Having had a little time to recover, it seems time to write it up. Warning – Long Post!
Me – you know
Lou Henry – UKBC 2nd Place, owner of Opposite Cafe in Leeds. Extremely talented barista and artist to boot. Came 2nd in competition this year despite only having been making coffee for 6 months.
Ben Townsend – UKBC 4th Place, Barista Trainer. Ben picked up his skills at Maltitude in Melbourne, a cafe familiar to anyone into their latte art. Ben had been doing some independent work but now has begun the epic taste of educating those at Kenco.
Simon Robertson – Three times UK Barista Champion, 8th WBC in Seattle. Simon very kindly stepped in when Anna Tikey (UKBC 3rd) dropped out due to illness. He does a load in barista training as well as being the owner of Leoni’s Cafe in Malton, Yorkshire.
Team UK – (Lou, Me, Simon & Ben)
The other teams (in alphabetical order):
The event was to be held as part of a trade show, but the competition started the night before with a coffee quiz in the top floor, apparently very exclusive part of Lillies Bordello. The quiz was organised by the nice people at Java Republic and David McKiernon was reading the questions and had promised a bottle of 12 year old Jameson to each member of the winning team. Russia hadn’t yet arrived, so sadly missed out on any points (I suspect they would have done quiet well!) This was a great opportunity for everyone in the team to reveal an almost perverse level of random coffee knowledge and we were delighted to win the quiz.
The event opened with two lectures for all of the teams – green coffee and roasting. Here I will voice one of my very few complaints about the event, and it applies equally to the Nordic Barista Cup: group lectures are unlikely to be able to cater to everyone present. There are those that will take a lot away from it, whilst others may have already been over that ground a few times before. I think having a two tier system of lectures would be great. This is a minor concern, and this is not saying the lectures were poor – they were great and I always pick up new stuff. After the lectures we were split into three groups of two teams (we were partnered with the Estonians, who were really fun throughout) and we began the workshops. The idea behind the workshops was that there would be something educational as well as some test where the teams could be scored.
Each team was given 5 different coffees – generic Brazil, Java, Honduras, Colombia and a robusta and a Probat sample roaster. We had about 80 minutes to roast and blend as best we could. As the only one with any experience (though not that much!) on a sample roaster I got the duty of inhaling the roast smoke and poking it with a spoon occaisonally. The rest of the team set about cleaning up the samples of green coffee – especially the Java and helping keep a roasting log. Once we were a few roasts in the team began to taste the coffees. There was an espresso machine available but we decided it wouldn’t really much help if the coffee was minutes out of the roaster so Simon and Lou devised a simple cupping method where we would see how the coffee was tasting and what characteristics it had and would make roasting decision based on this. We also had to talk to the judges as we went explaining what we were doing and why. It seemed to go ok, and we took second place overall in this one – having been beaten by the Russians.
Me, Lou and Stuart (from Masteroast who was judging us)
Lou screens some of the green coffee:
This is one aspect of coffee where I confess to being a little light on knowledge. The lecture was done by Paul Stack of Marco, who also did an incredible job of organising the whole thing. I think this was my favourite of all the lectures because it was really well presented, practical and most of all really interesting. We were scored partially on a taste test of different grinds and doses but mostly on our ability to brew to an exact TDS and percentage of extraction. We kind of messed this one up, running out of time and pulling the brew before it was finished meaning the TDS was way too high. I think we placed 5th overall here.
Paul Stack presenting:
That night they took us out to a famous tourist pub (note the word tourist there) called Johnny Fox’s for “hearty” food and lots of Guinness. After the meal the music began, under the guise of traditional folk but there is only so much cheesey diddly-dee music I can stand. Ended up just hanging out in the bar chatting to folks til the bus came to take us home.
Having learnt my lesson early on I skipped the hotel breakfast and went with Stephen Morrissey into Bewleys Cafe on Grafton street for a proper breakfast, a nice latte art topped cappuccino and an espresso. And a cupping. A few other people turned up for the impromptu cupping which was only five coffees but nonetheless fun, and also a chance to use my 49th Parallel roasters spoon Stephen had brought me back from Vancouver.
Espresso Machine Workshop
We (by which I mean La Spaziale) were sponsoring the machines for the event so I stepped out of the competitive parts of this one. There was a written test and then a lecture. I think everyone’s favourite bit of this was the video of the perspex portafilter during an extraction, and Luca from La Spaziale Italy had to play it about 5 times for every group! After this there was a practical test where you had to fix 5 faults on a machine against the clock. To find out the UK had won was a mixture of pleasure and worry about how it would look with me being on the team, but they won it fair and square with the same test score as the Russians but being 30 seconds quicker on the practical test – Simon enjoys messing with machines and isn’t afraid of a bit of engineering which I think really helped.
Here the groups were switched around and we shared the next sessions with Iceland and Ireland (we never did share with the Russians which was a shame). After a lecture on grinding from Dr. Schwarz each team then had to brew the coffee they had roasted the day before. The twist was that 1 person had to make 4 espressos, 1 had to make 4 cappuccinos and you had ten minutes to do it, but you had to set the grinder (from very coarse) in this time as well. The teams before us struggled a little bit, so it was an advantage to go last. Of our group we were the only ones to serve all 8 drinks, Simon doing the espressos and me doing the cappuccinos. I even managed a little latte art! In the other group the same thing happened with Russia being the only team to finish, and I think their advantage in the roasting workshop carried through as they won it and we took second.
I quite liked our coffee, even if it was a little excitable!
