The World Barista Championships are over for another year which saw Australian candidate Craig Simon of Think Tank Coffee reveal a new coffee processing innovation to the coffee world, perform his best ever with the best coffee he’s ever tasted, to take out a very respectable 4th place out of 55 national competitors.
As Craig himself says, “I feel energised after that final. I really found another level and that is now my baseline going forward”.
Craig’s world quality performance attracted a growing legion of fans and followers throughout the competition and has no doubt inspired a new generation of competition baristas. He’s well and truly cemented the respect of his industry mentors (Craig Dickson, Joseph Brodsky, Pete Licata, Holly Bastin), colleagues (the team at Veneziano Coffee Roasters), fellow Australians and gained attention from the rest of the coffee world.
Interestingly, Craig’s been touted as kicking off the fourth wave of specialty coffee in this blog article by Kostas Sideris, a freelancer, blogger and barista/coffee trainer at highly recognised vocational college IEK Praxis in Athens, Greece, who attributes this claim to the whole notion of introducing the feedback cycle, as opposed to the typical ‘coffee chain’, that forms the basis of Craig’s presentation.
Craig’s career progression is definitely one of the great examples of the barista’s craft as a profession, the very reason that these competitions exist.
Importantly, Craig developed his own hybrid coffee processing method as a guest at Panama Gesha Estates of Ninety Plus Coffee’s ‘Maker Series’. Craig’s competition coffee was handpicked and processed all by himself, in what was a true experiment to influence the flavour characteristics.
Specialty Coffee Association of America’s (SCAA) President Peter Giuliano, considered an expert on coffee processing, remarked during Craig’s final performance that, “After many years of sourcing coffee [myself], I could say that this is truly an innovation, I haven’t seen it done before”.
Providing commentary during the WBC livestream from Rimini, Peter goes on to explain to viewers that typically coffees are depulped after picking: “Craig’s introduced a pause, beforedepulping but after picking. Coffee begins to change dramatically immediately after it’s picked, which is why, even though we don’t know a lot about this, this would have changed the flavours. With naturals, the fruit stays on many days. With washed coffees it comes off within a number of hours, what he’s [Craig’s] achieved is something down the middle”.
Craig explains how there was no reference available “For what would work when I developed this hybrid processing method, I believe it’s never been done before. It [the processing method outcome] answered my curiosity at the possibility of combining both processing characteristics within one coffee successfully”.
This processing method was a tremendous opportunity for flavour manipulation in processing experimentation. It has allowed Craig to introduce the fruity character that a natural coffee offers without the overwhelming flavours, as well as the vibrancy and clarity of a washed coffee; something that he was keen to achieve. Naturals have been surrounded by some controversy, as there are some who don’t enjoy the overwhelming characteristics.
To achieve this outcome of combining both characterisitics in the one coffee, he left it in the cherry for the first 16 hours (for sweetness and fruit characteristics) and then pulped and fermented it for 12 hours before rinsing and returning to the drying beds to finish the process.
He continues, “What I did know was, I wanted the the coffee to spend enough time in cherry to capture the characteristics of a natural, but leave enough time for the coffee to still pulp and ferment”.
“I’d previously learnt from washed experiments about pH versus time, I found the best outcome was at 12 hours, giving the greatest vibrancy and flavour articulation – which is what I was after; any less and the flavours are unclear, any longer and the acidity and flavour qualities are incredibly low”.
On roasting the coffee, Craig says,”I really wanted the fruit character to pop, so I slowed down the roasting between straw and cinnamon, as this is where all the organic acid reactions are occurring. To preserve the roast degree, I slowed down coming into first crack to get the sugar caramelisation without having to go too dark”.
Despite his intimate knowledge of the coffee, Craig made it clear that the most important element of his performance is the feedback! Whether it’s the judges assessing his routine or his general customers back home telling him what they prefer. This arms him with the ability to go back again and make more adjustments at the processing stage to give the customer a coffee they will enjoy even more.
Meanwhile, Craig continues to receive congratulations and acknowledgement on a performance of a lifetime, both verbally and via social media. It seems Pat Connolly, roaster at Veneziano, was right when he called Craig the ‘People’s Champ’. Either way, he was definitely a favourite, a sentiment echoed in the Barista Magazine blog.
Nectarine, lime, silky medium mouthfeel, earl grey bergamot tea
Biscuit base, subtle apricot and a caramel sweetness
Craig invites the judges to select one of two recipes, that highlight predicting future flavour characteristics.
He predicts double time in the cherry would yield a more natural character of rich red stone fruit notes like plum and with a washed characteristic, it would achieve more complex citrus notes. The judges in the final selected the second option, of what the washed coffee would be like:
– original note is lime but adding more complexity of acidity with some pink grapefruit (4ml)
– add some subtle sweetness (a character associated with washed coffee) with honey syrup (6ml)
– cold infusion of early grey tea (6ml), cold is important because you can have a longer extaction time that doesn’t overextract extra bitterness, tannins are incredibly soft but more complex
– mineral water (8ml) adds vibrancy and clarity