Why should coffee competitors go on origin trips?
The World Coffee Championships (WCC) are arguably the most prominent and prestigious competitions in the global coffee industry. WCC events give coffee professionals from around the world a chance to showcase their expert knowledge and skills to an international audience.
While the coffee used in each routine is certainly essential to a competitor’s success, there has also been a growing emphasis on telling the story behind the coffee in recent years. WCC participants are starting to dedicate more and more of their performance time to explaining where the coffee came from and who produced it.
Naturally, this means it’s becoming more important for WCC competitors to visit coffee farms. Not only do origin trips help to broaden their understanding of coffee production, these trips can also bridge the gap in the supply chain.
To find out more about why coffee competitors should visit origin, I spoke to four people who participated in the 2022 Ally Coffee Champs Trip which took place in Brazil. Read on to find out what they had to say about origin trips.
You may also like our article on how competitors can source coffee for the World Barista Championship.
What are origin trips?
Essentially, an origin trip is when coffee professionals from other parts of the supply chain – including green buyers, roasters, and baristas – visit coffee farms in a producing country.
As part of these trips, attendees can tour farm facilities – including nurseries, grading and sorting areas, wet and dry mills, and cupping rooms.
Ricardo Pereira is the COO of green coffee trader Ally Coffee. He tells me more about how Ally first started the Champs Trip as an opportunity for WCC competitors to visit origin.
“In 2016, I was approached by the Specialty Coffee Association to continue its origin sponsorship programme,” he tells me. “I wanted to include not only the Barista Championship winners, but also the Brewers Cup, Roasting Championship, and Cup Tasters winners, so we started sponsoring the four major competitions.
“Initially, the trip was only open to US competitors, but a few months later we were able to include all WCC competitors,” he adds.
Ultimately, this means coffee competitors from around the world are able to visit coffee farms – trips they may not be able to organise of their own accord.
Emi Fukahori is the co-founder of MAME Coffee in Zurich, Switzerland and the 2018 World Brewers Cup (WBrC) champion.
“An origin trip is a very unique opportunity,” she tells me. “[It can be difficult] not speaking the language, [so organised trips can assist with translations] so we can share [with the producers] how much we enjoy their coffee.”
Martha Grill is the manager of Fazenda Minamihara in Franca, Brazil – which was a farm featured in the 2022 Ally Champs Trip. She is also the 2019 Brazilian Barista Champion.
“Minamihara is a fourth-generation owned coffee farm,” she explains. “We produce certified organic coffees which are also shade-grown under avocado trees.”
Martha also agrees that as a barista and WCC competitor, gaining access to coffee farms can be difficult without assistance.
“As a Brazilian barista who works in the city, it’s not easy to come visit coffee farms – even though Brazil is a coffee-producing country,” she tells me. “Farms are usually far away from the cities. For example, Franca is about a six-hour drive away from São Paulo.”
Connecting competitors to producers
First and foremost, origin trips can be a useful way for WCC competitors to source their coffee. Cuppings are commonplace on origin trips, so attendees are able to taste a variety of coffees.
But now more than ever, the demand for traceable coffee is growing. Naturally, this means coffee professionals should know as much about the coffee they work with as possible – especially WCC competitors.
Arseniy Kuznetsov is the founder of Gravitas Coffee in Moscow, Russia and is the 2019 World Roasting Champion. He also runs a coffee YouTube channel.
“I have worked in coffee for around 17 years, so sometimes I need new inspiration and new opportunities to grow my skills and improve the experience for my customers,” he says. “Without visiting coffee farms, it’s difficult to understand coffee production.”
Although coffee competitors can certainly rely on various forms of media to gain a better understanding of coffee farms – including photos and videos on social media – attending origin trips allows them to experience coffee production firsthand.
“Any type of opportunity to go to coffee farms, meet producers, cup fresh coffees on site, and ask questions is important for competitors,” Emi explains. “Cupping [fresh] coffees on farms can be complicated because sometimes the coffee is too fresh, so it’s not possible [to experience the full range of flavours and aromas].”
For WCC competitors, understanding flavour and aroma is particularly important if they want to use a high-scoring coffee as part of their routine. Initiating and facilitating dialogue between WCC competitors and producers can be a useful way to exchange information, and potentially help competitors perform better.
“Trip attendees can ask questions and see how people in producing countries operate in the industry,” Ricardo explains. “What’s more, coffee farmers can ask competitors questions about how they experience their coffee and if there is anything they can do differently on the farm.
“It’s an opportunity to connect and bridge the gap in the coffee industry,” he adds.
This is especially important as baristas and coffee competitors have a closer relationship with coffee consumers in many cases. Ultimately, this means disseminating knowledge about production to customers is more feasible.
