WBC Thoughts

I should probably try and post some vague approximations of all the craziness, stress, surprise and good times that was the WBC this year.

So – Gwilym’s performance:  I am sure pretty much everyone has worked out that we didn’t go to this competition with the main goal of winning. The idea this year was the same as the idea last year, and the year before that: give an interesting performance that one could are proud of.

Continue reading “WBC Thoughts”

East Coast Roadtrip – Ashville and Charlotte

Ashville seems to be something of an odd place considering its location. I wasn’t aware of its reputation as being one of the more relaxed, liberal (though I hate the word) cities in the South, but when you get there it does have a very different feel. I also appreciated the rocking chairs in the Counter Culture training centre there!

Rocking

Happily rocking away

The presentation was in the evening, so we wandered around town a little with Mary who runs the training centre there. I bought a book or two (on Chris Deferio’s recommendation – Thanks Chris!) and we drank too much chocolate ganache of various flavours. The event that evening was very different to the one in Durham, but not in a bad way. The focus was a bit more onto espresso techniques and it was mostly baristas from nearby shops and one lovely chap who was a pro cyclist and also a bit of a coffee nut who trains in the mountains when Canada is too cold. Latte art seemed pretty popular…

pouring latte art on the floor

Kneeling and pouring latte art

After the event a few of us hung out for drinks and we got chatting to a couple of guys from the Dripolator, a shop in town. We vowed to make it there for breakfast before leaving town, and we I ate my first vegetarian meal of the trip – I’d never had tempe before so I was curious!

The shop was cool, a big space but its layout meant it felt quite intimate wherever you were in the room. Coffee was drunk, and thanks again to Jay the owner for his hospitality and also for the awesome Dripolator mug.

Me, Jay and Anette

Me, Jay and Anette

After Cindy had purchased a suspicious green smoothie we hit the road heading back across to Charlotte for the event that evening.

Brent and Banks have a great space to work from, and the event that night was pretty full. We tried to sneak in a quick dinner at Dish before hand, but it was quickly becoming clear that sneaking in a meal in the South is pretty hopeful.

A good mix attended the talk, though a fair few from a rival local roastery which was interesting. I always like the bit afterwards where you get to chat people, hang out and it becomes a bit less formal. One couple had driven up from Greenville for the event, which was cool – especially as they were huge hardcore coffee people and a few other local enthusiasts had turned up as well.

Talking in Charlotte

Talking to the audience in Charlotte

The hotel we stayed at was lovely – the Blake, and it cemented itself as memorable by having a member of staff who was convinced Anette was someone famous “under cover”.

After a fine breakfast, and some NASCAR discussion we hit the road towards Atlanta, with a pitstop ahead at the home of the chemically imbalanced – Greenville.

East Coast Roadtrip – Counter Culture Roastery, NC

I confess I knew more about Counter Culture’s coffee than I did about the company itself. I was excited to visit their roastery and also we were honoured to stay in the House of Chang.

I also confess that the change in the clocks caught me off guard and it took me a little while to realise that all the people rapidly filling the Counter Culture training room were not overly punctual!

I wasn’t sure how many to expect for the event, and it turns out the NPR interview had been heard by more people than I’d expected. The idea of the presentation was to do a little introductory talk about my history in coffee and then to move into some single estate espresso, first cupping the coffees then pulling them as shots. What we didn’t bank on (or I didn’t anyway) was that around 75 people showed up to listen and that is a lot of people to have cup at once, especially as the majority hadn’t ever cupped before.

Peter Giuliano did an amazing job of organising and guiding them through it and then Anette and I pulled shots of the Kenya Gaturiri and Biloya on the FB80 whilst SERBC champ Lem Butler pulled shots of the Finca Mauritania PN on the their Linea. The response was amazing from those that were already well into coffee and those that were merely interested. I think we often underestimate the general public’s capacity for coffee and taste exploration, and it was a crowd I really enjoyed talking to. I won’t pretend that Dan Kehn of home-barista didn’t make me nervous by filming the whole thing, and in truth I’ve yet to bring myself to watch all the video he posted.

talking in Counter Culture

Talking to the Counter Culture training room, full of people

Sig drink speaking

Standing room only, which was nice

It was the kind of audience you really want to talk to. A mixture of people, backgrounds and interests that were all motivated by wanting to drink better (in every sense) cups of coffee. I really enjoyed the event, and it was kind of odd signing lots of stuff afterwards. (I never know what to write! Sorry if I scrawled anything stupid on a reader’s card.)

The roastery itself was very cool, and I am grateful to Counter Culture for them being so transparent about their operation. I was incredibly jealous of their setup – with the one bag (60kg) Roure and the one bag Renegade as main productions roasters and then 10 kilos Samiac (I think I spelled that correctly) for smaller batches of really special stuff. Tim Hill did a great job roasting up the coffees I sort of asked for (my e-mail about the single origins was more philosophical than direct…) and I wish I could have chatted to him for longer.

