Thursday 13 June 2024
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Lauro Fioretti, Simonelli Group: “We want to continue supporting SCA and WCE since it leads to an improvement in the market”

"The company has sponsored the World Championships for 12 years with coffee machines and this is the second year with sponsorship for grinders. The goals of the competitions and the SCA education align with the values of our company and are effective"

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MILAN, Italy – The discussion with engineer Lauro Fioretti starts with an account of his role at Simonelli Group, in which, over the course of time, occupied him in different ways. The conversation is part of a recent initiative undertaken by the Marche-based manufacturer of professional espresso coffee machines in collaboration with WCE, World Coffee Event, for an important project in China. The objective? To share all the latest developments from the World Barista Championship and the revamped evaluation protocol for the results of the global competitions.

Firstly, who is Engineer Lauro Fioretti, for those who may not be familiar with him?

“My current position at Simonelli Group is advisor to the new Coffee & Beverage Community Team that we have set up within the company. This team comprises coffee ambassadors, individuals primarily specialized in the product’s user experience and its community aspects. Within the company, I also obviously oversee product development, focusing on its functionality from the perspective of both the barista as an end user and coffee shops at various levels, spanning from specialty to mainstream.

I have had many years of experience in the coffee industry. I began in the company as a technical instructor and later participated in numerous courses, with particular emphasis on the sensory aspects. Currently, I serve as an SCA trainer for almost all modules and as an Assistant Instructor at CQI, the Coffee Quality Institute.

I also embarked on my journey as an international judge back in 2006 at regional championships, and subsequently at national levels, representing the WBC at most of the competitions. I have acted as the head judge in the last 6/7 World Championships.”

What exactly are these updates from the WCE and Coffee Value Assessment?

“In recent years, with the outbreak of the pandemic in 2019, which posed significant challenges to the competition format due to the need for interaction and sociality, many rules were put on hold. Efforts, however, were made to adapt the championship to the necessary safety requirements imposed by COVID-19. However, this froze the development of the competition format.

After the pandemic, the board of the World Coffee Event aimed to make a strong comeback with the steps they had to put on hold, which in 2023 translated into new rules with a great many innovations.

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In particular, these innovations were generated by an Evolution Strategic Committee, composed of individuals from the internal staff of the World Coffee Event and various stakeholders, including those from the roasting industry, manufacturing companies, industrial sectors, and baristas themselves. Each of these stakeholders contributes their insights to communicate new trends and the direction competitions should take. The Strategic Evolution Committee collects this information from various sources and updates the championship rules accordingly.

That’s why in 2023, many changes were introduced, with two being the most significant. These changes involve the revamped score sheets, which have been adapted to the new SCA cupping format, known as the Coffee Value Assessment.

The Association is reevaluating the sensory assessments of coffee in general, especially in the WBC, where the focus is on espresso. A more scientific system has been applied to separate the emotional aspect from the descriptive one.

This led to the adoption of different values, referring to new scales that describe the weight of various characteristics. These changes resulted in different score sheets, which have been explained in detail through the sharing of two videos available on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=plBJdTjyHJU – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bE9mDAl61Tk&t=40s https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMhxpdcJUVc&t=937s )

The other significant change is related to the inclusion of plant-based milk beverages. These were introduced because the WBC aims to be receptive to growing trends.

This has led to significant changes and, to make the process transparent, the judges themselves had to be trained. We had an initial internal discussion via an internal call amongst the WBC representatives, and then we became messengers to convey the information to lower levels.

The WBC did well in being very clear from the outset and created two videos to communicate this change to all competitors, not just the judges. Anyone can access this content to ensure that everyone is aware of the rules.

The only issue that arose was in China, where access to these social contents is not possible.”

But why did Simonelli Group specifically become the spokesperson for Chinese baristas?

“Because it has a strong presence in the Chinese market and collaborates with a coffee ambassador, Nicole Lin, who is also a certified judge for the Barista and Brewers Cup Championships. While talking to her, we realized the need to address the communication limitations in the Chinese market. We discovered that over the past four years, Chinese competitors had been operating on the basis of the 2019 rules.

Faced with this critical situation, we felt the obligation to find a way to communicate the updates to them. To bridge this gap, we came up with the idea of creating two workshops, one in Wenzhou and one in Shanghai, where we presented the content of the YouTube videos using PowerPoint, with Chinese translations provided by our coffee ambassador.

During this phase, our colleague Jonathan Marano also helped a lot in organizing these two workshops, which quickly reached full capacity as soon as they were announced.

