Barista competition needs a refresh

It has been a couple weeks since the 2017 US Barista Championship in Seattle, which was in conjunction with the annual SCA Expo. As usual I found myself judging this competition, and had coached/trained a number of competitors. I will leave my pride at the accomplishments of all of the people Holly and I trained this year for future posts, as there has been a lot of discussion about the championships in general lately.

Before we get into it, I want you to know that I believe the judges of all of the competitions have always had the best intentions in mind, and have been trying to make something that is valuable to the industry. So there is no question to me of the integrity of the judges or their intentions, but I do think there have been gradual changes that may have not have had the effect that was originally intended. This post is intended to give my thoughts on how we can make the competitions better overall, and is not motivated by anyone who has been vocal lately. The truth is that I have been brainstorming some of the following ideas for almost a year now.

 

Issues I see

In order to have a good idea on how competitions can be improved, we need to understand some of the things that are not performing as well as they could be. I have come to these conclusions through years of competing in and judging the regional and USBC, as well as watching the WBC and various national competitions.

 

1. The stakes keep getting higher, but the game is the same

Over the years the prizes and prestige of winning the WBC have grown, and at the same time the rewards for the national and even qualifying events in the US have gotten pretty worthwhile. Commercial espresso machines, new grinders, origin trips, as well as publicity and endorsement opportunities have become common rewards for top placements. It is no longer a slightly amateur effort going up to bat, and competitor teams will go all out with training, equipment, and coffee in order to win the big prizes. 

These rewards are excellent motivation for the competitors, and they can be life changing for a winner, but while the competitors are becoming highly experienced presenters and taking the competition to new levels every year, the judging has largely stayed the same. Judges are asked to volunteer huge amounts of time and must require nothing for their time other than a "good job" and the knowledge that they did something good for the industry. Experienced judges are constantly dropping out of pools as they still need to make a living and be successful with the businesses that support their judging habit. If the expectations of competitors are going to rise, then keeping a consistent and highly trained judge pool should be a reasonable expectation as well. If the competitors become more knowledgeable on rules and expectations than the actual judges, it opens the door to problems.

 

2. The geisha competition 2.0

Anyone who has paid attention to Brewer's Cup in the past few years has likely recognized it as a geisha coffee competition when it comes down to the top 6. Because of this I started calling it the "Geisha competition" or "Best of Panama" as a bit of jest toward the nature of winning it (Stephen Leighton has some interesting thoughts on Brewer's Cup here). Unfortunately, this is the path that the Barista championships and WBC have been going down lately. The top 3 places in the 2017 USBC were all using geisha coffees, last year's WBC and numerous national winners all used geisha coffees, and the trend is only growing. Why are these coffees scoring so highly? More than them scoring well on a cupping form, they are "loud".

According to the rules of barista competition espresso evaluation, we are expected to evaluate the balance (acid, sweet, bitter), specific flavor calls, and specific tactile experience of the coffee served after taking 2 consecutive sips (and not going back for a third). In the timing of this evaluation we must also pay attention to the barista if they are talking and, depending on the barista, we get between 0-120 seconds to do all of it. Understanding delicate nuance and subtlety is incredibly challenging when judging, and for that reason geisha coffees stand out. The flavors are easy to identify (bergamot, apricot, black tea, anyone?), the quality is easy to affirm as high quality, and the tactile is generally smooth and easy to confirm as high quality as well. When everything is obviously great and the flavor sticks out like a sore thumb, it is clear why they are scoring so well.  The way that the current rules and regulations work rewards this type of coffee, which means they will be the new standard if you want to have a chance to win.

There are a couple of specific reasons I think this is an issue:

1) These coffees are very expensive. Not only do these coffees represent an incredibly small portion of the industry, but the seeming necessity of using them for high placement automatically creates an exclusive environment which can only be attained by companies willing to spend the money or have the connections to source them. A smaller company, non roaster, or independent barista is likely excluded from the club simply because they cannot pay to play. If you want a competition that truly showcases the best baristas, you have to give more people the chance to compete on a level playing field.

2) The rules and regulations have evolved to entail "calls" as the primary scored category (ie. the most points are awarded to categories that are simply described). Inherently loud coffees, like geishas, will always shine when we are so focused on specific flavors like this. That means that more subtle, yet very high quality coffees are automatically at a disadvantage. This is a problem that leads directly into another issue.

 

3. Some judging/scoring is convoluted

The example above explaining how the judges must taste and evaluate the espresso course (which just happens to be the section worth the most points, btw) is just one of many issues. A lot is asked of the judges, many of whom do not have a massive amount of experience judging. I do not see this as a fault of the judges, as they want to be fair and accurate. To add onto the problems that come from varying levels of judging experience, there is now the expectation that every course should have flavor notes, which I am very torn on. For a high quality espresso I can understand the desire for a flavor description. For a high quality signature drink experience I almost never feel like I need to know. After all, you don't order a cocktail made with gin, lemongrass, and bitters and then expect the bartender to stand there and give you a flavor call rundown while he is making it, right? Generally it is going to taste appropriately like the ingredients involved, or be an entirely new experience, which is kind of the fun of getting a specially crafted drink in the first place. Similarly, when was the last time you ordered a cortado and expected to get a 3-5 note flavor description of that drink? Myself, not once. Ever. So yeah, who thought this was what the industry needed?

Another thought to chew on is the fact that the judges are taught to look for specific correlations between the terroir/production of a coffee and the cup character. By asking baristas (who are usually the least experienced at the farm level) to make these connections has only led to massive speculation, and sometimes outright untrue ideas. Remember that these competitions are some of the most visible representations of coffee professionalism that people consider around the world. I think we are actively undermining the hard work of the farmers and experts at origin by making this an expectation. I do believe there can be some strong connections, especially when the barista has done work on the farm in the coffee's production, but it should be a showcase of information about that specific coffee rather than a definition of professionalism. 

Also, the interpretations of signature drink building explanations, creativity, and synergy are terribly convoluted. Competitors who wants to maximize these scores, which should honestly be pretty straight forward, find themselves spending incredible amounts of time explaining things that no sane person would ever ask. For example, "I used a simple syrup" suddenly gets scored down because they didn't explain how they made said simple syrup. Why would I ever want to hear your recipe for simple syrup?!? Really, any recipe for an ingredient used within a recipe to create a drink just seems like too much to me. I can understand if it is an innovative preparation or exotic ingredient, but this type of requirement in order to get full scores reeks of unnecessary expectations. Synergy is an especially slippery slope. That same simple syrup that you sadly didn't give me a recipe for doesn't seem to have a specific flavor correlation to your espresso. Really? It's sugar! If you are adding a bunch of acids and bitter components to a drink you generally need something sweet to balance it! Also, some ingredients just work and taste amazing with a coffee for very little apparent reason. Instead of rewarding a tasty drink for being well designed, we reward inventing some completely insane explanation out of thin air. Why is it so hard to see that some ingredients are simply great together? On that note...