Me dosing, Lou prepping and Ben explaining the coffee (courtesy of Stephen):
You can see we didn’t have much coffee to work with, which made us very nervous!
This was one of the big highligts of the event. Alf Kramer came over to compere it and did a great job. We were split into two heats of three, with the top three overall facing off in a final. 8 triangular cupping tests and also working against the clock. We went up against Ireland and Estonia. Estonia got 6, we got 5 and Ireland 4. The second heat was awesome. I may be wrong but I think Russia and Germany both got full marks (Russia were quicker) and Iceland only got one wrong so the same three went again in the final.
The cupping isn’t that interesting to watch – it is the reveal. Each team takes it in turns to lift up the cup they think is the odd one out. If it has a red dot underneath then it is right. This way the tension builds pretty quickly. It came down to Germany’s final cup. A dot and they would win and beat Iceland. They drew a blank and Iceland got a deserved win. Really great to watch and all three teams were absolutely amazing.
Speedy German Spoons:
Alf lets the crowd in on the slurping:
German disappointment but Icelandic joy in the background:
A happy Sonya:
That night we went on a bus tour of Dublin (by night, which was both cold and slightly bizarre – though mostly down to the narration as we went from a very odd bus driver.) He then dropped us off at the venue for the night’s entertainment. An open bar and a bbq meant things got going pretty quickly. Once people were suitably “lively” it was time for the Team Entertainment presentation. You had to fill 5 minutes and be entertaining and it was worth as many points as any other event. We went last (which was great cos everyone was really, really drunk by then) and performed the “World’s Crappest Irish Joke”. The credit for this one goes to Simon (for the joke and the onstage narration) and to Lou for her awesome set and prop design (oh yes people – no expense spared). Somehow we got second place, with the Russian’s comical performance of Swan Lake taking first. My favourite was the Estonians surreal interpretation of “My hat it has three corners”. Very, very funny! Like many of the nights it ended pretty late, but was incredibly good fun and hanging out with all the baristas was great.
By this point I had come to realise the true genius of whoever it was that decided the events shouldn’t start each day til midday. Every minute of sleep/recovery was precious. We started the day with our final workshop:
David Cooper talked us through the new rules for the WBC next year, which was quite useful to know. What followed was a written test on the WBC – very hard! and then each team had to nominate a member to produce 4 cappuccinos to a set of judges under full WBC conditions. The twist was that they had to get the coffees from the stage to the seating area without using a tray and they had to serve them all at once. Most people either carried all four (very brave, but very impressive) or used the drip tray (resourceful). Simon had a stroke of genius and when it was his turn he picked up the judges table, brought it on stage, loaded it and brought it back to them. The coffees weren’t bad either….. we won the workshop!
Karl making his coffees (Stephen’s photo):
Blind Latte Art:
As if latte art wasn’t hard enough on stage. This was the final event of the competition and one for all the teams. We were drawn out of the hat first. The way it worked was that three members were blindfolded and one sighted. One had to grind and dose and tamp, pass the handle across for a quick flush and then the extraction. The final member would then steam the milk, pour lovely latte art and then serve the drinks. They would be guided by the sighted member who was not allowed to touch anything. I was the one talking (on a mic so the audience could “to your left…. left…. the other left…. etc…) Ben was grinding the shots, Lou pulling the espressos and Simon steaming milk for the 4 cappuccinos and all credit to him for pouring what I thought were awesome rosettas. The drinks were then judged for taste, and we were tech judged too. Russia were amazing, Ireland were incredible. We picked up 4th place but the Irish took a much needed and well deserved win. A couple of Ruslan’s rosettas were stunning…
Olga’s Heart (Gary McGann’s photo):
Simon pouring under my instruction:
Here is where it got a little embarrassing for me. I knew in advance I would be collecting a trophy on behalf of the UK for the competitions in Bern. It turns out that if you take every countries scores from the WBC, World latte art, world cupping comp and Coffee in Good spirits (5th, 5th, 9th, 3rd) then we did the best overall. This trophy will be passed on year to year. Alf handed it over and I was delighted to accept it on behald of Stephen Hurst (cupping) and Paul Meikle-Janney (coffee in good spirits) and meself.
Recieving the trophy (a mounted old grinder):
Next trophy was The Cow. The Cow had had a bad flight over, being briefly seperated from its feet due to Ryanair’s rough baggage handlers (just to clarify – this is a porcelain cow we won in the last Team comp which was Ireland Vs. UK and will be handed to whoever places above the other in future competition). We beat the Irish team so I went up on stage again to collect that trophy. Already I suspect the audience is growing sick of my face.
I will find a picture of the cow!
Finally the overall European Team Coffee Challenge winners were announced. In reverse order:
(I will find a better picture!)
We were delighted to win it, the team worked really hard throughout, and I feel like I haven’t talked enough about how much everyone contributed. It was weirdly embarrassing to be back onstage yet again! Stephen has already noted on his blog that the SCAE website makes a very good point about the goal of the competition:
The experience of competing is the prize. Winning the competition is a bonus.
I felt a bit odd after winning, because it had felt like a goal to work towards but winning it didn’t make it different. It was a great event and I would have had as much fun coming last as coming first (ok, maybe coming 3rd or 2nd or something….)
I must say publically that Paul Stack from Marco did an absolutely amazing job making it all happen as smoothly as it did, and I think everyone who came had a great time. It renewed a little of my faith that had been lost in team competitions after the Nordic Cup, and I think they are a really great thing (especially if you are participating). It was great, thank you to all. I won’t list names.
Things to click: