The World Brewers cup has quickly gone from the youngest and smallest of the World Coffee Events family to become the second most important after the WBC.
At its inception in 2011 it seemed to fill a glaring hole in the competition circuit, a way to recognize and showcase the growing importance of single cup brewing in the industry. The secondary goal for the competition is to drive innovation and education in brewing, to push us through competing, to become better. It’s worth watching this video from 2011 featuring one of the driving forces behind the Brewers Cup, Nick Cho.
Before we move on let’s have a quick recap on the competition itself:
Each competitor has to serve 3 judges a single brewed coffee within a given time. There are two styles of service rounds, open and compulsory;
Open Service - The competitor may serve any coffee of their choosing using any brew method of their choosing within regulations. The service takes the form of a 10 minute presentation of their choice, akin to
Compulsory Service - Each competitor must brew the same coffee using the brew method of their choice, to be assessed without a presentation, i.e. sensory evaluation only.
The World finals consist of 2 rounds of competition, round one has both service styles, the finals round only the Open service. So how is it scored?
Both the open and compulsory use the same sensory evaluation scoresheet, which is based on the SCAA cupping score sheet, which as we now is an excellent tool for judging the true quality of a coffee.
Judges are calibrated in a similar fashion to Q graders and so are looking for similar objective qualities when assessing body or flavor or acidity for example. 3 of the score are then doubled to give you a total of 100 points.
The Open service then has a second scoring section for the presentation aspect, this covers accuracy of taste notes as well as overall impression and customer service. These 40 points are added to the 100 sensory points, the divided by 1.4 to give a total of 100 for the open service.
The winner has the highest score across all three service rounds, 1 compulsory and 2 open, out of a total of 300.
I’ve competed 5 times for the past 2 years in the Brewers Cup, 1 national regional, 2 national finals and 2 world.
This experience and my observations of the finals leads me to believe that the competition is flawed, that it no longer achieves what it set out to, that it needs change.
What's wrong? Put simply, it has become the World Coffee Cup Championship, not the World Brewers Cup Championship. A quick look at the scoring system and it’s clear to see that the heavy emphasis is on the sensory attributes of the coffee (over 70%), with far less attention paid to the skill and ability of the barista.
This imbalance in scoring stems directly from its link to the SCAA score sheet which rewards coffees of certain characteristics and therefore, so does the competition giving us another nickname, the Geisha Cup.
That may seem a little fatuous or glib, but it’s also true, the competition as it stands rewards the brewing technique only if you have the highest scoring coffee, so it becomes less about who can brew better, more who can source the better coffee. This in turn defeats the secondary objective of the competition, we lose the innovation in technique and service that we could see promoted.
So how can we fix it?
It’s clear that the rules and scoring need changing to bring the competition back to its roots. I for one would like to see a higher focus on brewing technique and method as these are the tools that will make the industry better each day, rewarding baristas who bring innovation to the fore. And not just innovation in brewing, innovation in green coffee is just as important.
Innovative picking and processing methods should be rewarded on the score sheet when they make a positive impact to both the coffee’s quality and the industry.
This would require a rethink of the scoring system, with sections for the judges to consider innovation in both method and coffee. This would go some way to addressing the imbalance discussed earlier, but why stop there? Perhaps a larger emphasis on the compulsory round as this highlights the baristas ability to work with a new coffee, another key skill?
The answer is not simple or clear, it will take time and careful consideration, but the need for change is obvious.