 

4. Signature drinks suck!

Ok, I know I can't be the only one thinking this. The current rules and expectations of signature drinks are just awful. The signature drink must have a "predominant flavor of espresso", which leads to using impossibly small amounts of ingredients that typically clash with a vibrant and high quality espresso. Even the interpretation of espresso flavor is tricky because the competitor might be using a completely different coffee than before, or the ingredients and espresso have combined to create a completely new flavor profile (which is actually kind of the definition of synergy), but because it does not taste specifically like a familiar shot of espresso these drinks are often scored down. 

The idea that a drink must taste almost exclusively of one ingredient in order to give justice to that ingredient is just silly. A 50/50 balance is not only completely reasonable, it actually tends to make for tastier drinks. You know, like the type customers might actually enjoy? Sure, it is an industry competition, but what is the point in excelling at creating drinks that no one would normally like to drink? The integrity of a coffee should of course still be focused on, just not in such a way that it inhibits creativity and stepping outside the box for the sake of a pleasurable drinking experience.

Lastly, the prohibition of alcohol is perhaps the most comical rule in the competition, especially considering how much alcohol is consumed in our industry. Perhaps someone should listen to my ideas about merging WBC and Coffee in Good Spirits finally. 

 

5. The simple skill of a working barista is being ignored

A complaint that has been echoed for years now is that the champions are rarely "active" baristas, or pulling regular shifts behind the bar. This can be for many reasons, but I will tell you what I have experienced personally. I was a Coffee Quality manager both times that I won the USBC, and when I won the WBC. Many companies are seeing incredible amounts of turnover as baristas are constantly seeking bigger and better opportunities. I know that a lot of companies out there, particularly the bigger ones (like the ones that can afford more expensive coffees), are more likely to support and pay for a person to compete who has a more permanent position in their company. Many of us were baristas who moved up in companies seeking better pay and opportunities to live, support families, or just be happy with life. 

At the same time, the higher levels of competition have long required a massive amount of knowledge about the industry in order to place well. The "professionalism" scoring among others, tends to get embodied by knowledge that is simply beyond what a daily barista will likely know. This leads to a sort of chicken vs egg problem. You can't excel in the competition unless you have some serious experiences (roasting, farming, cupping), but once you have those experiences most baristas quickly move to higher positions that no longer include working behind the bar. Their experience is valuable, and it is hard to justify paying the barista more (especially in the US) rather than moving them to a higher position where that sort of pay makes sense. So really, it is no wonder than few of the champions are active behind the bar. By the time you get to that level you almost can't be simply a barista. 

All of this is interesting, but why am I going on about it? Because I think an active barista should have a better chance than they currently have. Also, because I think that the technical score sheet that not only showcases a great active barista, but embodies everything we know about great espresso preparation is being slowly phased out. The current technical scoresheets (with 2 technical judges) account for about 17% of the competition score, and it is meant to assume that any problems will be translated to the sensory experience. While this works sometimes, the flavor flaws of poor technical work are often covered by the quality of some of our "loud" coffees. Have you ever watched a winner's video where they were a mess technically? They exist. 

 

What I propose

It wouldn't be too helpful if I pointed out all of these issues without trying my best to give some resolution ideas. The following are ideas that I think could benefit the WBC competition format in particular. What we need is a fresh take on the rules and regulations, much more than changing table setups and espresso machine temperature. We need to rethink what is going on before the competitions take further turns down a path that doesn't represent anyone.

 

1. Make judging as professional as the baristas competing

Before I say anything else I want to say this: The judges and volunteers involved with barista competitions over the years are some of the most professional, inclusive, and outstanding people I have known. They give their time, expertise, and effort year after year at great expense of their own. They are great people whom I respect, and I do not want the things I say here to sound like a criticism of them and their hard work

I believe the judges (including head judges, sensory, technical, shadow, etc) have long been doing their best with the rules & regulations as they have been written and the resources they have been given. Some effort has been put into raising expectations in the form of online training sessions, day long judge calibrations prior to events, as well as evaluations of the judges in their discourse during the event they are judging. While I do think these efforts have helped raise the level of expectation for judges in general, we still are reliant on the free labor of whoever volunteers their time. Judging requires a lot of effort to do well, and being calibrated on the interpretation of flavor scores and rules & regulations is vital. 

So why are we expecting our competing baristas to be the most professional and refined examples of coffee excellence possible, while basically asking whoever has the willingness to volunteer their time to evaluate just how extraordinary they are? Ok, a lot of judges (myself included) do so because they love the craft and want to be a part of it all. What I am proposing though is to make judging a prestigious position as well as making it equitable to be a part of. 

First, as far as prestige goes, I am not saying we need to glorify the judges but rather that the role of a judge should require a relatively large amount of experience. Judging 2-5 competition runs each year does not build expertise to give justice to the sometimes months that competitors put into their presentations. What we need is long term judging groups who are calibrated and experienced. Right now the head judge group essentially serves this function, but there seem to be some specific rules that ensure a turnaround of the group. Why can't we cultivate a long lived group of (at least head) judges who have massive experience and perspective to evaluate our best baristas? 

Think of the role as something esteemed. "She is a competition judge?? She must really know her stuff!" When becoming a judge is actually difficult to achieve and can be a badge of honor, it could also reflect the integrity of the competition itself. Along with that, the judges must be accountable for their scores as well as feedback. Often we don't think about the feedback loop coming from the judges to the competitors, but getting actually good and constructive feedback is the only thing most of these baristas are able to take from their experience. This is more than words sounding like they represent the numbers. This is the ability to say that something simply was not as good as expected (hopefully in the form of expectations created by the barista), or specifically why any score is less than maximum. 

Of course you can't expect a group of judges to commit long term without it making sense for their jobs, personal time, and professional needs. Beyond being a position of prestige it should benefit the judges in some way. Paying judges for their time makes sense in some ways, such as ensuring they are not losing money by being part of the competition. Providing some travel and lodging expenses could be another way to make it reasonable. Sponsored gifts? An exclusive certification? At the very least there needs to be something that a judge can take away from an event that gives them value for their time. 

Now if a judge is expected to have a large amount of experience, how would they get it? That could be taken care of with...

