Colombia 2007 – Bogota

November 23rd, 2007

Back when I was in Moscow Jose Arreola asked me if I would be interested in coming down to Colombia to do some barista training and workshops and to help push up their competition standard. I agreed and Anette and I headed down to Bogota, and after a few days in Armenia it was time to head to the Expo where the Colombian National Barista Championship was being held.

Colombian National Barista Competition

Colombian National Barista Competition

The competition is still very young there – this was only its second year. The first thing that happened was that Anette, Salvador and I each jumped onto a competition station and began making drinks for the judges evaluation. After this they asked Fabian (their first champion, who didn’t compete this year), Salvador and I to do an 8 drink presentation to the judges and to the people who were watching what was happening on the stage (the show was open, even though the competition wasn’t going yet).

Salvador doing an 8 drink run

Salvador doing an 8 drink run

It is always nice to watch other baristas work, especially when the pressure is not on. Highly caffeinated we left and headed out for a little food with Anette’s friend Margarita and family and Salvador’s sister and her husband. Bogota seems quite carefully divided into different sections, with restaurants often grouped together. The place has a great atmosphere at night.

The second day was a little more judges calibration and then Anette and I were asked if we wanted to judge – which we of course did! We were both assigned as techs – taking half a day each. I hadn’t tech’d much in the past and you forget how intense it is – how attentive you have to be. I did enjoy the challenge over the 4 days though.

Tech Judging

Tech Judging

People would constantly come up and ask what I thought of the standard, and I was honest. For such a new competition the standard was higher than I expected. Like any competition there is a range of baristas when it comes to preparation and performance. I wish I was tasting more though – I didn’t get many shots from competitors.

On the third day I was told that I would be doing another presentation – this time a full 12 drink presentation, ideally my WBC one. This was quite a challenge and in the end I just scraped by – thanks to Monica who ran all over the show tracking down pots and pans and stoves and some tobacco (I ended up using a cigar). The presentation was quite fun. Again I was on after Fabian and Salvador who were each a lot more prepared than me. I didn’t get to see Fabian’s as I was setting up, though I saw Salvadors – he did the alginate sphere’s though not of coffee – instead it was of a green japanese tea leaf. Very cool! He is a great performer, a very skilled and dedicated barista and one to watch for Copenhagen. He also leant me a load of his stuff which was very kind!

Salvador Benitez creating his signature drink

Salvador Benitez creating his signature drink

What was nice about these three performances is that the judges were often members of the audience invited up to taste the drinks, amongst them were a couple of the baristas who had competed earlier and were hungry to see and learn more.

Once you win the WBC you kind of assume your competition performance days are long behind you, and often this is quite a relief. I tried to relax into my performance though I was keenly aware that I was a bit out of practice and knew next to nothing about the coffee I was using and had had little time to dial it in. Still – I managed to keep the judges entertained:

Keeping the judges entertained

Keeping the judges entertained

After our performances there were photos, a lot of photos. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever been photographed as much as I was in Colombia. It was, in some ways, terrifying. When I am in the UK I pretty much forget that I won in Tokyo, but when I travel to coffee events things like that really remind me. I even got to sign memorabilia for little kids (another one ticked off the list of things to do before I die!).

What’s great about these type of events is the sense of community, meeting so many baristas and communicating in a cumbersome manner in my bad Spanish (I am working on it I promise). Both Anette and I had a lot of fun teching and it was frustrating that we had to leave to catch our plane straight after judging the last of the 6 finalists. We found out by text later that Blanca Bernal (who works for Amor Perfeito – Luis Velez’s company) had won. Her presentation was very solid – and the drinks must have been good as she survived running a little overtime and making a few little errors in the sig drink. I think she will do well in Copenhagen and congratulations to all the finalists – looking at the scores it was very close indeed.

Hopefully I will see Jose and Salvador in Mexico (a man can dream) before I seem them in Copenhagen and I hope to catch up with other baristas soon.

Me, Salvador Benitez and Fabian Marin

Me, Salvador Benitez and Fabian Marin

P.S. Andres Carne de Res is great! A crazy restaurant/club holding 3000 people and a couple of girls with fake plastic breasts who come and sing you a song with a little band, wishing you “Welcome to Colombia!” – as long as someone asks nicely. Thank you Margarita! Thank you to Patti and Julian too for being kind hosts and a lot of fun.

Colombia was great and I really hope I get to go back again and maybe see more of the city, and maybe a little less coffee!

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