote the competitions as a result of this excellence is absurd.

    When it comes to this Brewers Cup Competition, I’m definitely in the skeptics column. Though I do find the “3 drinks in 7 minutes” rule to be interesting. Perhaps a nod to those who argue that the barista competitions are “not enough” like “cafe life”?

    My skepticism for these competitions lies not with the rules of the comps themselves but rather with the execution. The WCE supposedly can barely pay for the World Barista Championship yet they are now planning on executing four to five additional competitions? Has the WCE received some sort of tremendous funding opportunity? Or are they expecting their current “staff” of volunteers to continuing doing their work for free?

    At some point in time, for a competition to be truly legitimate, those who do the work need to be compensated. Because I’m pretty sure that FIFA’s referees and staff are not unpaid, unfed and unhoused volunteers.

  7. As I understand it,(and I may be entirely wrong) the WCE is going to be run as a For-Profit organisation which may help with the issues of funding you mention.

    As for the justification of coffee competitions, I wouldn’t necessarily say that the Barista comps directly induce better coffee, but when dealing with customers who don’t challenge the barista then complacency is an easy trap to fall into and having the focus of the competitions can provide an impetus to reassess one’s techniques and whether they are truly doing the best job possible.

    Though I am not without issue with the Barista Competitions I do believe that flaws and all they are a beneficial thing for coffee as a whole.

  8. Alex-
    This is more of curiosity on your thinking but – who really has customers that “challenge” them? To my mind, this is really about us (as forward-thinking, excellence seeking craftsmen) challenging the customers. Perhaps things are different in your neighborhood, but the customer that has high expectations and “challenges” the staff are few and far between, and tend to be the same people that Third Wavers deride as “coffeegeeks” and people who just irritate them at their jobs.

    I mean, seriously, there have been more times than I care to count visiting messy, incoherent and sloppy shops that have participated in barista competitions. I’m talking not only just poor bar standards but also appearance and very serious hygiene missteps – like the one champion-led shop where the barista didn’t bother to use soap or sanitizer to clean the cups he was using for customers.

  9. All of your rhetoric is a laugh riot, Jay C. I’ve been to your shops. You’ve trained your baristas to be nice clones of you: Talking shit and making mediocre coffee drinks. It sure is easy for you to diss the competitions considering you’ve failed every time. Unless its only been about being a spectacle that the crowd loves, while the judges gag at your swill. Lay off the online bullshit and go practice your craft. You might fool these people but most of us sit back laughing at you while rolling our eyes.

  10. I think though that the competitions has created a forum for pushing those boundaries. And lucky enough, a lot of those who delivered excellence in the competition has made others aware of their efforts and excellence. Maybe they would have created excellence, but where 10 years ago, would a barista wanting to learn more about coffee go besides competing and traveling? Today, we can all learn by the videos shared on the web.

  11. I live so close to the world championships. I’ll deffinitly drop by there!

  12. Yes, you pick up the bits and pieces by looking at Youtube videos, but with many videos to choose from it’s hard to sort out credibility among the tutorials.

    When I first started to taste coffee, it was hard to find a decent product and determine how much you had to pay for a decent machine and was there any value in the purchases regarding beans and grinding.

    I took out my calculator and found out that two lattes on the street every day will set you back more than an average gas budget a year, (thats excluding transportation from your home/work/whatever back and forth), so buying the equipment for my home was an easy decision. The hard part was to get on level with the baristas in the speciality stores. They always seem to have an upper hand on the frothing of the milk, extraction and of course the art, all qualities that determine appeal and taste of the final product.

    The solution was to find out what to look at, and figure out where your shortcomings appeared, then take the question down to one of the enthusiasts to get an honest answer and hopefully a solution. Actually I never learned anything from a video, at least not a breakthrough, but in many ways have adapted sections of the videos in experiments to perfect the taste hopefully one or two percent or try to understand why the videoblogger wants me to pursue his preference.

    The only true inspiration is good taste, greater than you can achieve yourself and then try to beat it.

  13. Oh John S. – you must be drinking the Kool Aid of Nick Cho.

    Mediocre coffee drinks aside, had you actually come to either of my Spro locations you would know that my baristas are nothing like me and pursue their craft with hospitality and humility.

    Had you actually come to our shops you would have experienced a place where I told everyone of their first day of training that the “Third Wave” method of condescension and pretense would not be tolerated and that anyone harboring those attitudes would be routed out and released.

    It is the basic tenet of what we do at Spro.

  14. Syn City-
    I hear what you’re saying and I don’t necessarily disagree. The competitions have given baristas a forum for pushing the boundaries of coffee beverages and presentations. The competitions offer a format that most coffee shops do not provide. However, the pursuit of excellence is commitment that one has regardless of the competitions.

    Granted, one cannot do well in the competitions without adhering to the rules. I know this well as I have done some outlandish stuff in competitions because winning was never of great importance to me. Take a look at the people out there pushing the boundaries and pursuing excellence and I think you’ll find that most, if not all, of them are doing so not because “the competitions forced them to” but rather because it’s something inside them that compels them to pursue.

    Ten years ago was much as it is today for the incoming barista who finds themselves awash in a cacophony of “resources” – they’re still lost and without real direction. I count myself as lucky because I was able to find a mentor in the business to guide me along my path and, in turn, meet a range of great people who helped shaped my approach to coffee. As we move forward, it is now part of my responsibility to help shape a new generation o baristas.

    Everyone must utilize the resources available to them, and certainly there are those whose only resource is the web and videos on YouTube. If that’s all you have, then you have to exploit those as much as possible. Sadly, it creates a significant challenge as our craft is not about simple specs and rules. It requires tactile feel and nuance to do well – and that’s something that can only be learned though experience. The difficult part of video training is finding videos that teach great technique and actually mastering those techniques correctly in what is essentially a vacuum.

  15. I’m not looking to moderate these comments. I will, however, remind people of the comment policy stated at the top.

    “Opinion of any kind is welcome, but any personal attacks will also be deleted.”

  16. I’d love to see at least a half-hearted attempt to raise values, share knowledge, and celebrate the craft without mandatorially turning it into a game show.

  17. I was somewhat disappointed in the timing of the announcement. The event details were released less than a week prior to our regionals. Not nearly enough time to find a coffee and work on a presentation.

  18. Ultimately it was a good event and there was a good showing. They didn’t charge an entrance fee, which was nice considering the 4 days notice.

    I’m still not a fan of the setup, however.

    I feel like if you are going to evaluate my skills and abilities as a barista it should be first done with a coffee I know. Let me practice. I spend so much damn time getting to know my coffees it’s really frustrating that I have to show that I know how to brew a coffee I’ve never seen before to perfection in order to be able to brew a coffee that I’ve had time to practice with for months.

    I understand the logic behind sorting out a large field quickly, but why not limit the number of entries? If that isn’t enough, then why are we able to work with our own coffees in barista competitions, yet not in brewing competitions?

    Not going to lie, it was a little disheartening to learn that we would be working with a coffee from a roaster IN OUR REGION. People in the competition were from the company that roasted the beans. That’s a very unfair advantage in round one.

    So I suppose ultimately my only complaint/suggestion/idea is this:
    Let me show you I know how to brew coffee with coffee I know how to brew… then blindside me with coffee I’ve never seen before. And if you could get it from a roaster that was more than 2 hours away from the competition that would probably be wise.

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