 

2. A compulsory round

Any time I think of how to make barista competitions better I always seem to come back to the idea of a compulsory round and here is why:

I see the competition as a test of two major aspects in the barista world.

First, a test of technical proficiency and ability. Of course we have the technical judge sheet (which I think is very important still), but this only covers the work of the barista behind the bar, dosing, tamping, general cleaning, and good practices. Why do we evaluate milk drinks? Because they are the most common espresso drink in the real world. Latte art? Reasonable barista skill. Espresso flavor balance, attention to details, professionalism? All versions of real world skills that should be expected from someone who is considered the "best". Previous scoring categories like color of crema, and crema and foam consistency/persistence were all trying to evaluate known expectations based on what espresso drinks were defined as at the time. 

Second, the competition is a test of innovation, performance, and kick ass coffee exposure. This is where we can see the idea of a signature drink making sense, use of exotic coffees, non-traditional ideas that (might) have merit, as well as creative ways to push the boundaries. The use of new or unknown grinders helped showcase innovation previously, but with the necessity of using the sponsored grinders (which I am actually not opposed to) now we will see that fast innovative growth slow a bit. This part is where I am seeing troubling issues, as wild ideas are being put out there for the sake of pushing the boundaries and being rewarded highly for doing something crazy. It is all a balancing act of course, as without innovation the craft will grow stagnant. So I still find this sort of test of ideas to be valid and needed.

At this point in our competition progression I am seeing a continual discounting of plain, quality coffee making skill and more and more focus on exclusive coffees and crazy ideas. For this reason I believe we should break these two tests apart and evaluate them separately, thus necessitating a compulsory round. 

A compulsory round would use a provided espresso (likely a blend of reasonable quality), provided milk, espresso and milk drink cups, and a blind judging panel. It would consist of 4 espressos and 4 milk drinks (maybe we can just go back to a 5-6oz capp?), the judges table turned around and drinks are served blind if possible (the idea of bias has been a topic of conversation lately, and a "blind" judging would address this if it is appropriate). The whole compulsory round would be 7 minutes, with standard deductions for over time (-1 point per second). The judges would evaluate presence of crema, flavor balance, and tactile quality in espresso, as well as general latte art (identifiable pattern with a brown ring only, not symmetry/contrast/definition), foam texture, appropriate temperature (0/1 points), and flavor experience (mouthfeel, sweet milk, and quality espresso in balance) in the milk drinks. Technical scoring would primarily be done during the compulsory round. 

I have considered a few ideas such as fewer drinks served (2 sensory judges), 4 drinks with 2 judges (1 sensory judge, 1 "consistency judge"), full panel of 4 judges (like current USBC rules). No matter what I see the need for at least 1 technical judge. While the scoring for the compulsory round would be done once, that score should be added to every "open service" score as the competition progresses. Consider it a handicap score if you will, but a barista's basic coffee making skills should be the baseline for their performance. 

An open service would use the competitor's own coffee served as espresso and a signature drink in 10 minutes. The same coffee should be used for both drinks, as the purpose of the open service should be to show how well/creatively/innovative you can present one special coffee. It would not evaluate crema or flavor balance of espresso, but signature drink would be similar to current scoring (see below for more about what and how things should be scored). There would be minimal technical evaluation, likely similar to the current WBC concept of clean working area at start and finish (since a large technical evaluation would be accounted in the compulsory). If you want to have a place for highly creative and innovative service, this is the opportunity. No restrictions on how the espresso is served, no evaluation of a tactile expectation, leave it up to the barista to convey what makes their coffee great, and the judges can determine if it actually is. 

This compulsory round would also be a great time to get newer judges (or judges in training) the necessary experience for the open round, as they could be calibrated using the provided espresso and milk. Speaking of the scores however, let's talk about that...

 

3. Refresh how and why things are scored by sensory judges

Let's think about flavor calls for a second. Remember my thoughts on the need for flavor calls above? I totally get it for your special single origin offering, but not for a milk drink or signature drink (sometimes). Again, breaking the "testing" purpose into two rounds would help focus the overall competition as well as create a fair and more level playing field for the competitors (as long as a barista can use their own coffee, it will never be a completely level field).

In the compulsory round, the scoring would be based on more objective elements. Flavor balance in espresso makes sense, as it is a test of how well a barista can properly balance an unknown espresso. Evaluating espresso tactile quality makes sense because that tactile makes a large part of any espresso experience. Take out preconceived notions of tactile though. Identify high quality aspects (pleasing smoothness, clean finish, roundness, etc) vs low quality aspects (rough, flat, watery, etc). At the same time, our scoring scale lends itself to a subjective preference and if a judge really just doesn't like something, they just start with a low score and then try to justify it. I think we should start with a max score (currently a 6), and deduct half point increments based on noticeable flaws which must be identified and notated by the sensory judge (which should be doable in a compulsory service). If the judge doesn't have a specific flaw or detractor identified, they must score highly.

In the milk course I do believe a basic latte art and foam texture evaluation should be part of the test, as we would be looking for basic technical proficiencies. Again, starting with a max score and deduction of points would work here, though I have also considered the idea of "unacceptable, good, extraordinary" scoring, which would equate to 0, 3, and 6 points with no middle room between those. It is not a latte art competition, but having the room to reward something outstanding makes sense. Basically an identifiable pattern with an unbroken brown ring should score 3, and a clearly outstanding pattern could warrant a 6. Appropriate milk temperature (not burning your mouth and not too cold) makes sense to be a 0/1 point score, as it should affect the flavor balance too, but I think an improper temperature should be identified. Lastly, milk drink flavor balance should again be a top down scoring. This top down scoring would keep judges accountable for their scores (ie. if you have 5 deductions, that score better equal 3.5!), as well as make it easier to be objective. There would be no professionalism, attention to details, or overall impression score in the compulsory round. To get these numbers to make more sense I have mocked up a "Compulsory Sensory" scoresheet:

Both drinks have a similar score total since they are equally relevant to a skilled barista

 

In the open service round, the scoring would have more room for interpretation and should highlight innovative and creative ideas in service. For the espresso, leave it open as far as how and why things are served and only evaluate the "flavor experience" as described by the competitor. In an open service I believe a "bottom up" scoring essentially like the current scoring system would still make sense here, as the barista should be able to sell the expectations of the experience. I believe we should also have a coffee explanation score here, which would be graded based on how well the barista can tell the pertinent details of the coffee in the given time.

