A Brewers Cup Competition Guide to Compulsory Service
Updated: Oct 25, 2022
A Brewers Cup Competition Guide to Compulsory Service after the 2022 World Brewers Cup in Melbourne
After the 2022 World Brewers Cup in Melbourne many people have asked me what happens in the mysterious first round, the so-called ‘Compulsory Service’.
In the following, I will give a detailed insight into what this discipline actually is, how it is scored, why it makes up 50% of the total score, how to prepare for it and what happens on the day.
What is Compulsory Service?
Compulsory Service is a component of the Brewers Cup, the filter coffee competition operated by the Specialty Coffee Association and the World Coffee Championships. In both national competitions and World Brewers Cup, competitors must compete in both Open Service and Compulsory Service as part of their involvement in the championships.
If you have seen a Brewers Cup presentation before, it’s most likely that you would have seen the Open Service component. This involves a competitor brewing three identical cups of filter coffee in a performance of no more than 10 minutes; competitors must bring their own coffee, brewing equipment and must prepare a performance which provides the relevant information and tasting notes for the judges.
The Compulsory Service is quite different – no performance, no judges in front of you, and you have no idea which coffee you’ll have to use. Let's have a look into the official rules and regulations for Compulsory Service in the Brewers Cup:
3.1. Compulsory Service
The Compulsory Service is 1 of the 2 coffee services in the Brewers Cup competition.
Competitors will be given 8 minutes of Setup Time and 7 minutes of Competition Time to prepare and serve 3 cups of coffee, each brewed individually, to 3 judges.
Competitors in the Compulsory Service will all use the same whole-bean coffee, the same grinder and water, and the same standardized service vessels as provided by the BrewersCup competition. One 350g bag of the whole-bean coffee will be provided right before each competitor's official practice time.
As instructed by the stage manager, competitors will prepare and serve their coffees when their competition time begins. Once their competition time finishes, competitors will pour approximately 100ml of water out of the kettle that was used to prepare the coffees into the cup provided by the organizer. Competitors will wait to clean their station (including brewers and kettles) until the head judge tastes both the coffee and the water.
The beverages will be evaluated by sensory evaluation only and in accordance with the World Brewers Cup judging protocols (see relevant section below).
In the Compulsory Service, accompanying information (visual, verbal, sensory, etc.) will not be evaluated and should not be presented.
During the Compulsory Service competition time, there will be no music played, the competitor does not have to provide a performance, and they will be disqualified if he/she/they talk to anyone. The coffee is always a washed process coffee, and competitors must serve three identical cups for blind judging. Changes in recent years also mean that a competitors’ coach is not allowed to help or taste any of the brewed coffees. Finally, the minimum amount of coffee served in the final cup must be more than 180ml.
Basically, you start your time and you are on your own – just you and the coffee.
Why does Compulsory Service exist?
The Compulsory Service is a great way to see a competitors’ ability to create a great cup of coffee, regardless of how much money, time and effort they spend on their open service performance. In Compulsory Service, everyone is equal and has to use the same coffee, same water and same grinder.
The overall goal of Compulsory Service is to create the best possible cups of coffee with a coffee that is roasted approximately seven days prior to the competition. The Compulsory Service exists in order to demonstrate who not only has the best abilities on stage, but who has the professional barista skills to create a great cup of coffee
As this part of the competition doesn't require any talking, most of the time it isn't broadcasted and never narrated. However, it makes up 50% of the competitors total score – which is huge! So even if you have the best ever Open Service and have used the most delicious and expensive coffee in the world, if you can’t make an average coffee taste good then you will most likely not excel in the competition.
For example, in the World Brewers Cup 2021 I placed 7th in the world. I had the 5th best Open Service scores out of all the competitors, but unfortunately I had very average Compulsory Service scores. With the scores combined, I just missed out on finals by 0.04 points! In 2022, I worked really hard on my Compulsory Service skills, and managed to have the 4th best Compulsory Service scores out of all competitors – however, my Open Service was scored lower than last year and I placed 11th overall.
