Nordic Barista Cup 2006 – Copenhagen

October 1st, 2006

Just got back home from Copenhagen, despite a flight determined to be both a bit bumpy and constantly delayed just a little bit more….

(custom made shot glasses for the event. In no way have I stolen a few of these…..)

Anyway – the NBC, did it live up to expectation? Did I learn much? Would I go again? I would like to say from the off that overall I had a very positive experience, but I know well enough people will wish to dwell upon and discuss the negative aspects I may raise here. I shall try and go through the two days I attended explaining what I saw and participated in.

I hope I don’t just end up doing what Barista Magazine have already done on the NBC website, only worse!

Friday

I missed the first day due to a tradeshow in Birmingam so La Spaziale bought me a two day ticket (400 euro) for the event. I got up scandalously early and met my boss at the airport (worryingly we were the only two from the UK there attending and not involved in sponsorship!) and finally arrived at the venue about 11am. We had missed the first sugar lecture fand having said a quick hello to everyone I had a quick dip into all the different sugars laid out on tables. (Having missed the first lecture I was not really sure what I was supposed to be doing.) I was delighted to see the Clover guys, though I confess my initial delight was fuelled by a desperate need to caffeine myself – which they did in style with a Kenyan from Estate Coffee. And then cup of Los Nubes fro Guatamala, also from Estate, and then another cup and then another cup. I was a coffee hog. I almost felt bad.

(Is it me or does the clover puck remind anyone else of a chocolate brownie?)

I settled in for the second sugar lecture and was pleasantly surprised by it. It was given by Danisco who I assume are a Danish sugar company. Not only was sugar’s role in diet discussed but also information on the sweetness profiles of different simple sugars – fructose gives a great burst of sweetness than sucrose, but does not linger as long. I found the science side of it fairly comfortable, and no one really seemed to complain about the level at which he was talking.

Europa provided the lunch. The open faced sandwiches were simply awesome. Back to business.

After lunch was the roasting lecture from Probat titled “Roasting Secrets”. I broke out the notepad and settled in to try and grab as much as I could. I was a bit disappointed by the content of the lecture. It was extremely basic and seemed to gloss over a great deal of information that I am sure many baristas would have liked more of. Most of us know that Maillard reactions turn the coffee brown, and that the longer you roast the more bitterness you get. I hope to learn of how to adapt techniques to different coffees with different ages or densities, to learn about developments in their equipment, to gain something new but also practical. They also talked about the colorette machine, but I confess that once the subject of software and time and date settings came up it seemed a good time to grab another cup of coffee and a little desert (again – so very tasty!).

Roasting samples by the Probatino:

The lecture I was looking forward to most that day was Morten’s on water. I’ve met Morten on a few occaisons, usually when he is presenting something for the Copenhagen Coffee Academy at a show like this. His lectures on milk are a must so I wanted to hear what he had to say about water. I thought his explanation of the polarity of water, illustrated by magnets and then the use of a pipette and a cd to show surface tension were both inspired. Sometimes I don’t get complete clarity of an idea when I just read it in a book and it was great to have it presented so well. Best of the day for me, though I am aware a few people were uncomfortable with some of the science.

There were team competitions going on after each lecture, and after the water there was a triangular cupping test trying to spot the odd water of three cups. More interesting to try yourself after than to watch but still interesting and very different.

What I did find very odd were the four pristine machines sat in the hall, provided by La Marzocco. Having spoken to the people who were there for the first day it seemed that in the entire first two days not one single competitive espresso was pulled by anyone in the teams. Which seemed weird for a barista competition. I had a play, and was interested and excited to see the machines all equipped with teflon coated portafilters.

I popped a couple of baskets open to see how the dirt was building up and was pleasantly surprised. I’d still like to see them after a heavy day though, but they seemed to be having a positive effect.

After a dinner the Norwegian’s talked through their winning trip to origin from last year, where they visited Brazil for the CoE as well as seeing the Barista Championship there. The photos and commentary were pretty funny.

The day ended with Jeopardy, which was a bit random though again quite amusing.

Saturday

Running a little low on sleep I’d overslept slightly and gotten to the venue where the competition was a little late. The NBC had taken over a part of a square right in the middle of Copenhagen. They had a marquee and each team had a station inside it. Their challenge was to sell as much coffee – drinks and whole bean El Salvador CoE – to the public or just anyone around, as well as anything else they could get their hands on. The Icelandic’s bananas were excellent, a cup of the fresh brewed El Salvador was nice. I popped over to see the Norwegian’s to grab a coffee only to find I had no change left and considering it was for a good cause – kids in El Salvador – I somehow ended up handing over a 100KR note for a macchiato. Probably the most expensive I will ever drink, but like I said – for a good cause.