With the signature drink I believe there should be 3 main scoring elements: Clear correlation to the coffee, Detailed explanation, and Flavor experience. For the correlation to coffee I would use a yes/no (6/0) scoring, because it either has a clear correlation or it doesn't, and the need for that correlation is important. Detailed explanation would take place of the current "Well introduced, explained, and presented" category and be scored similarly with the expectation of a clear explanation of what is in the drink, why it is there, and how it helps the experience. No synergy, no outrageous recipe reciting, just a clear understanding of the drink.  Flavor experience should be either based on the way it is described or based on ingredients, and the choice to describe it or not should be up to the barista. The bottom up scoring works here as well.  If there is something specific that should be described (such as a unique flavor coming from the combined ingredients) it makes sense to explain, but if the drink tastes equally or proportionately of each ingredient used why should the competitor explain more?

I still believe that the use of alcohol should be allowed within reason to allow full creativity of signature drinks. The expectation of espresso flavor should be no less than 50% of the drink experience, which could be a yes/no (6/0) score box. I can see a strict cutoff being controversial, but the integrity of the coffee is a necessity. For the "Barista Evaluation" section at the bottom of the score sheet, I believe we should assess 2 categories. "Innovation & Creativity throughout" and "Overall Impression, professionalism, and details". Both should be x2 multipliers to give weight to both concepts. Innovation and Creativity are big parts of this section, and I could even see the argument for this being an even bigger multiplier. Professionalism and Attention to Details should be combined into Overall Impression, as the professionalism of a barista and their intentionality make an impression that is a part of the whole service and is simply a reflection of how they speak/present, represent the industry, and represent their coffee. Let's look at how these would look on my "Open Service Sensory" scoresheet:

You might see that the sig drink is actually worth more than the single shot...

 

Speaking of signature drinks and representing a coffee...

 

4. Highlight those great coffees in a better way

You may wonder why I don't want a milk drink in the open service. The main reason is that a vibrant and highly articulate coffee is something that most people would rarely desire to put into a milk drink. Not only does the flavor of a lot of beautiful coffees get lost in milk, it just doesn't do them justice. The notable exception is natural coffees, which you may have noticed lately becoming a necessity to maximize milk drink scores. The funny thing is that the super clean naturals (like the ones that show no ferment characteristic) actually don't perform as well in milk drinks, which is leading to the acceptance of what might normally be considered a defective coffee. I feel this is encouraging the production of coffees that are actually quite unpleasant on their own, simply for the purpose of scoring better on a drink category. 

Requiring the use of one coffee for both open round drinks makes sense. You are giving that great coffee to the judges as espresso for a great coffee experience as well as an understanding of the coffee being used in the sig. As I mentioned above, expecting 50% espresso flavor in a drink makes sense but the current expectation of  "predominant" flavor is both ambiguous and severely limiting to making a truly great drink experience. When highlighting these exceptional coffees the use of subtle ingredients, alcohol, or numerous preparation techniques without the need for espresso as the primary flavor would create a far more exciting flavor experience. Baristas should be encouraged to push the boundaries in pursuit of new and compelling methods, extractions, and techniques. Even the massive "checking of the boxes" (all the things you are expected to say) in the current format leads to an amazing limitation of true innovation, because if the competitor wants to still have a chance to win they must make sure all of the obligatory boxes got checked while trying to work in their cool ideas. 

An argument I have heard with my concept of a 10 minute open service is that 10 minutes is too short of a time to truly highlight and innovate an amazing coffee. While I disagree with this a little, my primary concern with the 10 minute format is actually more from a logistical event coordination standpoint rather than a perfectly ideal setting. If a 15 minute presentation is a necessity, why not make it "espresso, non-alcoholic sig drink, alcoholic sig drink"? This makes sense be cause some cafes offer alcohol and some don't. Being able to create drinks that cover both of these styles would show massive versatility. That would give numerous opportunities for innovation, though I think it could complicate an already big change in competition ideas. The point is this though: A great coffee should still be a part of barista competition and it should be rewarded for being as versatile as the barista using it. 

There is also the question of technical scores, how they impact the competition, and how the scores should be weighed...

 

5. Renew technical scoring... and make it matter

With the introduction of a compulsory round, the primary technical evaluation would be focused on standard methods, and the open service would be evaluated with cleanliness at start/end as well as hygienic practices and station management (which could be evaluated by the head judge). I believe our technical score sheet, which was once a challenge to maximize 10 years ago, is now a bit of a gimme and should be revamped based on current knowledge. The criteria of "consistent dosing and tamping" and "acceptable spillage when dosing/grinding" are relatively ambiguous and vary in interpretation. First, the idea that the exact same movements should be used on a dose that may be wildly different in its initial distribution (hello provided grinders) is pretty silly. A great barista will adjust to what the grinder has put out in order to make the most consistent end product they can. The current rules don't always allow for this. The use of distribution tools makes for an easy high score on dosing/tamping, but these tools don't actually correct the puck below the level that the tool touches. These tools in particular have led to a false assumption that all is good, when in fact it is not necessarily the case. However, the way technical scoring is currently done these tools typically make near perfect scores common. One way to correct this would be to define tamping as "the first moment that a tool/implement moves the grinds downward". The coffee bed should be evenly distributed and relatively flat before that point. 

Since the technical scores are being maximized regularly, the apparent solution is to slowly eliminate the technical evaluation in the WBC. This is the opposite to my thoughts. In my opinion, if the scoring for something is regularly being maximized, it doesn't mean that the skills used are irrelevant to evaluation, but rather that the way we evaluate those skills needs to evolve and become more relevant to modern techniques. Perhaps the judges should actually be weighing waste, measuring milk excess, and getting a bit more exact with things. We are expecting a "scientific" approach to many things with coffee these days, and the technical evaluation is where that mentality would fit. Alternatively, why don't we make the pertinent technical scoring criteria (0-6 scores) into multipliers? That would certainly give a bit more attention to the value of these techniques! In the future we will need to reevaluate the ideas of technical scoring again anyway with the advent of grind by weight grinders in the upcoming generation. Maybe this is what the WCE is waiting for? 

Here is how I would adjust the Technical scoresheet for a compulsory round:

Primary changes are multipliers and 6/0 scores. This is to give weight to the more important aspects of barista skills. 

Lastly, the technical scoring in the open round would essentially be the same as the current WBC final. The head judge would assess cleanliness at start and end, station management, and proper hygiene. I see this scoring as follows:

 

Now let's talk about how to weigh all of these scoring ideas. Here is what I propose:

Compulsory sensory = @30% of total possible

Compulsory technical = @25% of total possible

Open service + technical = @45% of total possible

Why this breakdown? Because it gives weight to all of the different aspects of a barista's skills. Making great espresso and milk drinks is vital. So is a strong technical ability. Of course creative and innovative concepts should still carry weight as well. I gave a little more weight individually to the open service because honestly that is where the excitement is at, and what people will pay attention to or see on a live stream. However, the compulsory total has a huge impact on where a barista starts. If it is truly to be a barista competition, the skill and work of a barista should be a huge part of the score. 