We went into the field to share this information because the entire Simonelli Group team has embraced the value of proximity. For this reason, following this principle, we established various branches and experience labs to create a network that allows us to be close to users and meet their needs. Thanks to the new team that operates locally, we are investing in education, and the company has decided to bring these updates to all Chinese competitors and not just to a select few.”

Was the feedback from the baristas positive?

The Chinese national champions of the last four years attended the two workshops with great interest. They were very appreciative of the presentations because they understood the reasons behind these changes and the ultimate goals. Without a proper understanding of the changes, it’s difficult to ensure good performance. However, by providing the baristas with an understanding of the objectives and the reasons behind the new updates, they were better prepared.

I’d like to share the main feedback, which came from Simon Sun, the Chinese Barista Champion of 2019, who wrote: ‘It was helpful for me to understand the logic behind the score sheet, so that we can better prepare for the presentation in the right way.’ With a native Chinese speaker, it was easy to make them understand.”

Are you satisfied with the results achieved?

“Very much so. We are considering continuing down this path. I am satisfied because as Simonelli Group, we are deeply involved with the SCA beyond just sponsoring the World Championships. We believe that all of this leads to a better perception of coffee and coffee-based beverages in the market. The feedback we received is aligned with this direction: education and this competition format create a different mindset not only among baristas but throughout the entire industry, and this works together to improve the standards for both beverages and hospitality.

I have a sense that we are on the right path, and the company’s investments will yield long-term results. We often say that we have been participating in competitions for 20 years, and yet we still see coffee shops around that neglect to perform proper maintenance, with steam wands encrusted with residue, and grinder hoppers covered in oil.

While that’s true, there are also many public establishments in Italy where you can go and find a clean, organized space, well-trained baristas, and good-quality coffee. It took 20 years to achieve this first result, and it might take another 20 to further expand and democratize the trend, but the effects are beginning to be visible today. This encourages us to move even further down this path.”

Coming back from Shanghai and this meeting, we can focus on China and coffee.

The experience I brought back from China is that it’s a beautiful country with an incredible tea culture and history. They have a millennium-old knowledge, a much longer and more complex history compared to coffee. Their origins extensively predate those of Ethiopia and Yemen. They started much earlier than us.

The world of coffee is still relatively new in this country, but there is a strong desire to learn and share experiences. I saw a very open and curious country that quickly embraces trends. While we tend to be traditionalists and struggle to change things due to our attachment to a certain way of preparing coffee, China doesn’t have this barrier.

Coffee is new, and they are like sponges ready to soak up all the available knowledge about the beverage. The community is eager to exchange information, despite the social and linguistic barriers we discussed earlier.”

Is there room for Italy on the Chinese coffee scene?

“Absolutely. Both in terms of equipment, as in the case of Simonelli Group, and the beverage itself, starting from coffee plantations: they are working to establish new high-quality coffee crops. It’s happening like the wine industry in Italy, a product we’ve specialized in with professionals, increasing its quality. In regions like Yunnan, they are getting organized to raise the quality, and there are already specialty scores on the rise.

I discovered teas in China that are sold at astronomical prices, and they spare no expense. In the coming years, this trend will also apply to coffee.”

Another aspect of your work: your experience at the World Barista Championship in Athens, where you served as a judge.

It was a fantastic experience because it was in Greece, which is somewhat like Italy, a cradle of espresso. The level of culture is very high, with a focus on serving mainly espresso and iced cappuccinos.

Speaking of the competition in detail, I liked the atmosphere that was created among all the teams, including judges, trainers, and baristas, this year. It was a pleasant atmosphere without the tensions that occurred in previous years. Everyone, especially the trainers, would like to see all 6, the highest score, on the score sheets, but it often doesn’t work that way in reality.

I particularly enjoyed that during debriefing sessions with the baristas and coaches, people cooperated really well, not only with the judges but also with the specialists from Simonelli Group involved this year with our flagship grinder, the Mythos by Victoria Arduino. There was a high level of respect for roles, and everyone was kind, helpful, and polite, especially when there were questions about the grinders. The atmosphere was one of unity, with the sole goal of showcasing coffee without selfish ambitions focused solely on individual victory.

Of course, we judges were under some pressure because we had to apply the new regulations where we introduced the changes. There was some nervousness, but everything went smoothly. The preparatory work with videos, calls, calibrations, and pre-calibrations worked well.”

So, will Simonelli Group continue to support baristas in these competitions?

“The answer is yes. The company has sponsored the World Championships for 12 years with coffee machines and this is the second year with sponsorship for grinders. The goals of the competitions and the SCA education align with the values of our company and are effective. We want to continue supporting the Association in various channels because it leads to an improvement in the market and the industry’s overall beverage and hospitality standards.”

CIMBALI

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