NBC 2007

First of all – Congratulations Sweden! I think they are a really lovely group of people and a very deserving team of winners.

Second of all – this is a big post. It looks huge but it is mostly pictures – honest!

This was my second Nordic Barista Cup and I enjoyed it a lot. I spent the first day catching up with people, which is a crucial part of the whole thing for me. I missed a few of the lectures (The Nespresso one on sustainability for example – more on their presence later) though I enjoyed listening to Roberto Bendana from Cafes de Nicaragua, who talked with Stephen Hurst.

roberto and Stephen hurst talk about nicaraguan coffees

That evening was a boat trip, champagne for all of course, and then dinner. Was nice to catch up with Anne Lunnell and to catch up with Klaus on the Coffee Collective’s progression.

After the dinner the fun began with the first and last Coffee Olympics. Hosted by Alex in absurd shorts I was granted the high honour of lighting the Olympic Flame (a candle) and things didn’t get much more sensible from there. I did enjoy the team’s coffee commercials acted out for an inebriated and amused audience, and human tic-tac-toe is as silly as it sounds.

norway performing a coffee commercial

Spent the dinner with Chris and M’lissa and it was great to see them again, having first met them last year at the NBC in Copenhagen. They were there as volunteers and I will says this now – all the volunteers were absolutely amazing. They worked incredibly hard – with barely a break and coping with never ending lists of tasks and chores. I think next year they may need a few more because these guys were doing at least two persons work each. Amongst them were a few people I knew from the interweb community but had never met like Scott and Justin, and Will from Matthew Algie was also working his arse of with them. When you see people crashed out on benches in the afternoon you know they’ve worked hard!

I hope the organisers made them feel as appreciated as they were by the attendees.

So – Day two:

The Day started with a new idea becoming tradition: Nordic Roaster

Roasters were asked to submit a filter and an espresso blend. 10 roasters submitted so each team was given four coffees to brew. For the filter coffee the roaster could choose their dose and were informed how the Bunn Brewers would be set. For the espresso again all they could input to the baristas was the dose, assuming a rough brewtime of 25 seconds to white out.

All tasting was done blind, and filter coffee was done first – 10 cups to sip. Number 6 shone at first for me, but I didn’t like how it cooled so picked number 2. As for espresso we did it in two rounds of five. I tried to take notes on the back of my card, and it was interesting to taste different styles.

It is hard to taste coffee in paper cups, but still a lot of fun. Results would be announced later that evening…

A few lectures this day I enjoyed – having the World Sommelier Champion was interesting. He talked about using descriptions to better communicate with the customer and about common language and avoiding esoteric terms. I would like to have heard more about using his skills to more effectively sell to customers, but it was good to hear him speak.

That evening was the White Party. We were sent away and the volunteers went to work on the tent. We arrived that evening and all those not dressed in white were given some nice white overalls so we all matched. When we were allowed in everything was filled with fog, strobed light and it was crazy. Eyebrows were raised over the white sous-vide food, but I had more fun throwing popcorn at Ken from BaristaMag.

Then the tempation became to much for Klaus and I and many a helium balloon was commandeered from the plastic flamingos that held them on the tables, until one flamingo had enough to take flight. It was a proud moment.

Day three started with a very brief cafe crawl with Chris and M’lissa before they had to start working. Linus from the Coffee Collective had kindly texted me a couple of places to visit (though I am not sure 4.30am is the happiest time to recieve this kind of thing – their ability to keep going late and be up early makes me feel an old man…)

The first place sounded intruiging…. Caffe Mauritz is a tiny little shop on a busy street. They have a four group Linea and a couple of Mahlkoenig R2D2s on the back bar. However it is their roasting that draws the most interest. All the coffee is roasted in an oven on a baking tray, seemingly for 12 minutes. I kid you not. The owner wasn’t there when we were in but others visited and apparently he is a great character, and likes to start the day off by having a staff meeting and telling the stories and fables.

We had an impressively generous single espresso (about 3 ounces?!) and then headed over to a little cafe, very Italian in style from start to finish for a much cheaper and much, much shorter little espresso.

The tent/event was open to the public on the final day and they could change their Kroner for Barista Dollars (B$) and spend them at the team’s cafes. This would seem, while quite late in proceedings, to explain briefly the theme for this year’s competition (though Barista Mag have been doing a much better job of all this over on their blog). It was all about The Future Coffee Shop… The finale involved the five different shops competing to make the most money. Iceland went all Clover, no espresso…. Norway bought in baristas to do guest slots…. They chose their food offering, their service style and had previously bid for the coffees they would serve having cupped them first.

I was bought in by Norway to do a half hour guest slot, sandwiched impressively by Scott Lucey and Tim Wendelboe. Norway’s espresso was very lightly roasted, and Scott piled the pressure on me by serving me as good a shot as I think was possible from that coffee 10 minutes before I was to follow him on. It was a lot of fun, and now isn’t the time to go into worrying about your shots when you can’t quite get a fix on the coffee and dealing with people’s expectations of how the shots I serve will taste.