It is of course annoying to have the scores balanced out like this, but I still like how Compulsory Service levels out the competition, making it more even. It shows who has great skills overall, and doesn’t just leave it up to impressive Open Service coffee and presentations.
Personally, I would love to see such a discipline in the Barista Competition as well, so that it could test the competitors ability to dial in at the spot. But that’s a topic for another time!
What is scored at compulsory service?
The Compulsory Service competition is judged much like the Open Service, without scores and judges’ notes for presentation, professional, brewing method, roasting information, etc.
The World Brewers Cup Scoresheet is as follows:
If we have a look at this scoresheet, we can see that acidity, body and balance get scored double (see the grey ‘x2’ inside the boxes where the score goes), and that the judges will judge the cups in 3 temperatures: hot, medium and cold.
So then, the biggest aim is to create a stable coffee that retains great qualities throughout each of the temperature stages. If you brew a coffee that is super acidic at the start but gets grippy and dusty at the end, or has changing textures or sweetness throughout, you won’t score well.
A balanced cup will gain you the most points with emphasis on a clean acidity structure and a pleasant body. Most of the time the compulsory coffee will not score higher than 7.5 so don’t be disappointed if your score looks quite low on paper.
How can you prepare for this scoresheet?
The best way to practice for Compulsory Service is to practice, practice, practice! I found that the best method is to use freshly roasted washed coffee, without focusing on its origin, variety or roast colour. The aim of the competition isn’t to know or find out what coffee it is – the aim is to make it taste great!
But how do you find the best recipe and the best method? Try them all and compare them. Different competitors have different methods, however in my experience I’ve found it’s best to practice with and compare a range of brewing methods and recipes. To start, I recommend trying two different recipes for three different methods:
2 different recipes for Aeropress
2 different recipes for Drip methods (eg. v60)
2 different recipes for Immersion brewing (eg. Clever Dripper or French Press)
This way you can compare your brews and decide, maybe make small adjustments from there.
How I prepared my 2022 Compulsory Service
PREPARATION AND SET UP Following my poor result in 2021, in my preparation for the 2022 World Brewers Cup I trained with this range of brewing methods and recipes. At the 2022 competition, I used two different kettles – one fast flow kettle from Brewista with 1.2L volume and one smaller Brewista kettle with a slower flow rate for the pour overs.
I also used cold water and not the provided hot water, as the boiler changes the water and the particles in it. This means I need about seven minutes for my big kettle until it reaches a temperature of 91 degrees Celcius. During this time, I set everything up and rinse my papers with water from the boiler (which is provided and mandatory at the competition).
During Compulsory Service, you receive seven minutes of set up time before you’re able to start brewing. I used this time to heat up the kettles, and to grind and dose the coffee. In 2022, we had to use the mandatory sponsored grinder, the Mazzer ZM. Once my time started my kettles both had a temperature of 91 degrees and were filled to the top.
IMMERSION – CLEVER DRIPPERS
When my brewing time officially began, I started with my immersion brewers, the Clever Drippers. To make the Clever Dripper more temperature stable, I wrapped the outside of them in bubble wrap and insulation tape.
In the first Clever Dripper, I used 27g coffee, ground on a burr distance of 850 on the Mazzer Grinder (EK 15.5) with 400mL 91 degrees of hot water. To create a controlled agitation I poured 250mL quite fast, using the bigger fast flow kettle. I then waited 30seconds before I filled the Clever Dripper up to 400mL and closed it with the lid.
Simultaneously I prepared a second Clever Dripper with 29g on the same grind size with the same technique. After filling both Clever drippers up, I refilled the bigger kettle and put it back on heat. I started draining the Clever Drippers at 3 minutes and 30 seconds, however I only let each dripper drain for 30 seconds so as to not get the finer particles you can get by letting it drain completely.
DRIP METHODS – GRAYCANO BREWERS
Once I had finished with my Clever Drippers, I was then able to start brewing my drip coffee, using the Graycano brewer and Hario V60 paper filters. I used the same recipe for both drippers, but used two different grind sizes. My recipe for both was 20g of coffee and 300g of 91 degrees hot water from the slow flow rate kettle.
Graycano 1 had a grind size of 850 on the Mazzer grinder (15.5 EK), and Graycano 2 had a grind size of 888 on the Mazzer grinder (16 EK). My pours were 5 increments of 60g with 30-40 seconds in between each pour. When I finished the last pour it was time to drain the Clever Drippers and set up the Aeropresses.
With the drip and immersion brews done, I then started with my two Aeropress recipes.
For the first recipe, I used 35g of coffee with a grind size of 850 on the Mazzer (15.5 EK). I
Placed the coffee in an inverted Aeropress, and filled it up with 180mL 81 degrees hot water from the fast flow kettle, I then stirred 10 times, and placed the kettle back onto the base to heat it up to 91 degrees.
Once I had I filled the Aeropress, I added the filter cap with a single rinsed filter paper. After 30 seconds, I flipped the Aeropress and started pushing down at 35 seconds. I push for five seconds until 40 seconds, until it reaches between the 3 and 4 symbols on the side of the Aeropress.
After this, I waited another five seconds and pushed again for another five seconds (at 45 seconds) for one more measurement line (between the 2 and 3). I repeated this again, waiting five seconds and started pushing at 55 seconds, all the way to the end without pushing too hard. Place to the side.
For the second Aeropress recipe, I used 30g of coffee with a grind size of 850 on the Mazzer (15.5 EK). I placed the coffee in an inverted Aeropress, and filled it up with 150mL of 91 degrees hot water from the fast flow kettle. I stirred 20 times, and then placed the kettle back on to the base to reheat. Once the Aeropress was full, I added a filter cap with one rinsed paper filter at 30 seconds. Then, I flipped the Aeropress and started pushing down in increments, the same as the first recipe (pushing for 5 seconds at a time).
Now, you have two concentrates from the two different Aeropress recipes. The main differences between the above methods is (a) the amount of coffee used and (b) the temperature of the water. The final and most important difference is (c ) the bypass, the water added to these concentrates:
Take the brew concentrate from Aeropress recipe one, and add a bypass of 75mL of 100 degrees hot water. Then, take the second brew concentrate, and add 80mL of 91 degrees hot water.
Now you should have six coffees, and if well practiced it should have taken around 15 minutes to prepare all of those. Given that the brewing practice time is 30 minutes, this means you now have another 15 minutes time for evaluation and cleaning (if needed).
Pour all of the coffees into the provided serving vessels and start cupping. When tasting these coffees, make sure you know which is which. Keep in mind that the most stable coffee between all temperatures will most likely be the one that scores the best, so take note of how the coffees may change or develop in each temperature stage.
At this stage, you’re probably feeling a little overwhelmed. Don’t forget to breathe and refocus, because now it is you and your cups. Trust your intuition and make a decision based on the quality of acidity, not which cup has the highest acidity. Also your cup should be pleasant to drink, not dry and definitely not dusty.
Make notes, trust yourself and if you come out of this round by using different recipes and techniques you probably have a great overview of what to do with the coffee in front of you. After the 30 minutes dial in are up, you should be ready to decide for one of your cups. You then need to have clean equipment to make your preferred recipe again, three times within seven minutes.
At the 2022 German Brewers Cup, Aeropress recipe number one was the winner, and at the World Brewers Cup it was Graycano brewer recipe number two. Just because one recipe made five great coffees at home, that doesn’t mean it will be the best recipe for whatever coffee you get given on the day of competition.
How often should you train for Compulsory Service?
There’s no right or wrong way to train for Compulsory Service, but I believe it’s important to try as many coffees and methods as possible, as often as possible. In my case, over two months I have made at least two rounds of six different brews, five days of the week (and sometimes more).
To use as many coffees as possible that are as diverse as possible, I have basically asked people via Instagram if they could share coffees with me. Incredibly, lots of people sent me small, unlabeled bags of freshly roasted washed coffee that I could practice with. The fact that I have received so much coffee motivated me to practice every day and to tweak my recipes to the better.
I can not emphasize how much help I have received from the community and how grateful I am to experience such support. It also showed me that if you ask, you will receive more help than you ever thought is possible.
Sponsors and sponsored equipment
Each year in the World Brewers Cup, there are various sponsors for the competitions that provide equipment that must be used. This includes coffee grinders and brewing water, so it’s important that you search for the means to practice with the right equipment – otherwise you might get a nasty surprise on the competition day!
I was extremely lucky that so many amazing people all over Europe and other parts of the world were generous enough to send coffee to me. Apart from that, I was also lucky enough to get the sponsored grinder lent to me by La Marzocco Germany. That was by far the biggest help I got when it comes to hardware. And again, all I had to do is ask via Instagram. I received an answer within the first 15 minutes and a week later the grinder was in my kitchen. Thank you so much La Marzocco Germany for such a huge support!
The drippers I used were also sponsored by Graycano and were used during compulsory and open service. Their thermo stability convinced me and I love using them to brew pour over coffees.
The scales I used were Acaia Scales and luckily I have won them over the past competitions, same as the Clever Drippers and the kettles. The rest of my equipment, I either borrowed from people or bought myself.
What are the most common mistakes in Compulsory Service?
After all the training, research and effort that goes into the Brewers Cup, the worst thing that could happen is being disqualified or making a silly mistake that jeopardises your success in the competition. Ensure that you read the rules and know them inside out!
Here are the three most common mistakes made in the Brewers Cup Compulsory Service:
Underfilling the coffee. The rules are very clear about how much coffee must be served in both the Compulsory and Open Service rounds, so make sure that you fill the cup as much as possible.
Talking to people during competition time. During your Compulsory Service time, you are prohibited from talking to anyone aside from the event volunteers. If you talk to anyone else, you may be disqualified.
Rinsing too early. Rinsing your filter papers before your 8 minutes setup time is also strictly forbidden. If you use a timer, make sure you have it on you, because after your setup time you are not allowed to touch anything before you say time – so taking your timer from the table might also disqualify you.
Knowing when to start. The rules clearly state when you’re allowed to start brewing, and before the competition time starts no coffee and water is allowed to touch. If it does, you will be disqualified
Try to stay focused, relaxed and do not panic.
What are inside tips?
Everyone who has done Compulsory Service will have their own advice and tips on how to succeed. In my experience, these are some great tips to get started:
If the 30 minutes practice time is on the same day as the Compulsory Service, meaning you get a total of 45 minutes, try to grind your coffee as soon as possible to let the ground coffee degas.
Use a big container when grinding your coffee, as it will collect the chaff on the sides and you can brush or blow them out.
Many people like to sort the coffee beans, to remove any odd or defective beans. I would recommend sorting roughly and not wasting too much time on it.
Take a timer with you so you have an overview of your time.
When using an Aeropress, stay calm and collected. Many people panic and their Aeropress explodes!
Ignore everyone around you. If anyone wants to have a chat with you, now is not the time (and you can be disqualified).
Have fun! Most of all, have fun. Remember why you love coffee, the great memories you have with the drink and if you don’t score super high, there is always next time!
I can only advise you to not underestimate the impact of your Compulsory Service round. Try to incorporate your practice into your daily routine and drink as many different coffees as you possibly can.
And do not forget: the competitions are really just a game! No matter how you will get scored, in the end you will become a better coffee professional with an evolved sense of tasting and judging brewing methods that match certain coffees. It is great training to become a better cupper or even a good practice for a Q-Grader exam.
If you have any questions, please message me and if you find this article helpful, feel free to share it on any social media platform.
All photos provided by Sinan Muslu @coffeesomething