I've been working on a post called Why I Compete. I finished it, and I'll most likely post it some time in the future, but to be honest I've been feeling a lot differently about competitions recently.
One thing I've heard a lot of about competitions is the fact that it makes you better. It helps your sensory skills, it helps you nitpick the small details, it encourages research into how you can make coffee better - and I couldn't agree more! But I think this comes with a serious caveat.
I haven't been one for timeliness. I wanted to post about Brewers Cup right after it happened, but next thing I knew I was hungover, and after that I was back to work. Add one interstate trip and planning one overseas holiday with a dash of going between a couple of different houses and the regular early rises, I hadn't had much time at all to sit in front of a computer. But, better late than never.
So far I've found the hardest thing about doing Brewers Cup the aftermath. I received really good feedback, and I was told I had one of the strongest presentations of the day. I lost marks for workflow, dress, tasting notes and coffee score. These are all things I will go into another time, but the overwhelming impression I got was I had to be a little bit more like everyone else, and I was encouraged to use an expensive coffee that overwhelmingly had 'obvious' flavours. Sasa Sestic told me "when you say grapefruit, you need to be sure that all we can taste is grapefruit," you have to make the judges job as easy as possible. Not to discredit anyone at all, but you need to pick a coffee that overwhelmingly has certain characteristics to do well.
But here's where it gets hard. I've been finding the feedback I give myself and the way I approach brewing much less lenient, and way more brutal than before. When I throw on a batch or espresso in the morning to dial in, I refrac it, taste it, and I can't help think, "Did I agitate the right way? Should I try a different ratio? Why don't I play around with variables more? Where can I increase clarity? Why is there a slight astringency?" I make good batch brews. I make good espresso. I know that because I get good feedback very regularly. But I'm finding that quest for perfection much more like a maze.
Why am I thinking that trying to make better coffee is a burden? Do other competitors feel this way? I also find myself constantly thinking about how to do better next year. I'm keeping tabs on particular coffee producers, farms, and philosophies I want to represent. This last point is crucial to my life as a competitor. I'm not leaving the industry any time soon, and I want to be able to stand in a public space, to people who want to or should listen, and say important things. I'm also finding it hard to think about who exactly benefits from me doing better. Is spending a ridiculous amount of hours to play the hand someone else wants me to the best way for me to help the industry? Or am I working towards some pseudo righteous self-aggrandising accomplishment that only benefits a small portion of the industry? These complexities of the world of competing make it hard to keep on going, but they inspire me to want to do well, so maybe I can be in a place where I can stand in the face of what's wrong and help make a change.
I feel stuck between inspiration and dissatisfaction. Actual results and potential benefit. Ego and community.
I know I need to keep on thinking about who benefits from what I'm currently doing. I wouldn't want to go down the competition route without doing so. But is it worth pushing myself, making myself doubtful of the work I do for money? I feel like the answer is yes, but only very slightly.
The good news is that if I have a few more cracks at competing, I can get better at how I want to compete. I can keep working hard on having good coffee information publicly available, I can keep working hard at figuring out a way to brew coffee simply, efficiently, while still exploring controlling variables. I can talk more about the industry, and throw my weight into good movements that are going on. I can hopefully provide information that will help other people who want to compete. And maybe I'll do well enough that I can really help someone else who has more important things to say than me, or help make a crucial change in how our industry works.
The only thing is having competing better is so draining. It makes it hard for me to brew coffee at home or at work without thinking about how it could be done better. I guess I just need to work on finding that balance I guess. If I can keep keeping score on what to do better and how, keep recording my ideas, then I'm sure I'll get to where I want to be. If I don't, and someone benefits from what I write and do, then I'm happy. Hell, if anyone enjoys what I write or do, I'll be absolutely stoked.
Moving forwards, I have to think about how to best optimise my everyday coffee service, and think about competition coffee differently, and perhaps more importantly, separately. I've gotta think about work life balance, practice, what I want to say, and making sure I can do it over and over again without burning out. Balance, practice, composition, repetition.
Thanks for having a squiz, always feel free to drop a line. Jimmy xx