We have been roasting coffee for a long time, yet the competition scene has really only evolved over the last 14 years.
Whilst we may have been able to double our medal count by entering more categories (and more entries per category), we had just focused on espresso and milk-based espresso as both these categories are the most popular and important brew style for Australian coffee drinkers. Ultimately, espresso and milk-based espresso are s the bulk of the market for quality coffee in Australia.
At the end of 2016, we decided to withdraw from participating in commercial coffee competitions. In the years previous we could see an unfair and largely unethical level of systemic deception occurring within the coffee roasting competition event industry.
Unfortunately, the coffee industry is unregulated. That means you can buy X and sell it as Y and never get caught. Brilliant !
This same level of deception takes place with competitions – you have brands that buy cheap, crap coffees for their everyday offering all of a sudden entering competitions to win medals and then leveraging this win across their mass-marketed commodity products. Reality is that medal winning coffees they entered, which are never scrutinized, bear no resemblance to the product they sell in their retail environment. Shame it happens, nobody can stop it.
We know of coffee companies investing tens of thousands in procuring special one-off, rare and exotic coffee lots for special roasts on equipment they don’t even use for their everyday coffees just so they can create a product worthy of entering into a competition.
The question is…….does that competition entry truly reflect their everyday product ? Almost 100% of the time the answer is a resounding no.
Stakes have elevated to such an extent there is now a $200/kg stunning micro-lot coffee, of which there is just only 20kg available in the global market, yet it’s being used for a competition entry by a company that wants to win a medal.
Of course, it’s going to score well. Even if it’s roasted poorly. Welcome to the world of coffee competition.
Judges will be impressed of course because it’s all bling – only a secret code or number is assigned to the pack to eliminate bias.
But that winning medal is going to be used for entirely different purposes – it’s not fair on consumers as the deception has lured them into purchasing a produce with marketing artifacts that promise “medal winning” yet the physical product the consumer purchases is entirely different.
Can you see how this is being exploited ?
Awards and medals are not what they seem !
It probably comes as no surprise to learn that generally speaking it’s the large and popular brand coffee companies entering competitions using their lab equipment as a competition platform – small 2kg, 5kg and 10kg roasting equipment.
Yet they roast customer daily orders on large monolithic batch roasters, often without controls to produce an entirely different, homogeneous result. In other words, they use different beans and a different flavor stamp for their competition entries compared to their retail products.
The reasons they do this are simple – everyday coffees for large brands are in fact lower grade (and cheaper) qualities deemed not worthy of the competition, so in order to enter a competition these brands buy small, expensive lots solely for the event – so it’s no representation of their enduring product quality, just a cheque book, deep pockets one-time-only purchase.
These small lots of coffee can’t be easily roasted on the large production equipment with the same control they have on the small roasters, or they can’t afford to waste coffees doing multiple batches until they produce the desired competition worthy result. Sometimes, there is only 20kg of this super-lot available, not even enough for them to use on the production roasters.
In this regard, the concept of the competitions is somewhat flawed due to the potential for companies to exploit the rules by using coffees that are not part of their everyday commercially available range and by roasting these one-off lots on equipment that is not used for their daily production.
Bear in mind – these competitions rely upon coffees supplied by the entrant – not purchased via random retail. So a company can place any coffee they want to in the generic plain bag and nobody will ever know the difference.
Recent examples of this are companies scoring Gold Medals in 2015 and 2016 from Geishas and rare micro lots, yet these coffees were not available to purchase as roasted products because they mysteriously “sold out” literally a day after the event. How is that fair or even reasonable when a company claims “bragging rights” with a one-trick routine and then unable to back it up.
Customers can’t purchase these coffees as they only had enough for the competition event. The coffee was never, ever going to be commercially viable at over $100 per kilo there are no cafes or consumers willing to pay for such a product.
The question arises – how does that type of performance translate into validation for their brand and their product in an ongoing supply situation – was it true skill or just open cheque-book purchasing to boost their credentials and inflate their ego ?
Our medals are roasted on our everyday production platforms
Our main production roasters are the Brambati BR60 and a heavily customized, one of a kind Proaster cast iron roasting platform.
It’s these same platforms that roasted our wins and our every day coffees – no lab roasters, no special micro lots or obscure brands.
Why do some companies avoid coffee roasting competitions ?
The coffee industry operates on a lot of hype and some brands attract and inflate this hype as a means of active brand promotion.
Everyone is different and each company is are entitled to do whatever they like to promote their brand and competitions should not be the sole bellwether of a coffee company’s performance.
Looking beyond the awards
These are coffees we roast everyday and ship fresh to our customers around Australia from our Melbourne coffee roastery – more importantly, our winning entries are not special one-off, rare and exotic coffees that many other coffee companies tend to acquire for a very short period purely for the purposes of entering into competitions to pickup medals for use in their marketing and then apply the “bait and switch” routine, offering an inferior coffee.
If you are interested in reading more about coffee roasting competitions check out our blog here.
Putting aside the competition medals and awards, we believe the most important wins are when our customers provide positive feedback on our coffees – this is without doubt the most inspiring part of our passion for great coffee.
Nothing pleases us more than when our coffees are compared to those from other companies that may have “over-inflated reputations” – it’s then we are genuinely rewarded with comments that our coffees are far superior in almost every aspect.