- newly crowned Australian Barista Champion 2014 Craig Simon and his competition journey -
Craig Simon has been competing in the Australian Specialty Coffee Association’s barista championships, the most recognised in the industry, since 2008. Last month he took out his second ever Victorian Barista Championship title and over the weekend his second Australian Barista Championship in May (he previously won the national title in 2012).
Craig’s winning presentation was all about what he describes as the coffee cycle, not the traditional chain of bean to cup, based on the idea that feedback from the coffee drinker will improve the next series of the coffee as the refinements are applied in each relevant step of the process. He even invited the national judging panel on a ‘date’ in a year’s time to taste the next lot of coffee, so they can experience the impact of their feedback.
What makes a winner?
The main aim of competing is to create a competition-winning coffee, to present something spectacular. There are many factors at play. One of the most important is having a respected mentor to support and foster your coffee development, and in Craig Simon’s case this is none other than Veneziano Coffee Roasters’ managing director, Craig Dickson. Dickson encouraged Simon to discover everything he could about coffee, pushing his knowledge and experience to the limits.
So, what has Craig learned exactly and how did he apply this knowledge? We’ve all heard time and again that many factors influence the flavour profile of coffee, from the growing conditions, the processing methods employed between harvest time and delivery, to roasting and preparation.
Enter Ninety Plus Coffees, a relatively young coffee producer that is achieving some incredible results by putting the focus on processing in order to obtain specific taste profiles. Instead of just following the typical methods of coffee processing and looking for an expected flavour outcome, the small team at Ninety Plus work in innovative ways to change the parameters of processing methods that influence the desired flavour outcomes.
According to Craig,”This whole concept, of being able to achieve a deliberate taste profile versus one that happens by default, is something that really resonates with me, not just for a competition performance coffee, but for any coffee. And to be able to spend some time with the Ninety Plus crew in Panama for the 2014 harvest was an incredible experience, truly inspiring”.
Aim and Methodology
“I knew that with my coffee, I wanted to capture the fruitiness and sweetness from a natural processed coffee, and combine it with the flavour sparkling acidity and vibrancy that you get from a washed coffee, as these are qualities I enjoy out of each”, explains Craig.
Here’s how it happened: first up, Craig was paired with a “super picker”, a guy named Benjamin who’d been trained in cherry selection perfection. Only the sweetest, ripest, reddest Gesha cherries were added to the daily picking baskets, resulting in a final 30kg yield of only the most beautiful cherries.
“It may sound simple however it was extremely challenging to find the right people with both the patience and the passion for getting it, well… perfect. Many of the pickers didn’t last. Even a higher wage couldn’t convince them to stay, they found the work was too difficult and slow”.
He goes on to say, “Because of Benjamin, who was much quicker than I was, and the pride he took in showing me what he’d picked at the end of each day, I genuinely wanted to do well for his sake as much as my own knowing I’d be representing his hard work”.
The next step was for Craig to apply his own processing profile, which he’d based on previous washed coffee experiments during visits to El Salvador and India. As part of the unique Ninety Plus Maker Series program, special industry guests are invited to join Ninety Plus on the farm and gain an insight to their processing formulae, then adapt the parameters to create signature recipes. This program has recently expanded to include, “The experimentation of our best flavour making masters from the market side, those who are driven to the ultimate in detailed coffee work as baristas and roasters”, according to Joseph Brodsky from Ninety Plus Coffees.
A first for Craig Simon in creating his own drying technique, his strategy was to leave the coffee in cherry on raised beds for the first 16 hours, followed by fermentation by which time the coffee was releasing a sweet and fruity, intense peachy aroma, then it was rinsed and returned to raised beds.
“Considering that it’s not standard practice to leave the coffee in cherry before it’s pulped – it’s seen as risky for fermentation, which to me seems counterintuitive as natural coffees taste so great – however I chose to leave the cherries overnight in a single layer on the raised bed. I was aiming to capture a bit of extra fruit note in the coffee and extra jammy sweetness”, states Craig. “Next year I’ll be looking to fine-tune the parameters even further”.
Joseph was delighted with the results of his and Craig’s first collaborative effort, with Craig’s results setting the tone for the Ninety Plus Maker Series, saying “Craig’s selections were the first naturally fermented washed profiles we have made at Ninety Plus Gesha Estates, every cherry was handled as a perfect and delicate newborn baby”.
“The 2014 Craig Simon Maker Series signature WCS (Washed Craig Simon) and HCS (Honey Craig Simon) coffees are impeccable in their green and golden beauty, and his fermentation parameters have teased a
From a roasting viewpoint, the aim is always the same: maximise flavour articulation with all of the tactile elements in tact. “I have a strong intuition or understanding of how far I can manipulate the coffee in the roaster and what it will give me to play with at the machine, I understand the roasting style I need for my extraction skills, so I more or less know what will come out of the spouts”, says Craig, speaking from unquestionable experience.
Nonetheless, the resulting coffee he used to compete with – Craig Simon Maker Series washed – was superb enough to win him the Victorian and Australian barista titles as he now prepares to take on the World.
Craig’s taste descriptors as presented to the judges in the Australian final:
- apricot (attributed to the time spent in the cherry)
- lime (from the time spent rinsing and fermenting)
- silky medium mouthfeel
- earl grey tea/bergamot tannic finish
- nectarine, lime, silky medium mouthfeel, earl grey tea tannic finish
- cheescake biscuit base, stone fruit softening into apricot, caramel note
- 6ml prune reduction (heated to bring out the aromatics)
- 4ml brown sugar syrup (to mimic the coffee flavours had it spent more time in the natural cherry during processing), gives the extra sweetness of rich stone fruit notes
- 6ml earl grey tea reduction brewed cold, brings softer more delicate but complex tannins, greater viscosity
- 8ml mineral water, adds sparkling clarity and mimics the washing process, bridges the flavours being added to the espresso
Find lime notes of espresso in first mouthful, rich prune notes and brown sugar sweetness sitting on soft tannic earl grey tea in the second mouthful.
Ninety Plus – No stranger to success
In 2013 alone, Ninety Plus specialty coffees from Panama and Ethiopia put their firm stamp on the coffee world through success in the national barista and brewers cup championships of Greece, Switzerland, Italy, Korea, Tawain and Canada. Three of the top six finalists in last year’s World Barista (Italy and Korea) and Brewers Cup Championships (Canada), held at MICE in Melbourne, competed with Ninety Plus Coffees. Early adopters and educated consumers are embracing these rare, premium microlot coffees that are being produced by Ninetly Plus.
Think Tank Coffee is the brainchild of Craig Simon, an award-winning Australian barista and roaster. Think Tank is about collaborating with coffee producers and equipment designers to create a space where the coffee obsessed can find everything that is new or amazing in the world of specialty coffee.
As an award-winning barista and roaster (Australian and Victoria Barista Champion 2014 and 2012, licensed Q grader, Veneziano Coffee Roasters head roaster 2010-2012), Craig Simon is ready and able to pass on his knowledge including sourcing green coffee, blending and roasting to profile and the intricacies of creating a great cup of coffee at the machine.
Coffee innovations represented by Think Tank Coffee in Australia include; the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s (SCAA) “Best New Product”, the revolutionary new Steampunk brewing system, green bean specialty coffee by producer and developer, Ninety Plus and training in all aspects of coffee selection, roasting, blend creation, machine recommendations and performance, and advanced barista skills.