WBC 2010 Ramblings

Ah, the post-WBC, er… post.  I’ve always failed at anything vaguely approaching a decent wrap-up of these events and I doubt I’m likely to start now.

It is tricky to find a place to start, so broad is the experience and so numerous the people and conversations.  I should probably start with the important stuff:

John was, simply put, amazing.  Not just for a performance that left him a cruel half point outside of the semis, but even more for being an amazing ambassador for coffee in the UK and for being the epitome of how a barista should act onstage and offstage.  I am utterly honoured to call him a colleague and friend.  As a competing barista you are incredibly reliant on your support team and if I ever went back to it then I’d definitely want Jess in my corner as she does an incredible job.

His blend of two different coffees from two different roasters (the combined wonderfulness of Anette and Steve) was a lot of fun, and I think (as does Steve) that it says good things about the community and relationships within the UK coffee industry.

Plus that signature drink was ludicrously tasty…….

It’s hard writing about John, as well as many other competitors.  I’m lucky to call many of the finalists, semi-finalists and competitors friends and was being onstage as MC on the final day was a privilege.  Getting to taste everyone’s espresso was just so much fun that I shouldn’t go on about how delicious they all were because you’ll all want to kill me.  Seriously – too much tasty espresso goodness.

Getting to sneak some of Colin Harmon’s signature drink (which, by the way, did everything he promised and was both tasty and fascinating) was an added bonus.  Colin and Steve are a great example of what is possible when open minded and passionate baristas work with skilled and passionate roasters.  It is a shame Colin thinks he won’t be competing next year.  (I’m probably going to try to convince him otherwise!)

I don’t think anyone is in doubt that Mike Phillips is a deserving champion, and will be a great figurehead for coffee in the coming years.  Once you know Mike a little it is easy to forget just how focused, skilled and accomplished he is because he’s so charming and friendly.  And that can be a little distracting.

Oh, and the only part of the sig drink I tasted – the washed coffee, skimmed of crema then chilled and served with sparkling water:  ludicrously good.  Seriously, damned near criminal.

I am aware that it is easy to write nothing but sweetness and light after these events. Worry not – I’ve saved a little scorn, all to be focused on the event organisers of the show.  It seems odd that they seemed to show such annoyance and hostility towards the event that was a sufficient draw to double the size of their exhibition.  If anyone can explain it, I’m all ears….

Penny University was all kinds of crazy.  I owe massive thanks to Tim, Tobias and Alex for working incredibly hard on a bar that is demanding even on the quietest days – let alone when 30+ coffee industry folk appear at once and you’ve only got 6 seats!  You know you’re lucky to have amazing colleagues when people seek you out at the show just to tell you how great they are, and Tim puts so much time and effort into creating and running Penny University – for which I am very, very grateful.

It was great for me to make coffee for so many people the day after, while at the same time I felt horrible that the waiting time was so long and that there were people I didn’t get the opportunity to serve.  I hope everyone who came had fun though – be it that day, or any other day!

The show itself – or should I say the experience of being at a trade show in London – was a bit overwhelming.  So many people to say hello to that you barely got to say two sentences after that before being whipped in a different direction to great another person you hadn’t seen in way too long.  I didn’t really get a chance to hang out at any of the booths, which was a shame because I am sure I missed out on some interesting stuff.

Now it’s all over.  A mixture of sadness and relief.  It seems like people had a pretty good time in London (it is a weird feeling when you feel vaguely responsable for how good a time people have when visiting your city.)  I think the days I enjoyed most were the ones just after the event when a few people were still in town so we could hang out, drink some interesting whisky, eat oversized and delicious sausage rolls and be a bit silly.

Reading back over this I realise it is a pretty woeful wrap up, but I don’t think my brain can process this into anything sensible that could properly capture all the interesting stuff, all the hard work, all the preparation and execution that went on at an event like this.  (Plus saying “Congratulations everyone!” seems like a total cop out.  Ah well!  Plus I’ve used too many superlatives, but it is hard to describe many wonderful things in not many words.)

I’d love to know people’s impressions of London and the coffee scene here, if you visited and you read this.  It is easy to be too close to it and not see the forest for the trees.

For more WBC-type reading:

Colin Harmon’s Blog
Steve Leighton’s Blog
David Walsh’s Blog
Barista Magazine
Sprudge
Coffee Collective
Caffenation Blog
Bean Here, Bean There
Coffee Crusade
Star Barista

Hopefully Twitchy at some point.   (That should keep you all busy!)

4 Comments

  1. Hi James,
    Totally agree with you, the event organisers seemed to being doing everything in their power to make life difficult for us. Having worked on productions around the World I have to say the organisers at Olympia amazed me on several occasions!

    I thought the standard was incredibly high, some of our staff watching online are reconsidering entering next year! One of my fav memories was Mike coming over to me just before he started, he asked how loud the sound system would go and instructed me to”‘really give it some” after his intro chat to the judges, I think the desired effect was achieved.

    Nice to catch up, see you all soon
    Darren

  2. Being quite new, but already passionate about specialty coffee, a visit to London was something I have wanted to do from when I first read about it’s coffee scene, sometime last year.

    The quality of coffee praised in so many articles, the whole coolness-alternativeness factor, and the community feel of it made me want to come as soon as possible. The WBC was a perfect opportunity.

    I was very curious about how Square Mile coffee tasted when really delivered as it should be. I was already a subscriber and experimented a little with a v60, a mokapot, and a little bit with espresso. But I felt that I have sensed a hint of the potential, but not what it could be.

    So I went to see. And what can I say, my expectations were high, but they were all fulfilled.

    The espressos I had in Flat White, Dose, Prufrock, TOBL simply put a smile on my face, because I now knew: it’s true. :) All the fancy stuff (juicy marmelade hazelnut whatever?! yeah right!) written on the coffee bags: it’s true. While I was having the coffees I felt like calling someone long distance to tell them about the coffee I am having, but that would have been silly. The cappuccinos, Flat Whites, cortados and Gibraltars (including at Nude, Tina We Salute You, and also the WBC brew bar!) where wonderfully crafted and delicious.

    And Penny University topped it all with it’s intimate coffee theatre, and yes, I too felt “I should do this back home”.

    The people behind the bars, and around them were so open, friendly. The community feeling, the scene-ness is all there. Now topped with the international thing, I was hopping between coffee bars, and meeting people from all over, from Japan and Russia to Denmark and Serbia, and Brazil, Mexico….Everybody open to chat.

    With Gwilym I had the exact feeling that you’ve said about Mike: so friendly, and warm, one would think he won the WBC last year with only his charm. But no, in fact, Gwilym was the most meticulous with the coffee of all baristas I’ve met. My double shot weighed 30.8 gramms, to the satisfaction of the Mr Davies. :)

    I know some of you were kind of upset about the security people at CaffeCulture, or I heard some criticism about the party place. I see what you’re saying, but for me, it was all just lovely, the whole thing, and any difficulties have absolutely no weight. Also I could not see all of the competition, but I am catching up now via the internet.

    So, I am still under the effect of these caffeinated days, gripping on to my Skerton grinder, and a bag of Progreso with nostalgia. The trip has definitely reinforced the decision to start a high quality specialty coffee shop in Budapest. You are all invited to the opening, hopefully this fall!!

    Thank you all!

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