This year I did something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, yet now I regret it pretty much, since I am not that energetic at the moment, and the timing is a disaster. I signed up for the SCA Swedish Chapter board. When I did, things looked pretty good at work, and I felt excited to be part of something that I’ve been around as a competitor and judge for so many years.
Soon things started to crumble, and I started to have less time for this obligation I had now put myself up for. Unfortunately, it felt like most people that had put up their hands, were in a very similar situation and/or mindset that I had found myself to be. And there was some circumstances that weren’t ideal, like the NC giving birth 3 weeks before the competition and ending up at ER with her child because of a virus during the very competition. And then there was the other member whose family holiday unfortunately was put under the same time. And someone elses man flu. And I had no staff to fill in for me, so I had to work the weekend, but managed to get someone in for the first days, in order to try to fulfill at least some of my obligations.
On top of this, we had several officials of Swedish coffee nobility that bailed out in the last minute leaving us in a very bad pickle, and there was some intense days communicating with the World Coffee Events if we could even host a competition, thanks to these people. One of them kindly mansplained with senior advice to postpone the competition to save money. Not possible with the World Championship around the corner very soon. So basically a shit show.
One person, a former latte art champion, has basically organized the event by herself, with help at a distance from the rest of us (I am the first to admit my input unfortunately has been minimal). Whatever good comes out of this competition, that just ran its first day, is due to her diligence, and the people around the SCA events that persistently believes in the coffee culture of Sweden.
The event actually looks great (setting reminds me a bit of London 2010 actually), but during my helping out today, there are some thoughts that I need to write down about the competition as a whole.
The competition, since I started having interest in it back in 2007, has changed, a lot. I’ve competed in 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2017, and I have judged inbetween. First of all, the interest in the actual Barista Competition has changed drastically. It is a high profile competition, catching the same kind of interest as the low profile latte art comp. Instead everyone wants to do the Brewers Competition. I can understand the popularity of it, it’s relatively cheap and easy to do, but it also see there’s a problem with this. It doesn’t reflect the standard of any coffee bar at all. Neither does the Barista Competition, if you look at the coffee served, but at least it shows some skill and showmanship. I’ve had Barista competitors coffee in the bar, and it’s usually at a high level. I can’t say the same about people serving me coffee in a bar after doing a Brewers Competition, simply because the design of the competition allows you to serve the ideal coffee in the ideal context. Even the person finishing last in the Barista Comp, can use their training in a bar working effortlessly with the competition structure as a backbone.
For me, the rise of the Brewers turned every Youtube-barista into a wannabe scientist. The anxiety of trying to control your brew creates false security, and assumptions aren’t always what you think they are. Today there was a heated debate on water and water temperature for compulsory. You are not, I repeat not, going to control a coffee you get one hour to play with, when you can’t even control a coffee you’ve spent months on end trying to control. Yet, the faux-professors of the world will make it the only thing that makes a skilled barista. There’s a simple explanation for this behavior: the sure fire way to blame someone else for your failure. The level of princess behaviour today was somewhat shocking. Maybe it’s because it’s the first time I am not a competitor or a judge, but just helping out being the middle man between someones nervousness and frustration. But there’s a lack of professionality that comes with seasoned competitors. And we had one of those there, showing a great sense of understanding for the situation, but also not letting this be a setback but instead looking forward. That PMA is what creates winners, not some fucking snotnosed entitlement attitude.
But what I noticed today really, was that there’s a clash between the competition mind set and coffee culture. My idea, all along, was to make SCA a stronghold when it comes to introducing budding baristas that are not in touch with an organized education and level. In order to make the consumer more aware, it is crucial to educate coffee makers at any given level, to give them a context and a frame work what the industry and aware consumers are expecting from them. This, to me, is the point of taking the competition outside the major cities.
In all fairness, I believe a lot of the returning exhibitors to these events have that effect on the mainstream visitors. But the discrepancy between what happens on the fairground, and backstage, is massive.
It’s not necessarily the format of the competition that is the error, but the behemoth it has become on a world scale. Competitors mostly come to believe and expect stardom, and with it comes arrogance. They’re only there to get access to a world platform, that is so vastly different from the whats and the whys we have the competitions in Sweden.
In the World these things can co exist, but normally it’s industry focused. We have sponsors at the local events who are industry focused, but the event itself mostly have an audience that is focused on walk ins. At the first day of competition, there’s a big lack of industry leaders and celebrities, simply because they only want to be connected to the comps if their product wins.
I do believe in the competition, in the way I grew up as a barista in it. Comraderie, exchanging ideas, building community with your competitors, helping new comers becoming involved. I’ve seen great careers start from the competitions. Now I mostly see entitlement, lack of a positive mind attitude, despise for people not understanding our product, starfuckers and fame hunters. It’s sad. And the public watches and shakes their heads in disbelief, going back to their dark roasts and milky beverages. Because we taught them that speciality coffee is for twats.
So what is the future for the competitions, in Sweden? My main point is that we are not breeding representatives for speciality coffee in a way it was meant. We are not selling our product with this format, we are alienating the end consumer further. We don’t speak their language.
The way I see it, there are two ways. One is the unlikely way, where we become more consumer orientated, we put emphasis on the coffee culture, and how to build bridges between “us” and “them”. The World Coffee Events are not going this way at all, and I’d say it would weaken our positition even further as a competing nation, maybe for a greater good for the Swedish industry, but not for the competitors.
The other way, that to me makes more sense, is to hand over the event to these new local organizers of coffee events, like The Grid, and let them run it at their own coffee festival. They will make it a fringe festival for hipsters, naturally, but I think of it more in terms of an industry party that could bring people closer together within the industry, rather than welcoming a broader audience.
The death of speciality coffee is here. Let the sinkers of the ship keep playing their fiddles.
NP City And Colour The Death of Me