Meet the First Australian Q Arabica Instructor!

It's been a long-time coming, but Australia now has its first official Q Arabica Instructor, Craig Simon. Craig is a very talented guy who's been in the specialty industry for over a decade.

Why did you want to become a Q Arabica Instructor?

I really like sharing information and skills. I find it really rewarding to see people “get it” I have taught for the last 20 years initially teaching the drums to kids anywhere from 6 y.o. in primary through to tertiary lessons for a university. It was a natural progression that I would start teaching coffee skills.

What excites you about the Q Program?

I find the idea of creating and sharing a common language of tasting coffee a very rewarding experience. Being part of an international community of highly skilled coffee professionals sharing our skills with the future coffee professionals is exciting.

What do you think is the biggest challenge specialty coffee will face in the next 10 years?

I think there are two big challenges ahead. The first is climate change and its impact on farming coffee. The second is educating the general coffee consumer of the value of specialty coffee and as such the ability to charge a price that allows us to fairly reward farmers for producing excellent coffee.

What’s your coffee story (i.e. what brought you to the industry)?

I started out in coffee late in life having spent the first 30 odd years of my life training and performing as a musician, in fact coffee was never really on the radar, but on reflection coffee had always been a pretty big part of my day to day experience.

I was exposed to coffee on a school art camp around age 13, consuming way too much filter coffee from the plunger at dinner each evening. Coffee consumption followed on from that point from a functional experience. I had a couple of musician mates that I used to play with frequently and all of us used to coffee nerd out on making and tasting coffee during our rehearsals together. Coffee and music goes together well as the very late nights and travel of a performer followed by mid-morning rehearsals required some kick starting of the brain. Coffee was the perfect medium.

At a certain point, I came to the realisation that music was never going to be a lucrative career. It was incredibly rewarding from a spiritual and creative perspective but I was struggling to pay the bills. I also was traveling 200 days of the year touring Australia and the world and I had just had my daughter Jasmine and wanted to spend a bit more time at home. So, the search for a “day” job started. I love working on cars so I tried a mechanics apprenticeship, I didn’t get that job (probably a blessing on reflection). Eventually someone said, "You love coffee. Why don’t you do that?" So I did. I did a 3 day espresso course and applied for my first job. It was actually the first job interview I had ever done as you get gigs as a musician from recommendations, not interviews. They didn’t go amazingly well but eventually someone gave me a chance.

I started washing dishes. It was depressing! My first month was 27 days straight working from 6am-6pm clearing tables and loading the dishwasher. Then I would put my suit on and perform concerts at night. I was performing about 5 nights per week on top of the dish washing, getting home normally around 1:30am-2am. I only lasted 3 months doing this. I was so completely spent and tired. It wasn’t a joyous start in coffee.

Along the way, I was eventually let loose on the coffee machine. Disaster ensued, I incorrectly adjusted the grinder, the coffee tasted average, and the customers abused me for my incompetence. The boss dressed me down for my incompetence. Not a particularly supportive experience so I decided to find another job. This time I applied for and successfully scored a job at a 100-seat café as its barista.

Being new to making coffee I didn’t quite suss to what being the only barista on a machine for a 100-seat café means. It means getting absolutely pumped from 7am-12pm making coffee as fast as humanly possible sustaining a 15-minute wait time for 5 hours. This was where I paid my dues for 2 years straight.

Doesn’t sound fun yet? I agree. Well after that two years I applied again (and had another pretty average interview) and eventually landed a job at a local coffee roastery, initially as their sales rep. Confession: I was awful at that job and really didn’t enjoy it. After that, I ran their espresso bar, then became their barista trainer, then I learned to roast and managed the production facility. Early on after joining I started competing as a barista in the barista championships. There was a bunch of my work colleagues competing and I wanted to join in so as not to be the only one left out. Once I got started it reminded me a lot of performing music on stage so I kept on going. It led me to work with farmers to find amazing coffees to present and eventually to creating my own unique method of processing coffee. By the end of my 9 years straight I had won my regional competition 3 times, Australia 2 times and came 4th at the WBC in 2014. I hung up my boots in 2015 after placing 2nd but you never know you might see me on stage sometime soon as I really enjoyed the intense focus on making amazing coffee and making awesome friends.

If you haven’t sussed out by now I am a curious individual so along the way I heard about Q Grading and as I was sourcing green coffee and running the roastery at the time it felt like a good idea to do the course. I ended up enrolling in the first Q Grader course offered in Australia in 2011. It was eye opening. So many coffees cupped and graded, it really got me focused on accurately cupping and building my flavour memory. It has been an excellent skill that has served me well over the years,  particularly at origin sourcing coffee. I am confident I can accurately cup many samples even if I’m tired, jet lagged, and road weary. It has led to becoming certified as a WBC sensory judge recently combining my enjoyment of tasting coffee and giving back to the current batch of courageous coffee professionals putting it all on the line on stage.


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