After we’d finished cleaning up Peter Giuliano appeared with some dried coffee cherries (minus the beans) and proceeded to make a variation on qishr, which is a tea made from the dried husks. I think it was traditionally sweetened but just steeping the cherries in hot water was surprisingly sweet and the general agreement was that it was like rosehip tea. I didn’t expect it to be as delicious as it was.

Peter and Qishr

Peter and Qishr

After a quick drink with the CCC crew we headed out to eat at Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill. Cindy, Anette, Peter and I were joined by Brett (the co-founder and co-owner of Counter Culture) and I had the most memorable food experience of the trip (just) with the Shrimp and Grits there. Everyone who has had it there talks about it fondly and it could well be my ultimate comfort food. I want to eat it again right now, because I am writing about it. So good. If you go to Chapel Hill and don’t eat it there then you are officially crazy. The chef, Bill Smith, briefly appeared to say hello and talk to me about a meal he had once had where they had roasted the fish in tobacco leaves (he also had been listening to NPR!)

The next day we hung out at the roastery again, and also I talked a little with Lem about his performance for the upcoming USBC and also about his sig drink and the like. Lem has a very natural, relaxed charm and it was a fun couple of hours.

Lem practising

Lem pulling shots and making drinks for us

We couldn’t leave Durham without a quick coffee at 3 Cups (I am such a coffee tourist, I have to buy all the t-shirts) and also to the Loco Pops just around the corner (the cookies and cream one is so very, very good) before filling ourselves way to full at Mama Dips. A final coffee at Open Eye and we hit the road and headed down towards Ashville.

2007 – A review of the year

January

The year started like every year started with the UKBC heats and once again I was part of the crack team (read Steve Penk and me) driving up and down the country building stages and setting up the heats. Ed Buston won in a quiet Midlands heat, and Se Gorman won convincingly in Northern Ireland. Meanwhile people argued about Teflon killing you and I had a pleasing moment of enlightenment thanks to Andy Schecter’s idea of extraction ratios.

weighing a short double

Espresso Extraction Ratios

February

More heats – the North won by Lou Henry, the Southwest won by Hugo Hercod and then the London heat which, though very stressful, I managed to win after which I posted the blend recipe to stop myself using it again.

March

So – the UKBC final rolled around and I managed to win again, though the competition was much closer than the year before – I won by about 30 points opposed to around 200 in 2006. I also realised at this point that this would be my last year competing as three years in a row of competition and all the work that goes into it had been enough. Lugging a refrigerated centrifuge onto the stage probably hadn’t been worth it but the Coffee and Donuts drink was very tasty, I thought at least! Still – I was very happy though Tokyo seemed a long time away…. The other highlight of this month was my first tv appearance of the year on Ready, Steady, Cook! I was up against Se Gorman and was a happy loser on this occaison (you get a nice hamper of edibles!)

Klaus and my sig drink

Klaus finishing off the last of one of my sig drinks

April

On the most popular posts of this month was my photographic guide to some green coffees but as I had announced I was moving on from La Spaziale it was mostly a month of good old fashioned work, bar a quick trip over to Copenhagen to watch the awesome Lene take first place in the Danish Barista Championships.

May

The complete blog links page (now updated) becomes the most popular thing I’ve ever published. Anette and I go over to Antwerp and whilst I suck at the Latte art competition, Anette storms to victory becoming the World Cup Tasting Champion! This is far more interesting and important to me than an auction lot generating $130/lb but the press don’t agree.

Anette wins!

Anette celebrates her win (mostly for the UK!)

June

I know no longer work for La Spaziale UK. For 2 and a half years I’d been their barista and training manager and in that time I don’t think there was another coffee company in the UK that I would rather have worked for. No one else was as forward thinking, as interested, invested or passionate about espresso and coffee. However we have big plans for something else so it was time for me to move on, and also for Anette to leave her position at Mercanta. The first thing we do is hop on a plane and head to the West coast of North America for a little roadtrip. We head from the wonderful hosting of the Elysian guys in Vancouver to hanging with Schomer and seeing Synesso in Seattle, then on to Portland (everything I expected) for lots more good coffee before limping down to San Francisco to sleep and hang out with Ritual. The final stop being a couple of days in LA with the new Intelli.la crew, and be driven around a little by Tonx. A truly inspiring trip – my only regret being not able to take four times as long to do it.

cupping in LA

Cupping at Intelli LA

July

At this point I realised that Tokyo was now looming very seriously on the horizon so it was time to retreat indoors with a GB5 and practice, practice, practice. I do love competition but I don’t love the long hours and stress that come with serious practice and rehearsals – Anette’s ability to cope with me during these times still amazes me. However the stress clearly starts to get to us and the absurd latte art comeptition is born the night before we head to Tokyo.

