I have not posted on this board for well over a year, but feel that, as the lead organizer of this year's SERBC event, a response is necessary, if not mandatory, in this case. So let me begin by thanking those sponsors, volunteers, SCAA staff and, most especially, those competitors that attended this year's event. Without whom this event would not have taken place. This year we attempted to do something at once unique and more expansive than has been attempted before; in some ways we were successful, in others we were not.
Our overall goal was to attempt to bring more training and relevancy to these competitions and to try and build a more accommodating, open, flexible and sustainable coffee event. To that aim we had both a 28 roaster Cup of Excellence cupping going on at this event as well as a 14 station barista jam, containing 12 espresso machines and 24 grinders, all available throughout the event (not 4, or 5 but 12 espresso machines). Furthermore, we designed after hours events that brought baristas, roasters, cafe owners, and sponsors together in an informal (and in one case competitive, barely) environment. Far too many times in the past during these events, the baristas went one direction at the end of the day and everyone else went another. This splitting into groups is, I feel, unhealthy, unsustainable and stifling to the informal exchange of information and relationship building that often leads to innovation within an industry. All in all, there were over 200 coffee professionals here at one time or another throughout the weekend. Many, if not most of these people witnessed at least part of the barista competition. Many of these people saw a competition for the very first time. In a beautiful facility with perhaps the best AV set-up for a regional event ever (the screen was 10'x12'); the entire event was professionally filmed; and each finalist will receive a professionally edited version with their interview of what these competitions meant for them. Additionally, we will post any and all unedited content once it becomes available to us. Including my ROI speech referenced below, as well as in BZ's blogs.
Now let's move on to the complaints listed by Mr. BZ:
Why allow a syrup company and a roaster manufacturer to host a barista competition?
Ambex and Monin (the companies that you are referring to, either here or in your rant), together and independently, have supported not just barista competitions but also the BGA from the very beginning. In fact, Ambex organized the very first BGA SCAA party ever at the Atlanta SCAA in 2004. Perhaps the best outlaw party ever held in this industry. One of the sponsors of that party was Monin. Another was Astoria, the 3rd co-host for this year's SERBC, and the one co-host you neglected to mention in your little editorial.
You overlooking Astoria I find especially interesting, as it becomes much more difficult to sustain the underlying thesis presented in your blog (i.e., that it was not in the interests of these sponsors to throw a good event, nee that these sponsors intended to undermine the entire SERBC) when an espresso machine manufacturer is thrown into the co-host mix. Additionally, all of these sponsors have been involved, as sponsors and/or organizers in any number of SCAA and coffee industry training events. Your lack of understanding surrounding the history and production of this particular event, and these specific hosts relative to this competition can only be ascribed to ignorance or malice. Woeful ignorance; nefarious malice; or perhaps simple laziness when fact checking, none of which are becoming traits for a professional journalist.
The Hosts for this year's event were Astoria, Monin and Ambex. Let us try and get it correct next time, shall we?. How about a little journalistic accuracy here , or is it integrity?
The event was disappointing, if not a catastrophe
I apologize if the event was not all that you believe it could have, or should have been. At the end of the day however, I believe the best barista won. All technical issues that arose (including a UPS induced problem experienced by the winner) were handled quickly and competently. The judging and scoring was honest, fair and timely without much of the controversy that has surrounded many of the past competitions. In fact, I believe that your rants more than prove the point that this event, while not perfect by any stretch, went well; allowing you to try and manufacture a little controversy, where no greater one exists.
BZ, it is always a balancing act trying to ensure that everyone is recognized- competitors, sponsors, SCAA staff and volunteers alike. Someone always gets overlooked, or under recognized, slighted or ignored and if anyone feels this way about this event, I am sorry. In fact BZ, perhaps your real beef is that you were not recognized for having driven 16 hours just to bask in the reflected glory of those professional baristas on stage. I am sorry also that I neglected to acknowledge your stamina, commitment and personal service to the art of the bean. But, I guess you insured you would be recognized through your own intrepid reporting of the catastrophe in Clearwater ?. Hyperbole always gets good play, even if it is somewhat inaccurate. Bravo Zulu to you BZ.
Do comps need these peoples (sic) ? money?
