Craig Simon sets a new Criteria for Coffee

Craig Simon Criteria Coffee

Through roastery for hire Criteria Coffee, multi-time Barista Champion Craig Simon is breaking down barriers to roasting your own coffee and sharing his deep knowledge with the industry.

With three Australian Barista Championships and almost two decades of experience in coffee under his belt, Craig Simon felt the need to share what he knew with the industry. But he couldn’t do that to his fullest abilities under the traditional wholesale coffee supply model.

“I wanted to empower people to make their own product that celebrates what they think is great coffee.”

Craig and his wife Andrea founded Criteria Coffee in 2018, a collaborative coffee roastery for hire and education space in Port Melbourne, where café owners and coffee professionals can learn to roast their own coffee and build their own brands with expert assistance throughout the entire process.

“Our co-roasting community are all extremely passionate about their coffee program and join for many different reasons. Some come for the immersive experience of crafting their own coffee, others move into roasting for the financial benefits of managing their own supply. We’ve also seen members join to reward and retain staff by providing extra skills and professional development well beyond the café bar,” Craig explains.

“The roastery has created a wonderful community of like-minded people, all excited about coffee. We have a lot of fun supporting each other, and our achievements are collectively celebrated. Everyone’s coffee quality is the best version of what they set out to achieve”.

Co-roasting, like the services Criteria Coffee offers, is a growing trend in the coffee industry, which Craig says is due to people wanting to learn more about coffee. But it hasn’t always been that way.

“When I started in coffee, the only way to learn to roast coffee was to get job in a roastery and positions didn’t come up often. If you were lucky enough to get a job even then, for a long time you’re just copying the Head Roaster’s production requirements. There are more people now holding classes and teaching these ideas, but roasting is such and artisanal craft or apprenticeship-type skill you need to experience doing it to become good at it,” Craig says.

Craig Simon Criteria Coffee
Craig Simon founded Criteria Coffee to share his roasting knowledge with the wider community.

“Roasting collaboratively provides an overview of the whole coffee business, beyond the practical skills of blending and roasting coffee. It involves learning the whole skillset, from coffee sourcing and planning for forward contracting to cost assessment of blends versus single origins and making sure you’re making smart business decisions.”

In a coffee scene as competitive as Melbourne’s, Craig says there’s no opportunity to come out of the gate with an inferior product and learn on your customers.

“It’s important that people feel comfortable and confident they’re making great coffee straight away, so we won’t let them fail and are there to guide them until they no longer need it,” Craig says. 

Whether it’s Craig or another skilled member of the team, Criteria Coffee always has a trained and experienced staff member onsite to help its members roast. 

Creating their own coffee brand has proven successful for Criteria Coffee’s members. Craig says they have all seen their sales increase significantly, even those that were already established with high volumes. 

“It’s a powerful feeling for the customer to receive something from someone that they have crafted themselves,” Craig says.

“One of the very few silver linings out of COVID has been people upping their home coffee consumption, the value of retail coffee is immense. It increases the average spend, drives the relationship with the customer, and requires less overhead and work from your staff. Branding your own coffee for sale, also shows your customers just how dedicated you are to your product.”  

As a manufacturing business, Criteria Coffee has stayed open for its roasting members throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, also taking this time to further enhance the sites roasting capacity with the installation of a second Diedrich IR12 roaster and acquisition of a Diedrich IR24. 

“Setting up a roastery carries a lot of expenses, but like a chef hiring a dark kitchen, or a designer renting a hot desk, our co-roasting members only pay for their raw materials and time spent on the roaster. It’s an extremely cost-effective way to access state-of-the-art equipment, with mentorship provided to those who need it,” Craig says.

When Criteria isn’t helping others to roast their own superior product, the roastery produces its own range, Criteria Coffee by Craig. 

“Education really drives the roastery, but the space also represents my own vision of what ‘quality coffee’ can be. Demand for our retail and wholesale supply has organically grown during the pandemic, which is exciting as we’re getting to share our own coffee with consumers and opening another dialogue around how to make a great tasting beverage,” Craig says.

However, the business was forced to put its public workshops and classes on hold. Craig looks forward to bringing these back when allowed in 2022, if not by the end of the year.

Criteria Coffee’s programs include a two-day Introduction to Roasting, which Craig says provides an opportunity to talk about the science and physics of roasting, while being as practical as possible.

“Usually, it’s the first time they’ve ever roasted and on day one, they seem bewildered. The thing I find most enjoyable is to watch those light bulbs flick on by the end of the last day as the muscle memory starts to work for them and they recognise they can do it,” Craig says.

“You’re not going to become a master roaster over two days, but it’s a great starting point to build your knowledge, skillset, and CV before diving deeper into the world of coffee.”

Craig achieved Australia’s first Q-Grade Instructor qualification in 2015 and, when travel is allowed, hosts Q Grading Certification courses at licensed sensory labs across Australia. He also used his knowledge of coffee cupping and tasting to develop a Sensory Skilling Workshop where students can refine their sensory knowledge of coffee. 

“Coffee is a tricky medium for tasting because there are so many flavour compounds that without guidance can be difficult to initially assess. I’ve designed the Sensory Skilling Workshop around a very thorough set of skills that prepare you to sit the Q Grading course, but it’s also useful if you want to structure your own quality control program or build professional coffee assessment skills,” Craig says. 

Alongside these longer courses, Craig will reinstitute the Knowledge Series, free one-hour workshops providing snippets of the longer courses or insight into the world of coffee roasting.

“It started as a way of sharing knowledge while inviting new people into the space, covering points people would otherwise find difficult to understand if someone was interested in roasting for themselves but wasn’t committed to the idea,” Craig says.

“Coffee is a shared experience. You almost always have a coffee with someone, whether you’re catching up with friends at a café, for a business meeting, or on a date. The free workshops help create that communal aspect of coffee, with many people connecting, learning together, and discovering if they want to learn more about coffee.”

Craig says he has been lucky to learn from many people in the coffee industry who have been generous with their knowledge as he travelled to origin and barista competitions.

“In my previous life as a musician, like many other skills there was an unwritten rule, if you master the instrument, you have an obligation to share that knowledge as completely as possible, so the language can grow and continue. When I reached the same level of achievement in coffee, I wanted to do the same, pay it forward, so here we are at Criteria,” Craig says. 

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This article appears in the December 2021 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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