The Other Side of the Table

September 19th, 2007

I haven’t really written very much about my visit to Toronto, though I have uploaded a few pictures.

The most interesting part of the trip for me was my first opportunity to judge.  I was delighted when they asked me to judge and didn’t really think too much about it until we started the calibration day.  I didn’t get to judge too much that day as I was one of the test baristas, along with Stephen, who were pulling shots and serving drinks for assessment.  Some good, some bad (on purpose of course….).  What threw me was that when doing a little 8 drink routine I got really quite nervous – and there I was thinking I’d never have to go through all that again.

Whilst I hoped my palate was up to the task, I wasn’t really prepared for how I would feel sitting the other side of the table from a competitor.  I found it, at first, terrifying.  No one tells you this, as a competitor anyway.  When I was competing I expected a great deal from the judges – a sympathetic and open attitude to coffee, an attention to detail, and for them to be as fair as they could.  How capable would I be committing to paper that I thought a drink was truly exceptional.  As baristas we are often critical of the lack of ranging in scoring competition performances – would I be confident enough to give an espresso a 5 or a 6?  I really wanted to, and it was interesting talking with some of the judges that they feel the same way – they would love to be giving out higher scores but on the day, under pressure, espresso is often a little elusive.  Whilst I hope to remain critical of my own scoring, I do feel confident standing behind every score I gave.

Within a few rounds I really got into it, I loved listening to all the presentations and taking the time to evaluate drinks.  The discussion afterwards was great and Brent Fortune and Tracey  Allen were both great head judges helping me iron out a few things in my judging.  I hope there is another opportunity in the future to judge with them again.

I spent most of the time on sensory and felt quite comfortable with the flow, trying to take as many notes as I went as well as leaving as much explanation for my scoring as I could as there is nothing more frustrating than getting a scoresheet back empty save for the numbers.  I did tech a little, with Scott (who tech’d me in Berne) and I have nothing but respect for seasoned tech judges like that – their understanding of the flow of a performance is so important to getting the job done really well.  I am pretty comfortable with the scoresheets and the physicality of the routines but I still felt I was playing catchup with him.  Very impressive.

What brought a wry smile to my face, as I sat backstage in between rounds, was thinking back to my old scoresheets from competitions.  When you compete there are always points you feel are contentious, you feel hard done by or that the judges were overly harsh.  In light of actually judging and scoring I felt that those scores had probably been very fair.  Funny what a little perspective can do.

I was really pleased when they asked if I would judge some of the finalists, I think I judged 5 of the 8 and all of the top four were in my flights.  Even though I had judged around 8 the day before I was nervous through every one of my rounds for the finals.  (I asked Anette and she still gets nervous too – and she has judged well over a hundred competitor performances)  I didn’t want to miss anything, wanted to really concentrate on the drinks and in finishing every espresso and trying to drink a lot of the other drinks I probably ingested more coffee than I have for a while but I didn’t really suffer too much.  I am not going to talk about specific drinks or performances (though anyone who I judged is more than welcome to get in touch once they get their scoresheets back and ask about any comments I made or what my handwriting actually says!)  Congratulations to Mike Yung!  I think Mike will be a great champion and will be a very strong competitor in Copenhagen next year.  There seemed to be a real jump from last year to this in Canada and I hope a lot of the baristas there compete again in Montreal in 2008.

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