Only if competitions wish to survive at this level and in decent venues do they need to take the money of Allied manufacturers like syrup, chocolate, smoothie, and yes, even roaster manufacturers. I for one would love to see the day when specialty coffee roasters and caf?s could host and sponsor these events all by themselves ( in the spirit of full disclosure I am currently 50% owner of a caf? and a partner in a roasting company, both of which also sponsored during this event). But, I do not believe that day is close at hand. Even the NWRBC has, as their platinum sponsor a company that manufactures syrup. If they cannot make it in the NW without syrups, how can we in the SE be expected to do so? More importantly why should we be expected to do so? Are syrup companies not a part of our industry?
The odd thing here is that we had more specialty coffee roasting companies as sponsors this year at the SERBC, than at anytime in the past.
(For a full list of the sponsors that so offended BZ please go to http://www.serbc.net
Perhaps those few coffee consumers ? that like to rub shoulders with, and write about coffee professionals could get together and begin a charity to fund the events that more closely resemble their versions of what an event should look like. Then, instead of the posters and logos that so offended you (as you wrote on your blog), you could place the websites, blogs and podcasts of the few uber-consumers that have certified themselves as the lead evaluators of all things coffee. How about it gadflies? Step up with the cash, the labor and the know-how and get it done the right way- the BZ way!
Return on Investment ( ROI )
BZ, in your rant ? on your blog you commented that some guy (me actually) spoke of the return on investment that was necessary for these events to be sustainable. Although, you pulled the quote out of context, or more accurately, presented a partial quote - I said it, and I stand by it. Without some return on investment for the sponsors, why would they sponsor at all? Whether it is goodwill, advertising or cash there must be a return on investment for a business to wish to be involved in any event. If I wanted to give to a charity, I would, and I do, closer to home. Industry events are not set up to be charities. Barista competitions, while often under funded, do not, in my opinion, rise to the level of a charitable contribution. Or at least they should not be seen that way.
In fact, let us take this a little further- what is your return on investment? I mean why are you so vitriolic (not here, but certainly on your blogs ) when discussing: 1st time competitors, coffee companies that you do not know ( mediocre in your words), locals, sponsors, sugar, posters, logos, Clearwater, Florida, and that most American of past times- softball? Why are you so angry with this event? Who would you have liked to see sponsor? Why don't you ask them why they did not sponsor? Perhaps you could help all the regions find suitable sponsors in the future? Do you have a hidden agenda, here?
BZ, everyone seeks a return on their investment, even you. The investment of time, energy, etc it took you to drive to Clearwater, post up here and to write your blog, requires some sort of return. Your return, instead of the business associated returns listed above; is whatever celebrity you can glean from that narcissistic piece of editorial you call a blog; Shame on you for calling yourself a journalist. Shame on you also, for stating that you seek to begin a high-level philosophical ? discussion. When what you really seek is to suck up to the professionals you so admire by demeaning those that you do not know; and assigning motives to those that you are to afraid to ask questions of. My understanding is that journalists should probe and ask questions, seek to find the answers. Not jump to half-baked conclusions, assign motive, or unnecessarily denigrate and in the process possibly cause lasting damage to an association, an event, a business or the psyche of a young 1st time competitor.
Your attempts to stand on the shoulders of those that you profess to admire, while pushing into the mud those that make all of this possible, is very simply, disgusting. One only has to read your blog to know you for the self-aggrandizing coward that you most certainly must be. If you wish to be in this industry, then pony up, get in and start working. Otherwise, why don't you find another hobby? I am sure there is another industry out there somewhere that would love to have the benefit of your all knowing intelligence, your extraordinary eye for talent, and your balanced, witty writing.
The company staffs, the volunteers, the SCAA staff and the competitors that you have demeaned here and, especially on your blogs are all good solid people, most of whom I am sure you do not know. You have also belittled the very people you sought to praise by making them unwitting accomplices to your own vice: hubris. None of these people deserve what you have dished out here and on your blog. What's worse is that you have done this nasty, dirty little thing for your own pleasure and in the furtherance of your own celebrity, whatever you may say to the contrary; and in the process you have sullied us all.
You sir are no David, and I am no Goliath. You have killed no giants here today, but you have succeeded in further weakening that which you say you wish to strengthen: the Barista Competitions.
As I prepare to send e-mails to all of the SERBC sponsors, volunteers, competitors, and SCAA staff encouraging them to visit your blogs, and this bulletin board. I would encourage you to practice in our industry many of those tenants that you are required to practice in your own. I would sincerely hope in your professional life as a daily print reporter that you exhibit more integrity, compassion and good sense than you have exhibited so far here.
I also challenge you to post this, in its entirety, unedited to your blogs. If you feel unable to post this response to your own very derogatory writings, then I would hope that you have enough integrity and decency to leave this industry and bother us no more.