Veneziano Coffee’s Craig Simon set for third attempt at WBC

Craig Simon of Veneziano Coffee is ready to make his third attempt at the World Barista Championships (WBC) in Amsterdam from 20 to 23 June.

Craig won the Australian Barista Championship in 2012 and 2014, and placed a career high of fourth in the 2014 WBC.

After winning the Australian Barista Championship at the Melbourne International Coffee Expo (MICE) in March after a four-year hiatus, Craig will compete against 60 national barista representatives, using a connection of wine and the sommelier profession to impress the judges.

“This is the most prepared and the biggest effort I have put in over the decade I have been competing,” Craig says. “I started preparing about one year ago by studying the master sommelier course that helped me develop and refine my idea and tasting matrix for coffee. I also visited Pete Licata and Holly Bastin quite a few times in Kansas City to work on distilling all my ideas into a cohesive 15 minute presentation, and travelled to Colombia to source coffee to suit the presentation.

In the WBC, competitors must prepare four espressos, four milk drinks, and four original signature drinks in 15 minutes. While progressing through the main championship, competitors simultaneously participate in the WBC Teams Competition — rewarding group support and collaboration. Craig will join Team Steam, which includes Singapore Barista Champion Zenn Soon, Sweden Barista Champion Matt Winton, Switzerland Barista Champion Mattieu Theis, and Ukraine Barista Champion Kostiantyn Strelnykov.

Despite his experience, Craig has not left anything to change. He has spent many hours getting his workflow and speech under control.

Craig says the most challenging part has been absorbing and recalling his speech. He condensed it down from almost 4000 words into 1800 words, which means he can concisely and powerfully explain and share his concept. He also added a theatre producer to his team and did a weekend workshop on script-learning which he says has been “incredibly valuable and helpful” in order to achieve a routine that is more than recited words but an engaging presentation that serves some “seriously tasty coffee”.

“Having previous experience has given me memories to draw on to both cement my confidence and also to avoid traps which can upset your concentration and calmness. It’s the logistics of traveling to the other side of the world and presenting at competition that is what can really bring you unstuck,” Craig says. “Where do I get milk? How do I prepare with the travel/jetlag? How do I transport my gear safely? Do I travel with roasted coffee or roast in country? The list is long of lots of seemingly irrelevant details but these all add up to either being able to walk out onstage completely focused, centred and in control, or being distracted and running around trying to solve unforeseen challenges and out of control.”

With so many variables in play, Craig prefers to create a home base somewhere near the competition and do his final preparation and coffee roasting close to the host city, Amsterdam.

One year after the Specialty Coffee Association and World Coffee Events introduced a revised WBC format, Craig says this year he expects to see more baristas innovate, challenge the status quo with thought-provoking new ideas, and make coffee to the highest level.

As for his routine, Craig is excited to share some exciting comparisons inspired from the wine industry, which he hopes will challenge how coffee is sourced, with the possibility to predict flavour profiles without having previously tasted the coffee.

“I started to develop my idea because we have no common language or system to evaluate coffee once it is roasted for brewing, which I feel is important as this is how coffee is primarily served to customers,” Craig says. “The moment that really sparked me into action was when watching the movie SOMM about a group of sommeliers preparing for their Master Sommelier examination and seeing the level of knowledge and flavour connection that is part of their system and then watching one of the candidates identifying a wine from all the details of his blind tasting. It was mesmerising and impressive and I immediately thought why aren’t we doing this with coffee because we completely can.”

Craig will compete in round one, day two of the WBC on Thursday 21 June as competitor 33 and the sixth barista to take to the stage that day.

Craig’s performance time is 10.17AM CEST, or 6.15PM AEST. To watch the WBC via livestream follow this link from 20 June.

The top 15 scoring competitors from the preliminary round will advance to semi-finals, along with the highest scoring member of the winning team, in a wildcard slot. The winning WBC Team will be announced along with the 16 semi-finalists at 5:30pm CEST on 21 June.

The wait is nearly over for Craig, and he’s ready to fly the flag proudly for Australia on the world stage.

“I set out at the start when I decided my idea was worth the effort to come back to competing from retirement [and] hopefully get a chance to present it to the world coffee industry using the World Championship stage as the forum. Success will be presenting my ideas clearly with command and mastery so that they are understood. Having now achieved that opportunity, if that happens to also equal winning, well, that would be a massive bonus,” Craig says.

“I don’t know if this is my best chance but I certainly have prepared to the best of my ability and it is in my opinion my best most sophisticated, mature and complete routine I have created.

“It would be a fantastic finale to 10 years of competition and striving for excellence. It would be a magnificent reward for all the thousands of hours of practice I have put in over those 10 years.”