 

A snapshot of what I envision

You arrive at the barista competition venue with your own coffee, competition wares for espresso and signature service, and perhaps a grinder for open service. You are given a 2lb/1kg bag of unmarked coffee for compulsory service as well as milk. Espresso cups, cappuccino cups, milk pitchers, spoons, and towels are provided.

You are given 20 minutes at your station to dial in espresso, taste shots and capps, and clean up your station. Immediately after dialing in your shots, the judges enter and you begin your 7 minute service. Espresso must be served first, and cappuccinos second. You simply make your drinks, serve them, and clean as you go. If there is extra time you clean your station at the end. Since there is no talking, all 3 stations can have competitors being judged simultaneously or staggered.

After finishing your compulsory round, you return your equipment and unused espresso (no sharing!) and prep for open service. Open service functions very much like the Qualifying Events in the US, with 15 minutes of practice time in the back room, 10 minutes to set up, and 10 minutes to compete. If there were 30 competitors, the compulsory round would take one day and the open round would require another (which would be an investment by the organizers). After both rounds are concluded, the top 15 would be announced. Semi-final and final rounds would only consist of the open service, as the compulsory scores should be applied to every round. The semi-final and final would be an ideal place to implement a third drink service and 15 minute time if that were desired as well. 

And there you have it. A picture of a very familiar yet very different barista competition. There are surely ideas in all of this that would need more refinement or even rethinking, but I do feel that some of these ideas are at least worth considering. Thanks for taking a peek into my brain. On the next post I will highlight some other ideas that could be beneficial the barista competitions in different ways!

 

 

 

Posted on May 4, 2017 and filed under Blog, Barista Competitions.

THINGS TO DO IN KC- USCC QUALIFIER WEEK

What is it like for a woman in coffee? Why don't more women compete? These questions and many more will be discussed in this very first episode of The Coffeewoman. Hosted at The Drugstore, there will be two panel discussions to get a good dose of perspectives- The Coffee Professional & The Coffee Competitor- featuring some seriously experienced women of coffee sharing their personal views on these topics. In fact, this has become so hot a topic, that the event has actually filled up! There will be video coverage (thanks Sprudge!), so make sure to visit the Facebook event page for updates on that!

 


FEBRUARY 3

WEDNESDAY

WEDNESDAY WELCOME PARTY

@THE KILL DEVIL CLUB - 31 E 14TH ST

6 - 9 PM

Joining forces to show you a good time are La Marzocco & Kaldi's Coffee Roasting Co. A swanky little spot, The Kill Devil Club is located a few blocks from the convention center in the downtown KC's Power & Light District. Come on out and feel all the welcomes! 

 

THE I-70 COLLABORATION & SOCIAL

@QUAY COFFEE - 412 DELWARE ST

7 - 10 PM

Wanting to dig a little deeper on the topic of multi-roaster style cafes? Quay Coffee & Blueprint Coffee are teaming up to facilitate that very conversation. Join them and their stellar panel (see above) at 7:00pm down in the historic River Market area. Need more motivation? They'll have one classy take on the classic- pizza and booze! Music by RADAMES


Curious about the Steampunk and Modbar? BrewGallery has got you covered, hosting a training & practice at their shared workspace in Lenexa, KS.  With reps from ModBar and Alpha Dominche, plus complimentary drinks from Boulevard Brewing, Thou Mayest, Torn Label Brewing, Maps Coffee, Hugo Tea, The LAB and Snow & Co, this happy hour is bound to be seriously happy!

 

COWTOWN THROWDOWN & AFTERPARTY

@MORTON HALL - 3936 MAIN ST

DOORS @ 7 - POURS @ 8

Come bask in the warmth of the KC coffee community. We're all (no, really!) hosting a big old latte art throwdown, fundraiser for Noah's Bandage Project, pop-up retail (vintage clothing and vinyl), live music, beer, and raffles- oh my! Doors open at 7- be there on time if you want a slot in the throwdown- the brackets will fill up fast. Buy-in is $10. We're using a 48 person bracket with some byes that will be raffled and finishing with 3 finalists pouring in the final round. Judges may choose a winner from the 3 pours, or choose to eliminate one pour and have the top 2 repour for the $500 win. Pours start at 8 pm. Grudge matches will start later in the evening as well! All proceeds are for charity here, so we welcome your contributions of cash and rad bandages for Noah's Bandage Project. Just save a little scratch for raffles, vintage clothing from Cable and Company, and records from The Vinyl Underground! That shouldn't be too hard since the beer's on us! (Bring your ID)


Did you know that Kansas City has one of the fastest growing art scenes in the country? Pretty crazy, right? While February isn't the most ideal time to be traipsing around KC, checking out our Crossroads area is a great way to unwind after a week filled with caffiene. If you need a little oasis on your journey, Thou Mayest has you covered on coffee, cocktails and some serious jams. Always remember to #takefunseriously ;)

 

Is our calendar missing something? Let us know at info@licatacoffeeconsultants.com and we'll get it taken care of!

Posted on January 27, 2016 .

Traveling for Barista Competitions - 6 Tips for Success

With the US Barista Championship Qualifying Event quickly approaching here in Kansas City, you may find yourself packing bags and boxes with competition wares in mind. During my competition career I found myself packing boxes full of comp gear for cross country and international flights over 10 times, and I believe I have some valuable insight for you. 

The following tips are useful whether you are driving across the country or flying around the world:

 

1 - Pack boxes tightly 

If you have ever received a fragile package that was shipped across the country (or world), you have probably dug through a whole lot of bubble wrap, packing peanuts, or custom shaped styrofoam. The fight to protect valuables through the shipping process is a true struggle, and knowing the amount of love and care given to your possessions by package handlers can help you understand how to plan your packing...

I'm sure it was fine

I'm sure it was fine

You may not have access to custom molded styrofoam, but bubble wrap and packing peanuts can be a real life-saver (smallware-saver?) when packing your gear. Always wrap ceramic mugs separately, and saucers with a paper layer between. I like to stack the saucers and then wrap the whole set in bubble wrap, making sure they are taped tightly so that nothing has a chance to move. The same can be said for your box. Make sure there is no excess space so that your items cannot shift during shipment. I prefer heavy cardboard boxes, as they are relatively cheap and have the flexibility to be over-stuffed a bit which makes the inside contents snugly stuck where they are. For many types of glassware, using a wine box (the type with separators between each bottle slot) is a great option to prevent breakage. You still need to pack the contents nice and tight no matter what type of box you use though.

It is always a good idea to layer padding on the exterior of the box so that it will take the brunt of impacts. Keep in mind that you will not be able to fit as much stuff into each box, as you will be filling a lot of that space. Whether you are going to ship boxes with a delivery service like DHL or check on a plane, the final test is to simply pick it up and drop it on a hard surface (or basically throw it against a wall). If you are confident your equipment can survive that then you should feel relatively safe that everything will survive the journey.

Another thing to consider is when to pack wares, and when to hand carry them on a plane. Highly breakable items can be wrapped relatively lightly in paper and carried in a small carry-on sized bag. Overhead bins are often at a premium, and I have witnessed other passengers jam their items with no regard for others' property, so always take care that your bag won't get crushed. Keeping a bag of fragile glass under the seat in front of me has been the best way to ensure a safe arrival. Call me paranoid, but it works.

If you decide to hand carry fragile items on a plane, keep in mind that smaller city destinations like, say, Kansas City, tend to use very small regional jets. If your bag is too big to fit on these tiny planes you may be forced to check it at the gate, which is typically not the safest thing for a bag full of fragile glass. Using a smaller bag with flexible material helps ensure that you can keep your items safe. Oh, and don't willingly take a bulkhead seat on those planes either if space is a concern!

 

2 - Consider your ingredients

If you are competing in the barista competition, chances are that you will need at least a few ingredients when you arrive. Will you have good milk? If you practiced your new "milk drink" with a specific extraction and a specific volume, will your drink taste the same with a different milk? If you are using some fresh produce for your sig drink, will the same quality/freshness/varietal be available where you are going? 

There are tons of options inside the US to get great milk, whether it is a local small dairy or bringing your milk from home. There are plenty of logistics involved with bringing your home milk on a plane, so make sure you can pack liquids or have it shipped. We once shipped a cooler of our local milk next day air to an event, and needless to say we had the most expensive milk in the country that year. Of course if you are driving to your destination things will be much easier. All you have to do is ensure the temperature is appropriate so your dairy doesn't spoil or freeze. 

Produce can be an extremely difficult detail to cover remotely, as everyone has very different expectations. If you have a reasonably shelf stable fruit/vegetable you can potentially buy extra at home and bring it with you just in case you can't find the right quality at your destination. If you are traveling internationally things will be much more difficult, as customs may forbid bringing in fresh produce. In either case, having a trusted friend living in your destination city can certainly help you find what you need as quickly and painlessly as possible.

 

3 - Create an inventory

I am a huge fan of checklists for backstage at competitions. They help organize your mind and double check all of your wares so that you know for certain that everything is in its place. Nothing is worse than starting your presentation and realizing you forgot your grinds towel. Checklists also come in really handy for another reason.

Before you even start packing all of those smallwares into boxes, you should have your checklist handy to double check that you have indeed packed all of your items. As you are packing boxes, simply notate which box (give them numbers or names or something) each item(s) went into. This way after you have finished packing your boxes, you can create a list of all of the items that went into each box. Why is this useful? Because you can then account for each item as you unpack at your destination and know when/if you need to dig through more packing peanuts for that one lost item. 

Inventory lists can be extremely useful for another reason, which brings us to our next tip...

 

4 - Plan your return

Unfortunately, packing for barista competitions is not finished when we arrive at the destination. If you have any sentimental attachment to your smallwares, or at least don't want to throw away a pile of cash, you are probably going to be bringing most of that stuff home. When you packed your items you hopefully packed in a way to minimize breakage, so why send it back as a disorganized mess? By keeping inventory of what items were packed into which box, you can then repack for the return trip without too much extra effort. Note: Keep your packing materials in each box as well so you don't have to worry about finding it later.

This inventory is also very useful if you are sending boxes via a package carrier or if you have a concern about going over weight checking them on a plane. I would often pre-print return shipping labels using the outbound weight, so all I had to do was repack the same items in the same boxes, tape them up, and drop them off at the local FedEx. Sometimes a corporate account will simply adjust your price based on weight changes when it ships, but it is good to know how much you are spending on shipping before hand. 

Lastly, keep in mind that you don't always need to bring every item back with you. I would often buy fancy wares for the stage, but super cheap items for prep work behind the scenes. That $3 box of weird glass bowls that I used to stage ingredients in often wouldn't make it back to my home because it was a pain to pack. Of course you should consider the value of items, and if there is a chance you may want to use them again it is a pretty good idea to just bring them home. The amount of money spent on competition smallwares is a real concern for most of us, so don't waste money when you don't need to.

 

5 - Give your coffee a fighting chance

Something that is often overlooked by competitive baristas is the environment conditions of their coffee while traveling. Flying on a plane is one of the most detrimental things a beautiful coffee can experience. Many of you may already have put thought into the aging of your coffee for ideal brewing, but if it isn't protected during travel it might just be stale anyway. 

First of all, let me just say it. Put your coffee in a heat sealed bag with a one-way valve. Craft bags are really cool and totally inexpensive, but they do not protect your coffee in any way whatsoever.

Ok, maybe from sunlight. 

When flying, the air is extremely dry and the pressure is quite tough on your beans. The one-way valve is your first defense. Ideally it would be nice to use a bag with no valve since the interior gasses would be preserved in a completely sealed environment. Sadly if you are flying with 10-30lb of coffee you likely don't have space for the bags to turn into giant balloons, since the air expands in that sealed environment during flight. If you have ever taken a half-full bottle of water on a plane you may have seen this action. The bottle swells during ascent, and if you open it at elevation (or a one-way valve releases the air), it scrunches up on descent. This is why your bags of coffee tend to look like they were vacuum sealed after you fly with them. Just so you know, if your bag didn't scrunch up after a flight then either your bag wasn't fully sealed, the one-way valve failed, or your coffee had no gas when you packed it. None of these scenarios is a good sign.

So what do you do to protect the coffee better??? Unfortunately this is always a problem. Potentially, large sealed mylar bags with no valve can be placed on the exterior of your normal bag, but the gas will still escape your valve bag into the larger one. You can attempt to place a small amount (1kg/2lb) into a very large bag with no valve so that there is plenty of room for gas to expand and contract. Or you can just trust the one-way valve bag and do what everyone has been doing for years. In some cases, especially WBC, people will fly with their green coffee and roast early at their destination. This of course has the potential to be the best case scenario, but it could also backfire if you are not able to adapt to the roasting machine you are borrowing.

