Nuova Simonelli’s machine of champions

The announcement of a new World Barista Champion (WBC) is an emotional moment. The stage is crowded with past champions, sponsors, organisers and coaches. All eyes fall on the line-up of finalists, dreaming of a better future with a WBC title to add to their name. These men and women are often brought to tears, as the places are named off one by one, leaving only one final victor who will take home the largest of the gilded tamper trophies. Maurizio Giuli and Lauro Fioretti from Nuova Simonelli are all too familiar with this emotionally charged scene. The Italian espresso machine manufacturing company has been the Official Machine Sponsor of the WBC for the past six years, a deal that comes with an on-stage presence during the winners’ announcement. While this stage presence is a nice bonus, the pair say that the actual competition is just a small part of what the WBC is all about. “The WBC is not just a competition, what the baristas do on stage is just a show,” says Fioretti. “Behind it, you have access to the very best actors in the coffee chain – farmers, roasters, and baristas. The process behind the WBC is about improving the sustainability of the coffee industry. All of these actors work together to increase the perceived value of coffee by the consumer.” It’s this perceived value that first peaked Nuova Simonelli’s interest in this relatively new, elite coffee competition. “It was always on my mind, from the beginning, that there should be a better link between the actors in the supply chain,” says Fioretti. “That’s what we found in the WBC. It was a platform to expand the community and share ideas. The coffee itself sat at the centre of the platform, and around it farmers, roasters, coffee machine manufacturers, and baristas all came together at the same level to share information.” Nuova Simonelli had its first contact with the WBC in 2007, when it submitted one of its machines for technical testing. The company had sponsored a few barista competitions in the United States, but otherwise didn’t have much experience in a still very young coffee competition scene. Fioretti had participated that year in a Specialty Coffee Association of America  (SCAA) presentation on espresso machines, and says he realised then that the industry was highly disconnected. “All of the coffee machine manufacturers were working off of different technical requirements on the machines,” says Fioretti. “We needed a common language to create a thorough platform we could use to drive communication between suppliers.” Being selected to sponsor the WBC is about a lot more than how much money a company can put on the table. For manufacturers to even have their machines considered for sponsorship, the first step is to ensure the machines are technically viable. World Coffee Events, the company that oversees the WBC and several other global coffee competitions, has a strict set of tests that the machines must pass. As a first step, companies must send 30 filter baskets to WCE, where they are screened to check for consistency. Next, technicians spend two days checking the machine’s temperature stability and performance, extraction pressure, and quality of extractions via total dissolved solids (TDS) measurements. Baristas are next to check the machines. They pull shots and prepare drinks to check the ergonomics. Finally, technicians look at the serviceability of the machine, to see if parts can easily be replaced if urgent repairs are needed. From this process, WCE gives companies either a red or green light, that their machines have passed the test, and they can move on to the next step in the application process. In this phase, companies have to submit an essay on why they want to be a sponsor. They must also present a case on what support they’ll be able to offer the WBC. “You have to remember, in addition to the world competition, there are national competitions around the world that need support,” says Fioretti. “What the WBC is looking for is a real partner.” Nuova Simonelli first underwent this process in 2008, successfully securing the three-year sponsorship deal. When it comes to what Nuova Simonelli gets in return for providing this level of support, Giuli says that the most obvious answer would be visibility. But for Nuova Simonelli, the relationship is about a lot more than publicity. “As a company, we had made the decision [in around 2000] to actively invest in research and technology, working with universities to help us improve the ability of our machines to make better quality coffee,” says Giuli. “The WBC allowed us to transfer all of this knowledge into the market. In the past six to seven years I think that we have matured as a company just as the WBC has grown up. They helped us to grow, just as we have helped grow the WBC.” Fioretti says that a lot of this growth has come from working so closely with champion baristas. “It’s a process that just comes out naturally as we work with these baristas from around the world,” he says. “You spend day after day with these competing baristas. Sometimes you’re together for weeks at a time.” Nuova Simonelli has used feedback from baristas into developing its machines, with perhaps the best example being its patented T3 technology. The technology sets new standards in terms of temperature, pressure, and extraction stability. The technology was first introduced in the Aurelia II T3, the official machine of the 2013 WBC, developed using lessons learned from Nuova Simonelli’s past experience as the Official Machine Sponsor. The same technology is included in the Victoria Arduino Black Eagle, the official machine of the 2015 – 2017 WBC.  In addition to being exposed to so much expertise, Fioretti says it’s just as helpful being exposed to so many different cultures, with the WBC today extending to 57 countries around the world. Fioretti, who is a WBC judge, says that this process is an incredible learning curve in helping to advance the industry. “It’s not just the product that’s growing up, we as a company are growing up, our culture is growing up,” he says. “The WBC Platform has definitely affected our culture.” The company recently opened a coffee academy, offering Coffee Quality Institute cupping certification, and Specialty Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE) classes. The company now employs three SCAE trainers. Fioretti says evidence of how the European coffee industry is growing up can be found in the impressive growth of the SCAE. The association now has over 2000 members, and its Coffee Diploma is gaining recognition continent-wide. “It’s a platform that’s expanding very fast,” says Fioretti. “Better quality coffee is becoming ingrained in the culture. We’re seeing big coffee chains looking at the world of specialty as a benchmark and reference point for what they should be doing.” It’s in encouraging this desire to make better coffee that Fioretti sees the future of the WBC. “I hope in the future, we’re going to see the coffee industry attract greater prestige,” he says. “People will be able to go into a coffee shop, and choose which coffee they want to drink by varietal. It takes time to change the culture of people, but with the WBC I see this happening in the coffee industry.” He’s also encouraged by the growth of the WBC in new countries, pointing to China’s latest national championships that saw an impressive 700 baristas compete at the nationals.  An end goal, Fioretti says, should be to have the job of barista recognised as a true profession in countries around the world. He says that this universal recognition of quality coffee is needed to ensure that farmers are paid fairly. “Every store that serves coffee needs to be aware of the professional qualities that go into increasing the quality of coffee,” says Fioretti. “All coffee has to be sustainable, and only by working together can we ensure the long-term sustainability of the industry. “We can say that the performance of these machines is certified by an external commission, not just us as a company,” he says. “It’s an impressive certification of the value of the machine.” GCR

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