I bought coffee drinks, bags of beans and many a tasty treat from the different teams and I think Norway even managed to sell their K30 grinder! There were cuppings, chocolate tastings, Troels roaming the floor selling his goods and Soren with an odd drawn on moustache. No one bats an eyelid. I was annoyed to miss a tasting run at the Iceland Cafe where they used different sets of grinder burrs to brew one coffee several times on the Clover – I think the results from that will pop up somewhere soon, but in synopsis: coffee specific burrs really do work best.

Next came an item in the program I was a little skeptical about. The World Record attempt with Nespresso. I am not a huge fan of Nespresso, nor their daddy company especially when it comes the world of coffee. The idea was to use 2 domestic Nespresso machines per team to make as many cappuccinos as possible in 10 minutes. Didn’t matter how they tasted, just had to look ok. My initial anger over this absurdity was calmed by idea that if Nespresso want to throw money at an event like this, then who are we to refuse it when it can improve the event for everyone. No one in the coffee community really takes it seriously, so no harm done.

The problem was that this wasn’t about the coffee community – this was a day open to the public and it seemed such an appalling shame that the public were not given the uniform message that the craft of the barista is something worthwhile and skilled, instead they also saw what we are trying to fight again – the person pushing buttons, disconnected from the coffee making passable drinks. These are some of the best baristas in Scandanavia/Europe/The World and they are forced by the machinery and coffee to produce drinks like this for the public to watch (but thankfully not taste):

If we’d done it behind closed doors it would have seemed very funny, though I guess it wouldn’t have been as good a day for Nestle. A bit of shame….

After auctioning off loads of stuff to public and eager barista souvenir hunters everyone eventually made their way over to the Gala dinner, where the annoucements would be made. There were some odd extra awards and I won Best Attendee (I owe this entirely to Mr Lucey) and Anette and David Craig (his kilt wearing may have had something to do with it!) missed out on Cutest Girl to Ave Pilt. I laughed a lot and then they got the five WBC winners up to the machine to make coffee – Me, Klaus, Troels, Tim and also Martin stepped up. It was cool to see Martin working the machine because he won long before I got into coffee and I’d never seen him churning out drinks. Again the coffee being used maybe wasn’t the perfect roast for an espresso but I think most of the crowd wanted photos of Troels, Tim and Martin (because they did most of the hard work!) than they wanted any more coffee….

The speeches were mercifully short and we were informed that the event had raised over $10,000 US towards a school charity project in Nicaragua. Then the winners were announced and I think everyone was delighted with the result. To further continue the NBC mantra of learning together, acting together, and being together the winners of the trip go to Nicaragua but also one member of each of the other teams goes along too which I think is a great idea.

I love the NBC, it makes me jealous that I can never compete in that competition because I think being on one of those teams is very special indeed and is a great experience. I hope the UK and the rest of Europe can continue to learn from their example and that team competitions continue to grow. I guess I shall soon find out as I head to Moscow in a week to compete in the UK team for the European Team Challenge.

I was delighted for Anne, Costas et al. Again – huge congratulations to Sweden.

But the night didn’t end there….. Before we managed to sneak off into the night Scott had invaded the stage and started a latte art smackdown.

About 20 baristas threw in their money (all went to the charity project – we competed for the honour/pride/hilarity). Chris, M’lissa, Scott, Justin, Lukasz and many others including myself poured under a tirade of healthy and entertaining heckling and endless camera flashes. In the end it was Scott that would make the final two and win in the head to head battle.

Right now I am really tired and probably will come back to this and tidy it up a little bit, and I suspect it is already a massive post. Thank you to everyone that organised it and thank you to the London School of Coffee who paid my ticket.

In a final smug moment I had a quick look through my case at all the coffee I picked up:

1 kg Solberg and Hansen espresso

750g Coffee Collective espresso (can’t wait to try this!!!)

5 x 250g Nicaraguan CoE and other speciality coffees

250g Finca Vista Hermosa (Coffee Collective again)

250g Guatemala CoE Winner

Add to this a little Eva Solo and a new and very sexy tamper from Lars at Xpressivo (will post pics – it really is very cool), lots more coffee t-shirts and limited edition NBC stuff and also the coffee I picked up in Canada (1kg Discovery espresso blend, 1 pound Black Cat, 1 pound Kid-O and some Yirg from the guys at Transcend) and I think I will have no trouble keeping caffeinated in the next few days (though I should probably be worrying about my vodka tolerance in the run up to Moscow!)

It has been a great couple of weeks!

4 Comments

  1. great post james, i thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Looks like you have enough coffee to keep you going till moscow, thats for sure! :) have fun dude and remember few words

    Privet – Hello
    Poka – Bye
    Menia zovut .. – my name is ..
    poshol nahui – this one i will leave for you to find out, i will let you fill in the blank space _____

  2. Congratulations to Swedish team and to my good friend Kostas Pliatsikas!!
    Συγχαρητήρια Κώστα… πήρες το αίμα σου πίσω φίλε!

  3. Hey James,

    It was great to see you and Anette in Gothenburg! And I appreciate being mentioned as one your highlights (as target practice no less).

    But I must submit my favorite moment of the whole thing may have been Klaus saying, “This must be what the Wright Brothers felt like” as the two of you let your plastic bird drift upwards carried by the power of all of those stolen balloons.

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