One final note about coffee transportation. After flying, I have very commonly found that the coffee will still taste at its peak for a competition when you open the bag, but the quality level quickly drops after a day. It is still tasty coffee, but since you want the absolute best you can get for competitions it is important to note that the flavor will likely be its best for only a very short time. So try opening one bag at a time, and keep some sealed if you are in a multi round competition such as USBC or WBC. 

 

6 - Scout out your destination

Unless you are very familiar with your destination it is a wise idea to know as much as you can in advance. Chances are that you will need to pick up at least a couple of items before your competition, and nothing is worse than scrambling at the last minute to find something you thought would be available anywhere. If you always buy items from a specific store, check to see if that store is also at your destination just in case you need to buy replacement items. In addition, if you have a specific store and product in mind you may be able to purchase that item at your destination rather than packing it to take with you (this of course depends on if you need to practice with said item). 

In the past I have always scouted the location and driving time to specialty grocery stores, dairies, smallware stores (like Crate and Barrel), the competition venue, big box stores, shipping locations (FedEx), and even restaurants. When you know your area in advance it helps remove the stress of trying to find what is around at the last minute, as well as letting you know what options are and are not available from the start. My planning usually involved a list of places and what we needed to buy from each so that most of the running around was taken care of right away.

Sometimes a local company will provide lists for your convenience upon arriving, but this has been inconsistent. If you have a friend or two in your destination city, you should see if they can be available to help out. Locals always tend to know how to get around, and might just know about a small locally owned store that you might never find otherwise. 

One last thing I recommend is to buy light and healthy snacks while you are visiting grocery stores. You aren't at home, and often we get so focused on the details of competition that we forget to eat properly. You might not think it's a problem until later, but you will feel terrible if you drink tons of coffee with no food. So grab enough to keep your body going on the road. Things like coconut water, bananas, yogurt, dried fruit, and nuts can be life savers. 

 

If you prepare for your upcoming trip properly, you can ensure that you will be physically and mentally focused for competitions on the road. There will always be uncertainties when you are away from home, but the more you know can be remedied easily the more comfortable you will be. Also remember that the barista community is full of great people who are happy to help you out when they can, so just ask for help if you need it! Hopefully these tips will get you on your way safely and effectively. If you are interested in more advice to prepare for competitions, check out my previous blog post with 4 competition tips for success.

See a lot of you soon in KC, or elsewhere in the world!

Pete

 

 

Posted on January 4, 2016 and filed under Blog.

Customer Service and the Coffee Industry

My first “real” job was in a restaurant. When I was 15 years old I began working as a cashier, with the grand dream of being a chef. I began learning how to take money, take an order, talk to customers, and expedite orders. Customer service was the first thing you learned, and it was not optional.

This is where everyone started working for the restaurant. If you couldn’t do something as simple as help customers with their needs, then you might be relegated to scrubbing toilets before eventually being let go. When I made mistakes I was scolded, sometimes yelled at, but corrected for essentially being ignorant of how and why things were done.

As time passed I learned. I learned how to serve people better, anticipate needs, and how to exceed their expectations whenever possible (note: it’s not always possible). This was my introduction to food service and customer service. I wanted to be a chef, and somehow that started by making sure the older gentleman who looks like it might be his last day on this beautiful earth got exactly the right mix of Extra Tasty Crispy and Original Recipe chicken.

Yes, my first job was at KFC.

It was quite an experience

It was quite an experience

 

A strange start to a successful coffee career to be sure, but perhaps it helps tell a narrative. Today the topic is connecting to the customer in the coffee industry.

Recently I have been bombarded with the topic of how we can start giving better service. Usually the first thing to go through my head is “Why were you not giving great service in the first place?” My opinion is that we are a part of the “service industry”, which means that we rely on customers who ask a service of us (preparing tasty coffee) and then pay for that service. Clearly in the coffee industry we do a whole lot more than just make tasty coffee. However, customers generally always want two things: tasty coffee and a pleasant interaction. Some people want more coffee geekery, some want to chat about the weekend, and some just want to get some “wake-up juice” and not think about it. The key is to look from the consumers’ point of view. I usually use a great bar as an analogy.

Think of a great bartender. He or she might be mixing, shaking, pouring, straining, zesting, twisting, or otherwise doing prep work. The ones that come to my mind are quite professional, but completely friendly. If you order a standard cocktail they don’t roll their eyes at you, but they might ask if you want a particular brand of the spirit in the drink. They might even tell you a couple of interesting things about your drink or the ingredients in it, but that is about all unless you are asking more detailed questions. The bartender is the gatekeeper of knowledge. The great ones are bubbling with knowledge and more than happy to talk about the technical details if you are interested. They do something that is crucial though.

They read you.

The great bartender starts by making you feel good, then adjusts to you depending on where you want to go. When was the last time you woke up and instantly thought to yourself “Boy I could really go for a cup of coffee and a lecture about why it is so great!”? Take a note from the great bartender and start trying to read your customers. They will love it.

Reading people is a skill that must be honed. In respect to standard cafe service, I think of four general types of customer “reads”. Clearly every person is different, and there are many variations on this idea, but this is a good start.

 

Image courtesy of Yazmin Alanis González

Image courtesy of Yazmin Alanis González

The Zombie  

If you are not a morning person, chances are this has been you at some point in your life. I know I have. The zombie is generally still in the process of waking up. His/her social skills tend to range from snarky to incomprehensible, but the real tell is the overwhelming disdain for loud music, technical data, and the existence of sunlight. In the latter case the term “vampire” may be appropriate.

The zombie is in desperate need of coffee, and to deprive them of this life-nectar is clearly an exercise in cruelty. Sometimes the best interaction is to get to know their regular drink and just ask “the usual?”. Their primary concern is quick caffeination, but don’t mistake this for a lack of care about quality. The zombie can sometimes magically transform into “The Casual Enthusiast” or “The Friendly Consumer” later in the day. And if you think about it, you may have had something to do with that change only a few hours before ;)

 

The Friendly Consumer

If it isn’t morning, or your customer is just one of those happy, cheerful people, your chances of encountering the friendly consumer are greatly increased. The friendly consumer is just that. Happy to get a nice cup of coffee and typically easy to talk to. Your biggest decision is whether to continue small talk or move into more technical information about the coffee they are getting.

