I am slowly recovering from my week in Moscow as a member of the UK team for the 2nd European Team Challenge. It was a lot of fun, and I’ll start of by saying that we didn’t retain the title – this year the very worthy winners were the host nation: Russia.
It goes without saying that this will be a fairly long post!
The competition was spread out over 4 days, and held with a catering expo. The expo centre wasn’t part of the hotel but the bus invariably took an hour due to the quite staggering Moscow traffic. I don’t think I’ve ever seen traffic like it!
Day One started out with a roasting lecture from John Sanders, which was excellent. There was also information given about 10 or so different green coffees and then there was the roasting challenge: 30 minutes to produce 1.2kg of roasted espresso and 200g of filter coffee that would be used/judged later in the competition. As for equipment we had a Probatino, a two barrel gas sample roaster and a 1 barrel electric sample roasters. Each team took its turn – however, we had run a bit late and during our 30 minutes the event cut all the power (it was about 7pm at this point) which was a bit stressful as the coffee in the Probatino was just coming into second and we had to get it all out pretty fast before it caught fire, which was quite tricky without power! In the end we had to come in early the next morning to reroast our batches, and the Ukraine too.
This seems like a suitable moment to mention the different teams competing: Denmark, Estonia, Iceland, Ireland, Lebanon, Poland, Russia, UK and the Ukraine. Each was a four man team, some selected like the UK – the top 4 from the national barista competition, and others in different ways. The other members of our team were Gorman, Ed Buston and Hugo Hercod.
Anyway – that evening the bus picked us up and took us downtown for some food, and then a quick trip to a cafe called Coffee Bean, which had an amazing interior and was impressively busy for 9pm. After that it was a bus tour of Moscow, dropping us off for a little while in Red Square. I was surprised at its size – for some reason I expected something much bigger but it is a beautiful square with some amazing buildings.
Day Two started with a lecture from Jose Arreola and then two groups of teams had to put on a speed cupping. 4 or 5 teams cupping out 4 coffees, using 1 boiler and 2 grinders and having only 20 minutes to prep, cup and clean up. We also had to rank the coffees and give notes too. This was quite hectic, good fun and a couple of the coffees were very tasty. After this was the coffee and vodka competition. Teams had to produce four different drinks in 10 minutes. One drink had to have only vodka and coffee, and any other non-alcoholic ingredients and one had to contain coffee, vodka and milk/cream. The other two drinks also had to have coffee and vodka but you could add anything else you wanted (booze included). We served a vodka infused with coffee beans to start (this is very, very tasty and worth trying if you have some vodka lying around), and then a little macchiato/con panna drink that had some vodka and amaretto cream beaten into the cream. The third was a fruit tea infused vodka, cherry syrup and espresso shaken over ice and strained and to finish a little twist on the Stolli Bolli – we used the coffee infused vodka, a little syrup and some Russian champagne. Impressively this not only tasted pretty good, but significantly better than the sparkling wine on its own!
That night the bus took us well into Moscow (and its traffic!) to a club that we were taking over. Here there was food, lots of free booze and some social event competitions including a vodka cupping competition (I know that sounds a lot of fun, but my head the next morning disagreed!) and another amusing challenge where a team member had to get coffee beans from a bowl of flower into a cup using only their mouths. That was a lot of fun to watch. I was pretty tired from having gotten up so early to roast, and I think the little bottle of Vana Tallin probably finished me off…. (Thanks Jaanus!).
Day Three started with a filter coffee seminar – something that I think is really interesting and definitely something I wanted to be better at. Joe Smith from Marco did the presentation and it is a really interesting one. I do need to get off my ass and sort myself a TDS meter because they are very useful things. It was also interesting to see the Nueva Simonelli produced meter for espresso that I had seen in barista mag a couple of months before. So for the filter competition we all had to brew the filter coffee we had roasted and then get the public to rank them blind, with the average score winning it. The other competition that day was the tantalizingly named “Hands and Legs”. Here team members were paired up and had one arm and one leg bound to your buddy’s. The teams then had to pour latte art in a latte glass, a capp cup and an espresso cup. This was the first chance we’d got to taste the coffee we’d roasted and even though it was only hours from the roaster I was a little surprised that it tasted pretty good.
That night I was pretty shattered, and not alone so the group divided into those brave enough to head out for another night out in Moscow and those grouchy old types who wanted to go back to the hotel to relax and try and get some decent sleep.
The final day began with a defects lecture from John Sanders, which is something I definitely want to know more about. We used the SCAA produced book and poster to talk about the different categories of defects and their influence over coffee grades. Then all the teams jumping on the machines on the stage and just messing about and making coffee, doing stupid latte art challenges and having a lot of fun whilst giving the public some good coffee. During this time the teams would take it in turns to go and do the defects competition – 10 minutes to pick out and identify 23 defective beans from a 150g sample. This was surprisingly hard under pressure but I was pleased we did pretty well.
After that it was the water lecture – we had run out of time so there was no competition here – which again was done by John Sanders. Again this is a really interesting topic and another item on the wishlist: a water quality test kit. There were lots of questions for the teams on this one because it is hard to find good answers on this subject.
With the end of the show looming the results were announced – the top four teams asked to remain onstage and then their order called out. Denmark took 4th, Lebanon 3rd, Estonia 2nd and Russia taking gold. I was delighted for Russia to win, as they are a great team and worked really hard and very well together.
The final night was quite crazy. After the show they bussed us down to the river for a night boat tour.
We ate on the boat and we all knew that the night was going to get messy when the alcohol arrived – per table of six there were a couple of bottles of vodka, red wine, white wine and cognac. And one bottle of water. Everyone got pleasantly drunk and a lot of fun was had, even if Mikkel and I got in trouble for having a Titanic moment. You can see the unhappy captain’s head:
The night ended very late, and I felt very sorry for the people who had early flights out the next day. The people are what these kinds of competitions are all about and I think that team competitions have great potential though I would like to see the competition move to being more about a team working in a cafe (though still with a sense of humour). Though this is my last team competition as a member I hope to attend any future ETCCs and thanks to SCAE UK for footing the bill and sending us all to Russia.
(sorry it took so long to get this post up – it has just been non-stop and I’m really tired.)
It was lovely to see so many people there – I can’t really list everybody’s names, but it was great to catch up and I look forward to seeing you again soon, and it was great to meet some new people and sorry for being such a camera nerd!