Over the last two days 20 baristas from the North of this fine country have been competing in a great big hall at an unusual venue. Magna used to be a steelworks and now it has been converted into a science adventure centre. Its huge, and quite fun.
Anyway – onto the interesting stuff!
The heat (like Northern Ireland) was spread over two days. On the first days there were only a few competitors with a history of competition and one was Maxine who had competed a couple of times before (usually in the same heat as me.) I did a bit of competition training with her cafe a year or so ago and the cafe really seem to have taken to competition. I didn’t taste her espressos or capps though I did try her sig drink. A few people have done chocolate and chilli, however very few get the balance just right – Maxine’s spice was subtle and balanced which I think takes skill and practise.
Also from the same cafe – The Bottle Kiln – was Gaynor. This was her first time in competition though I think having experienced baristas around her allowed her to come on pretty quickly. She poured one of the nicest traditional capps I’ve seen in a long time:
Her sig drink was also pretty interesting. Frosted martini glasses were filled with crush ice flavoured with fennel and the she shook her espresso with liquorice over ice and poured it over.
The other competitor with competition experience was Justin. Last year Justin did pretty well in the Scottish heat but this year decided to compete in the North. Bravely he took a very long journey, with many connections, by train to compete on his own without any support.
His sig drink was a chocolate and orange macchiato:
The second day’s competitors were mostly first timers. There were a couple of guys from Coffee Revolution in Sheffield who were great fun on and off stage. I usually check with each barista before they go on stage if I can photograph them (no flash of course) and then I try and stay out of their way. I was a little thrown when Duncan looked up and gave me a big grin.
I was impressed by his unusual latte art technique – using a bell pitcher and a spatula and yet still free pouring rosettas.
His co-worker Tom was on later in the day, and sadly I missed most of his performance but big respect for the facial hair!
One interesting sig drink was using balsamic vinegar. Iain had made his own reduction, added some vanilla syrup and then the espresso and a little milk. I had to sneak a taste and I could get the balsamic but somehow it contributed to a weird chocolately taste. I thought it was pretty good, and vanilla always makes a pretty stirrer.
I think there was some expectation on the last competitor of the day – Lou (from Opposite Cafe) had placed second in the finals last year and had been part of the UK team in the European team challenge. Lou definately had the most elaborate set up and it was all quite cohesive in style. She was also the only competitor using two grinders – one for espresso and capps and one for her sig drink.
Lou was one of the few (as well as Maxine and Duncan) who poured any latte art. There seem to be less people this year doing it than last year. I don’t think that means anything though.
Her sig drink was in the style of the deconstructed drinks served in competition by people like Troels. She served cold brewed (possible toddy) coffee in a glass that was like a taste primer before the espresso and then some passion fruit sorbet to act as a palette cleanser. (I think – I was too busy taking photos and forgot to concentrate – correct me if you are reading this Lou!)
In the end the (female dominated) results were:
3rd – Gaynor
2nd – Maxine
1st – Lou
I think it was quite close but I don’t know anyone’s exact scores.
The top three:
(Gaynor, Maxine and Lou)