“As a barista, visiting coffee farms allows me to better understand the coffee supply chain from seed to cup,” Emi tells me. “And being one of the last steps in the suppIy chain, it’s important to understand what happens at the beginning so we can better inform customers.”
Martha agrees, saying: “After I first visited a coffee farm, I wanted to share my newfound knowledge with my colleagues and customers.
“I felt like I had elevated my coffee career,” she adds.
Keeping up with new trends
There’s no denying that WCC events are often at the forefront of innovation in the specialty coffee industry. In general, any new or emerging brewing methods, varieties (or even coffee species), processing methods, or other trends seen on the WCC stages often influence the wider coffee sector.
For instance, the number of competitors using blends in the 2021 World Barista Championships and World Brewers Cup was hard to ignore. Notably, the 2021 WBrC champion, Matt Winton, won using a blend of eugenioides (a parent species of arabica) and Catucai.
As a result of this, more roasters and coffee shops are starting to include high-quality blend options on their menus.
“Coffee competitors create trends; WCC events are a platform to talk about coffee, as well as new technology and equipment,” Martha says.
Alongside this, she tells me that competitions can help shape perceptions about certain coffees – and origin trips are a part of this, too.
“Brazilian coffee can sometimes suffer from a misconception that it is only reserved for espresso blends,” Martha explains. “After Emi won the 2018 WBrC using a Laurina from Brazil, people started to see that Brazilian coffee is more than a base for blends.”
Arseniy agrees that visiting coffee farms can help to shift perspectives on coffee farming and particular producing countries.
“For me, my trip with Ally opened up the possibilities for Brazilian coffee,” he tells me. “We travelled from small to bigger farms, and throughout we tasted some interesting coffees.
“Some of the coffees we’ve sampled had sensory profiles similar to Kenyan, Colombian, and Ethiopian coffees,” he adds.
Ultimately, these new experiences can lead some competitors wanting to know more information about the coffee, and attending origin trips provides them with an opportunity to do so.
“When you’re at a farm, you can ask questions about harvesting, processing methods, rest periods, and how fresh the coffee is,” Emi tells me. “Even when coffees are fresh, there are already some that stand out, and in three months’ time, those coffees will open up and be even more delicious.”
Giving producers more of a global platform
Although competitors are the professionals represented on the WCC stages, it’s important for them to also tell the story behind their coffee as much as possible. This, in turn, can give producers more of a profile on the global stage.
“The idea behind the Ally Champs Trip is to connect the two ends of the supply chain: the producers and people who represent their coffee in front of a global audience to tell the producers’ stories,” Ricardo explains.
“In majority-consuming countries, WCC competitors can be the ambassadors of coffee,” he adds. “Many of them have never actually been to origin, so Ally wanted to create an opportunity for them to connect with farmers.”
As well as helping WCC competitors to learn more about coffee, Ricardo tells me that farmers can also benefit from origin trips.
“Producers can understand more about different markets – and WCC competitors represent different international markets,” he says. “When producers have access to information about trends and demands in consuming markets, they are better-equipped to make their business more sustainable in the long term.”
Alongside this, producer-focused coffee events are also becoming more prominent to improve equity across the supply chain. Effectively, improving access to high-level events and competitions can support producers to add and retain value.
“It’s good for coffee producers to connect with coffee competitors because they can see how far their efforts towards traceability, quality, and consistency go down the supply chain,” Martha explains. “It helps to reduce the distance between production and consumption.
“What’s more, origin trips are also important for everyone on coffee farms, from the people who clean and sort the coffee, to those working on quality control,” she adds.
Emi agrees, telling me: “Producers are at the beginning of the supply chain, so it’s important for them to know what happens further down the chain.
“What happens on the farm level has an impact in the final cup,” she adds.
However, accessibility is still an issue. Origin trips can often be expensive and some prospective competitors may not be able to easily afford them.
Arseniy hopes that opportunities to visit coffee farms will be available to more coffee professionals.
“I think it’s important that not just coffee competitors visit farms,” he says. “Producers carry out the most demanding work in the coffee industry, so they can be a source of inspiration for the rest of us.
“It’s difficult to just rely on videos, photos, and articles to understand more about coffee farming – you need to see it with your eyes,” he adds. “It’s [an incredible opportunity] to meet farmers face to face.”
As innovation at WCC events continues to grow, it’s more important than ever that coffee competitors keep up with the new trends. Undoubtedly, taking part in origin trips and visiting coffee farms is a large part of this.
“Visiting origin didn’t help me become a better barista in a technical sense, but it changed the way I talk about coffee,” Martha explains. “I understood more about the value of the coffee supply chain.
“In order to be a good barista, you don’t need to visit a coffee farm, but it will definitely make you more inspired,” she concludes.
Enjoyed this? Then read our article on whether coffee competitions are moving away from Gesha.
Photo credits: Ally Coffee
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