So, the long overdue post on the annual SCAE event held in Antwerp this year.
I have to say it is an odd event – the tradeshow part of it was very small, and the real attendance this year seemed primarily focused around the three or four competitions.
Antwerp seems lovely – I wish I had had a bit more of a chance to look round and get to explore. Did have some damned fine pieces of fried potato slathered in mayonaisse within minutes of arriving though. So good.
As you’ve probably read Anette and I were there as nominated representatives for the competitions going on. Anette was on the day we arrived in the cupping and I am sure most of you have read the result of that. There were loads of great cuppers in the event and I have to say it is probably my favourite coffee competition to enjoy as a spectator. This sounds very odd, but Alf Kramer really does an excellent job of keeping the tension high during the showdowns. There is something very dramatic about lifting a cup in the air and everyone straining to see whether it has the red dot.
Thomas from Norway gets it right!
I like this competition for so many reasons – most of all because it isn’t about judging. You are right or you are wrong. It is that simple – your skills are there for everyone (audience included) to see. I’d love to see this competition spread further and further, and I hope there is a UK one next year so I can enter.
Paul Meikle-Janney was our entrant in Coffee in Good Spirits, and he managed to pick the first slot out of the hat for the second year running. I am not sure how I feel about this competition – I think it has the opportunity to spread the whole barista craft a bit wider but I find it weirdly constraining. You can read more about it at the website.
Paul’s tray for the candyfloss and donut drink
I was competing in the latte art competition. I drew second onto the stage (damned early morning for me then…) and really wasn’t that good. I think of the competitions this one is the most flawed. Before it looks like I am trying to excuse my placing – I’m really not, I just didn’t pour good art, was under-rehearsed and just not comfortable. (Fate had played a small role leaving me with no coffee and a few broken cups). Last year the competitions scoring weirdly catapulted me up to a very undeserving 5th place. This year the changes in the scoring seemed very odd. I am not saying they didn’t pick a worthy winner – Jack had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand at the end of his 8 minutes, and his art was great – but I think the system must change. Currently there are score sheets filled out by the judges, but these are not used. Instead at the end each of the five judges give a single score out of 10. 2 judges represent score, 2 represent taste and then a head judge. There is also a weird time bonus of three points (which counts for a great deal it turns out) if you finish within the last 15 seconds, no earlier and no later. I think we really have to decide what we want the competition to promote when we look to score it. Whilst I think the US competition isn’t completely there yet – the absence of tasting frustrating me – I still see consistently better quality pours in their competition. By turning it into a high pressure environment it becomes more about who chokes and who doesn’t. (I choked!). I think there is a middle ground between the two, where taste matters but the pouring time isn’t as intense. Plus I think baristas need to have some input into how they think the scoring should be done. I know I’ve now written a lot about this in comparison to the others but it was the one I was closest to. I really hope it doesn’t seem like sour grapes on my behalf.
As a side note – my effort at a “signature pour” was the inside out rosetta – I didn’t manage great ones on the day which was a shame and the only photo I have of my efforts is from practise. I did manage a few better than this, will have to try again some time:
It was cool to see Luis from the Consejo in El Salvador again. He had the most popular airpots of coffee at the show – I started all my days off with a cup of his Pacamara – forgot to find out much about it though! Seeing Luis always reminds me that I want to get back to origin soon and that I should really work on my cupping skills to see if I could get on a CoE cupping as an observer. It is always a pleasure to see him – he is one of the most absurdly nice people I’ve ever met, in and out of coffee.
There was a barista party on the Friday night which was really quite impressive. A bar in the middle of Antwerp with wall to wall free beer, food and coffee. The coffee coming from one of 4 machines dotted around the place, the nicest being Jeroen’s Mirage with a very cool spring pre-infusion system. It was nice to chat to him for a bit as you become aware of other barista bloggers online and you communicate from time to time but nothing beats having a beer and nerding out of coffee (and cameras!). That night flew by, chatting to all sorts of people who I’d only encountered in the online coffee world. The odd point of the night was being ushered outside to see Jeroen stood on top of something (a car?) doing the thank yous and pushing the t-shirts (I bought two – all for a good cause). Considering the amount of free booze the night seemed relatively calm, though when people moved on we had to crash having been awake since 4am that morning.
The other highlight of the trip was a visit to Caffenation. Rob, who owns it, is a great guy and clearly absolutely loves what he does – which is serve the best coffee in Antwerp. There was a really nice feel to the cafe, and on the Sunday I visited really felt like a place I’d happily escape the house to just sit and enjoy a coffee and a paper. Everyone I spoke to who had visited remarked on the atmosphere and feel of the cafe. I am jealous of anyone who has nice outside space, and it was great to sit out there for a bit looking back inside the opened up cafe. I had a really interesting shot of Harrar whilst I was there, balanced acidity and full of character.
I have to say I hope to go back to Belgium soon, maybe with a little time to explore. The weekend left me so very tired and then today has been the build up for Caffe Culture – I have a feeling I am going to be very busy over the next couple of days…..