Whilst this continued Anette and I wandered down to Europa which was pretty close by. We had a couple of espressos (they were using the teflon pfs on the machine there which was interesting). Outside Steve Penk, Gary McGann and Conell (from Espresso Warehouse) had some cappuccinos that looked pretty good.

Heading back I caught up with Troels who very kindly organised me some of the Kontra coffee to magically appear from the roastery, which I was very grateful for and am looking forward to trying very much. It was nice to see people and to chat and to hang out. There was the option of a coffee crawl with 8 or so coffee shops agreeing to give free coffee to anyone who came in with an NBC badge but I ended up chatting to much and, in truth, being too lazy.

The next team event was the attempt to serve a record breaking number of drinks with latte art on. They had 5 minutes and the drinks had to be between 55-65C or they were void, which caught the teams out a bit on their first attempt. Everyone seemed to do better the second time though I have no idea whatsoever if a record was set!

I confess to kind of drifting in and out of the event here. I wasn’t really sure what was happening a lot of the time so just ended up chatting to people. Was really great to meet Chris from Gimme! (whom you should all know from this article) who was over for the event with his girlfriend whom I hope I didn’t bore to death talking about rubbish as I do. There was a sig drink competition but people were so tightly packed around each serving area that I had no chance to see (or taste) what was going on. Of course it would have been lovely if there could have been some sort of screens but I know how much that sort of things costs!

The teams had roasted some coffee earlier in the day and then they had to brew it on the Clover for a tasting panel. I think Chris was part of this, so I am sure he will blog about what he thought and how the teams did.

Raw Clover power:

Denmark cooling their roast:

The day ended with an auction of everything that had been supplied by sponsors. Loads of coffee, pitchers, DVDs, milk, chef’s knives, chopping boards and in one surreal moment a Nespresso machine. All went up and hopefully made a fair amount of money for charity. I headed back to the hotel to try and recuperate before the evening event.

The 80′s party

My eyes….

The teams went all out on this one – some superb outfits. (my excuse for not dressing up is that I didn’t have time to bring anything. That and a vague fondness for dignity)

Halvard looking very serious:

Clover again representing:

Just not right.

Anyway – the evening was great fun. The food was very good, the coffee obviously excellent (Las Mercedes from El Salvador CoE), but the entertainment was really what we were there for. Each team had a little Eurovision performance. Awesome, terrible, frightening, dazzling and very, very funny. Finland won (it didn’t count towards the real comp) but Iceland were my favourite.

At the end of all this the winner was announced: Norway.

I hadn’t really been involved at all so had no idea who had been doing well. Norwary are undoubtedly a serious and well practised, and also experienced, team. They have now won it three of the four times, which I suggest means they can’t win next year and are runners for the other teams! (Though getting interested participants may be tricky).

So – overall: Did it live up to expectations? No. But then I guess I probably had wildly unrealistic expectations about what I would learn (That was the side of things that I really was interested in). The best thing about the event is, and will always be, the people. To see so many people agian, to catch up and hang out a little was great (especially Luis from the Consejo in El Salvador who seems curiously absent from this post, but I figure he deserves one of his own on the blog). I wish I had had more time to chat to Klaus and Morten and Troels and Tim and and and…..

The problem I have with the event is that it needs to either be all about the teams (in which case you can’t charge people to watch and attend) or it needs to be more aware of its attendees. There were long gaps where nothing happened (unless you were in a team) and I had higher hopes for the level that the lectures were pitched at, especially the roasting one. One rather good idea – I cannot take the credit – would be to split those attending into Basic and Advanced depending on whether they wanted an introduction to the topic or to take it to the next level. It is expensive to attend, and a little annoying that for the whole three days it was only 20 euros more, though I would have had a cupping, more lectures as well as a very nice meal in a great restaurant. It felt a bit like I was funding things I wasn’t getting.

This is not to take away anything from those who organised it and did a great job doing it. It ran incredibly smoothly, on time and everyone who went to it gained. I had other frustrations during my time there but they were not directly to do with the Cup, more to do with people in this industry and their attitude to others and the attitude to learning. I’d like to see a little less of people believing they are absolutely right and being a bit patronising and closed with it. This is a small number of people, and I must stress this is nothing to do with Danish guys organising or teams participating. I am wary of writing criticism but I think the WBC has benefitted from an open exchange of ideas and thoughts and this is nothing different to what I wrote on the feedback form and handed in during the dinner last night.
Would I go again? I think so. I’d need to go to the whole thing, and I would hope that the program for the attendees who are spending a fair amount to be there (not just tickets but flights, hotels and food) is continually developed. I think my expectations will be a little less wild next year and I think the guys in Sweden will do a great job hosting it.

Again it was great to see people and I’d list everyone here but I’d get 40 or more names into it and still forget someone!

I look forward to seeing what other people have to say. Congratulations to one and all who competed. You were awesome.

[tags]coffee, barista, barista competition, nordic barista cup, latte art, espresso[/tags]

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