A time capsule for future generations

The NZSCA’s Emma McDougall on how one bizarre year has created the new (ab)normal.

Ironically, when I went to look back at my first draft of this article, the laptop chucked a #2020 and lost my previous words, perhaps summing up this year in a nutshell.

Emma McDougall is the Communications and Administration Co-ordinator of the NZSCA.

Nevertheless, I persisted, as with all the ups and downs, surely the resilience of our people and industry is what truly encapsulates this year.

The start of 2020 was stacked heavy with events, planned to give our champions enough time to prepare for Worlds. We opened tickets to the Meadow Fresh Barista Championship 2020 in April 2019, earlier than ever, to give a good year of planning for those competing to refine their performance.  

Our hosts for the New Zealand Cup Tasters Championship, Ozone Coffee Roasters in Auckland, had also set the date early, sandwiched neatly between the Womad and Taranaki Anniversary.

The Meadow Fresh NZ Latte Art Championship two days later made the weekend one to attend for coffee lovers. 

A comfortable ease settled in as we herded the cats, over thought the details, and our wonderful sponsors made the events next level. Our 2019 Champions both pulled off double wins, with Alan Bruce taking out Cup Tasters and Hoony Chae winning the Latte Art title.

However, we’d noticed that our volunteer and audience base was smaller, competitors were pulling out and entering self-quarantine. Our sponsors for the Barista Championship where gently asking about alternative plans should the virus take hold.  

March became unpredictable for our industry. Social distancing, working from home, and new cupping protocols became the norm. Then, unprecedented moves from the government saw everything locked down from 26 March. The mission to make freshly roasted coffee an essential service to New Zealand consumers became our priority. 

Communication with members, and the government departments was key during lockdown. Information was crucial and often hard to get. When the rules were relaxed, the ability for members to send out coffee again was a massive celebration. Buying local never felt so good.

Thanks to prior planning, September was set as the new date for the Barista Championship and we were able to gently rearrange most things with understanding on all sides.

We made the decision to delay sending out our membership invoices and moved our AGM online. This pushed attendance up, helped with some great goodie boxes.

Due to the nature of the year, we understood that not everyone could re-join. However, huge growth in smaller members joining, particularly in the allied sector has seen our members back up at pre-COVID level. We’d like to welcome our new members and are excited about connecting with them.

With the gains comes the losses and we’ve seen companies restructuring, job redundances, and retrenchment. The flow of employees and work visas remains a concern.

Focusing on our people, we interviewed and discovered more about the diversity of the folk who are involved in coffee. We had more reach and fantastic feedback than we’ve experienced before. The Ultimate Fluffy Challenge was a highlight and we look forward to planning the next online competition.

As with all good plans, COVID-19 round two put the brakes back on as Auckland was plunged back into Level 3 lockdown in August, with the rest of New Zealand operating distantly on Level 2. Knowing that we couldn’t operate the Barista Championship, we made the heavy decision to cancel. Ever the optimists though, we have set the date for 20 to 21 March 2021.

With no big events to be held, the events committee created the Tasters Series aimed at breaking down the barriers to holding safe, delicious events. With all coffee lovers invited to attend, each event was a sell-out. We are happy that being able to hold community events again has resulted in great success.  

In hindsight, the coffee industry wasn’t prepared for a major pandemic. The NZSCA has managed a response to COVID-19 that has laid the groundwork for a new approach to events, the industry and each other. There have devastatingly been some tragedies. Anecdotally, many have come out stronger than ever.  

Stay safe, be kind, drink coffee.

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