The friendly consumer represents the widest range of people you encounter, but they can become “The Casual Enthusiast” very easily. Perhaps they are curious about why their cup tastes so good every day, or (unfortunately) why their drink is better when certain people make it for them. This type of interaction is easily segued into a discussion about coffee quality and barista skills. The trick is to be ready but let them come to you. You'll know when they are ready to take a peek into the coffee abyss.

 

The Casual Enthusiast

Every now and then a customer walks through the door who is curious about everything they encounter. This person tends to appreciate a superior product or method, and relishes the education they can receive from a knowledgeable barista. Interestingly, the casual enthusiast is often created in your own or other specialty cafes through exposure to great quality and the integrity that is presented time and again. Simple interactions show your excitement about coffee, which lead to curiosity and interest in what is happening behind the scenes.

An enthusiastic customer is likely interested to know how they can make an equally great cup of coffee in their own home every day. This is your chance to showcase your extensive knowledge, tempered of course by what is reasonable for someone to start brewing coffee on their own. Occasionally the casual enthusiast will become “The Coffee Nerd”

The Coffee Nerd 

If you work in coffee, or did at one point, chances are you are in this category. Despite including the industry elitist, The Coffee Nerd is anyone who has taken the plunge down the coffee rabbit hole and become a geek about it. This sometimes manifests itself as delving into the “science” of coffee, which can test your knowledge/patience as a working barista. As much as we love having excited customers, it seems that there is a disdain for having our own knowledge questioned. I find it fascinating that we go so quickly from being excited about interest, to condescending about how much more we know.

The Coffee Nerd is an uncommon visitor to most cafes, or sometimes they choose not to be known as such. They can come across as a Zombie, a Casual Enthusiast, or simply as a Friendly Consumer depending on the time and/or day. What matters the most is to treat them with the hospitality that is expected from a coffee professional and to offer up the information that is relevant to them. Sometimes this covers every aspect of extraction imaginable. Sometimes all that is expected is what your coffee to water ratio is and extraction time. As always, read the situation for each person and you will surpass expectations and have people coming back for more!

 

In the interest of relevance, the above concept of customers is best taken as an extremely general way to approach people on a regular basis. You may have different thoughts about the guests visiting your store, but if you have a way of understanding your customers you will be better able to serve them. 

And if you can serve them better, I bet they will want to come back more often.

 

 

Posted on December 30, 2015 and filed under Blog.

The variety of filter coffee

As I write this post, I am sitting at a recently opened cafe with a cup of filter brewed coffee. This isn't about the origin, quality, or even the cafe itself; I simply started to think about the coffee industry's obsession with brewing options. I have seen a lot of buzz about the "proper" or "best" way to make coffee, and while I sit here and enjoy this cup let's look at the variety of what I consider the simplest form of coffee that we serve, filtered coffee.

Brewing filter coffee is the simplest thing ever, right? Weigh and grind the coffee, put it in the paper filter in the basket, and push the button. If everything is calibrated and functioning properly it really can be that simple. Newer brewing machines have controls over temperature, pulsing to bloom the grinds, consistent shower heads to wet the grinds evenly, and adjustments to change the time of various parts of the brew.

Somehow it still gets messed up

Somehow it still gets messed up

When I began working in coffee the only way I knew to brew coffee was with a batch brewer. 2 or 3 liters per brew was the norm, and we stuck to the "Gold Cup Standard" in our brewing parameters. I have to say that the coffee we brewed was really great (though who knows where my palate development was at the time)! For variety we brewed a number of roasts, blends, or decaf (and flavored coffee, but let's try to forget about that one). This selection was the fastest, most convenient way to buy coffee and we even put out a "grab and go" stack of cups with a dollar jar for the regulars.

We sold a lot of cups.

Of course if you have been exposed to specialty cafes in any way in the past 5 years you have at least seen a pourover brew. Chemex, Hario, Kalita, and a slew of other brands represent ways to pour hot water over coffee grinds. In the most simple sense this is a way to make a single, small batch of coffee fresh to order without wasting any product. Pourover brewing, or manual brewing, is considered by some to be the ultimate way to get the best flavor from a given coffee.

Pourover coffee adds control over variables in the brewing process. Water temperature, water flow, and turbulence are now completely controllable by the barista in addition to coffee/water ratio and extraction time. Of course the more variables you have in hand, the more opportunities you have to make terrible coffee. In my opinion there are pros and cons to batch brewing and manual brewing alike.

Batch brewing gives you:

- large amounts of coffee relatively quickly

- consistent brew flavor and strength

- simple and effortless brewing

Potentially negative aspects of batch brewing are:

- lack of personal interaction or identity of the coffee

- wasting coffee that is not sold quickly enough

- limited ability to brew a wide selection of coffees easily

Manual brewing gives you:

- control to achieve the best flavor possible

- ability to brew a large selection with no waste (other than a lot more paper filters)

- individual attention to each drink and customer interactions

Potentially negative aspects of manual brewing are:

- increased difficulty to properly extract coffee each time, leading to inconsistencies

- longer service time, sometimes to extremes

- more focus on the coffee itself rather than customer's immediate needs

Can I get a coffee, but something a little less intense?
Can I get a coffee, but something a little less intense?

You might be asking yourself why I am making these comparisons at this point. Many people feel that batch brewing is antiquated, and manual brewing is the only way to brew properly. The funny thing is that manually brewing coffee is a far older process than auto/batch brewing. The thing that arguably made manual brewing come back in vogue in the U.S. was the incredible popularity, and subsequent sale of the Clover brewer to Starbucks. We created a demand for single cup brewing of high dollar and exquisite coffees. When the super cool and stylish and trendy and expensive Clover brewer lost favor with the masses (of coffee folks), the manual pourover was the obvious solution.

Enter the newest assortment of automated, single cup brewers. There are a lot of brands out there but the goal is to get the ease of use and consistency of a batch brew with the versatility and individuality of a manual brew. What single cup auto brewers bring is another option for the savvy cafe owner. I believe that all of these forms of brewing coffee are here to stay.

I love lamp source: www.seraphim.coffee

I love lamp source: www.seraphim.coffee

The important thing to take from all of these musings of mine is that the best way to brew coffee is the way that works best for your needs. A cafe a should choose their equipment with care. Batch brew all day? Only in mornings/rush? Manual only? A custom setup with only single cup auto brewers? Everyone's needs are different, so there is no universal answer.

If you just want a great cup of coffee though, don't be afraid of a specific method. If you are making your coffee, pick a simple and effective method that requires as much as you want to put into it. In the end, the coffee should just be approachable and really really tasty.

The now infamous cup of coffee
The now infamous cup of coffee
Posted on August 3, 2014 and filed under Blog.