One thing you will know about Craig Dickson, CEO at Veneziano Coffee Roasters, is the high level of performance he expects of his baristas. Performance not just in the competition sense, but also performance behind the machines at all the First Pours; because he recognises that the cafe environment, as well as customers, benefit from preparation for competitions as the baristas improve their skills and knowledge.
It separates the professional baristas out from the generic ‘coffee hands’ or ‘coffee makers’. Becoming a professional barista these days offers a really exciting, progressive career path for those passionate about the specialty coffee industry.
As a certified Australian coffee judge (for over 10 year) and also World certified, Craig is well placed to nurture his baristas through competitions and the proof lies in a string of successful outcomes, from very early on. Some names you might recognise who have spent some time training with Veneziano Coffee over the years include: Craig Simon, Australian Barista Champion; Erin Sampson, Australian Latte Art Champion; Jen Marks, Australian Latte Art Champion; Jean-Paul Sutton, Queensland Barista Champion; Mike Wells, South Australia Barista Champion; David Makin, two time Australian Barista Champion; Zoe (Delany) Makin; David Seng; Con Haralambopoulos; Jessie Hyde; Will Priestly; Remy Shpayzer; Cassie la Penna; Simon James.
Here is an article from Cafe Culture, that takes a look at the competition barista, with Craig Dickson:
Why support barista competitions?
CRAIG DICKSON, CEO AT VENEZIANO COFFEE, HAS ALWAYS BEEN PASSIONATE ABOUT LEARNING ABOUT COFFEE AND
HAS ALWAYS ENCOURAGED EMPLOYEES TO EDUCATE THEMSELVES AS MUCH AND AS OFTEN AS POSSIBLE.
His philosophy has seen Veneziano Coffee provide 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 2011 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 to assist 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 frequents barista championships whilst the general public and coffee enthusiasts are 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 barista 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 cafes? 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 whilst maintaining a calm, professional demeanour as they take the judges through their coffee choice and inspiration.
Back in the cafe 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 cafe. 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 it’s grown, the terrain, the processing methods and so on, as 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 is always striving to source and provide the best quality coffee 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 allows 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 cafes 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 that is experienced, passionate and knowledgeable about their craft.”
“It isn’t really surprising that the cafes 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 for 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 are 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 cafes 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, so 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.”