absurd latte art competition

Our absurd latte art pour

August

WBC time – I compete in the heats first up on the second day. Things go wrong – I have to repull my first set of capp shots, my burners blow a fuse and I don’t realise they haven’t worked until the very end. I smile, forget to call a technical and finish – I am offered another run but turn it down. I assume I’ve messed up – I’ve seen so many great baristas compete I think I haven’t a chance. Little do I know I’ve qualified in second and when I realise I’ve made it into the finals I aim to go out and have some fun. Which I do, and it turns out the judges had fun as well. Becoming World Barista Champion was the most amazing surprise and an indescribable feeling. It still hasn’t sunk in completely. People say lots and lots of nice things! I am very grateful to everyone who worked so hard helping me and asked for so little in return.
I am also delighted the cups I had signed get auctioned off for $500 – Poul and Steve are both incredible and generous people.
At this point I realise that the plans we’ve been making may get a little delayed with likely WBC duties.

finals presentation

About to begin my finals routine

September

The travel begins! We head off to Toronto to judge the CBC and pour latte art in Arthur’s ear for the now hotting up Absurd Latte art challenge. My first time judging and I love it though I get very nervous. From there it is straight into the Nordic Barista Cup which is in Gothenburg and is great. We mostly hang out with the lovely Chris and M’lissa and laugh at a cafe roasting in a domestic oven. The absurd latte art competition comes to a close and is rightly won by the intelli.la guys.

October

The UK go and get our asses kicked by the Russians on home turf in the European Team Coffee Challenge. Moscow doesn’t endear itself to me – mostly due to endless traffic jams. Outside of barista-ing but still coffee related is my doing the photography for the Espresso Warehouse catalogue which was a great challenge and I think turned out pretty well. A trip to Milan for HOST is a welcome chance to remind myself exactly what Italian espresso is all about and to catch up with some of the guys from Ritual who are over working a booth. Robusta makes us pull faces.

Russia wins the ETCC

The Russian teams wins the ETCC

November

Anette and I go to Colombia – to Armenia for coffee farms and Bogota to judge their barista competition. I love the place and wish we could stay longer and see beyond the exhibition centre. Anyone who travels a lot for work to the inside of boring exhibition centres in interesting places probably feels the same quite often. It was, however, great to hang out with Salvador (the Mexican Barista champion) and some of his family. On returning home I get my GS3 from La Marzocco – part of my WBC prize to go with my Compak Grinder and Mahlkoenig K30 from the UK comp (I am spoiled, I know…..)

Me, Salvador and Fabian

Me with Salvador and Fabian (Colombian champ 2007)

December

A quieter month but a highlight was definitely a trip to Probat with Anette, Klaus and Casper. The museum itself is reason enough to go – so many amazing machines. Not long after that I sneak off to Costa Rica for a week to talk about all things barista related and to see Herbazu and meet the farmers to whom I am so grateful. It is all a bit hectic but it is good to sneak away to Norway for Christmas to think about the next year and wonder what will happen. I promise updates and explanation with regards to Square Mile Coffee Roasters and the UKBC gets into full swing too – but no reports this year as I’m judging, only photos of ones I attend as a spectator.

It has been an amazing year and I am really looking forward to 2008. Hope it is a happy and prosperous year for you too!

Colombia 2007 – Bogota

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!

Anette is World Cup Tasting Champion 2007!

I am utterly delighted/proud/so happy to get to post that Anette won the World Cup Tasting competition here in Antwerp today!

For those of you new to the competition the format is triangle tests.  In a round a cupper must pick the odd cup out of the three in 8 different sets.  Once they have settled on 8 individual cups the rest are cleared and they must then lift up their chosen cup in turn to see if it has the red marking underneath indicating they got it right.   It gets quite tense.

19 national entrants compete once and then the top 6 go into a semi final.  Those with the most right progress and it goes to time in case of tied scores.  The difficulty of the tests also increases the further you progress.

Anette’s first round was a maximum score in a very quick time (the only person faster was last year’s winner – Gloria from Guatemala).  In the semis she missed one bowl, but got through to the final 3 on her quick time.

The finals were great – the atmosphere was a lot of fun and it really (really!) gets tense towards the end.  It was Jacques from Brazil, Arni from Iceland and Anette.  It came down to the final bowl – if Anette got it wrong then her slower time put her third, but if it was right she won.  I’ve never been so pleased to see red marker pen on the bottom of a cupping bowl…

I will post a full set of pictures to flickr when I get back – it is off to celebrate at the barista party tonight – I will take lots of pictures!  As for the latte art (which I compete in on Sunday) and the Coffee in good spirits competition (our entrant is Paul “squeeky” Miekle-Janney) then either the pressure is off or the bar is set insanely high.  I’ll keep you posted.

Again – huge congratulations to Anette!