Probably recorded too late at night to make much sense. Perhaps me just worrying too much about us worrying too much about how things look instead of how things taste and the relationship between the two.
So to wrap up my first successful week (which has been both harder and easier than I imagined):
(Update: Thanks to Poul Mark for his generous offer of coffee from Transcend! Awesome!)
If you are up to the challenge post a link to your work in the comments – I will accept photos or video. C’mon! Have a go! It’s very silly…..
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.
(warning – long post and lots of big photos)
So – many of you know I was very kindly invited to Minneapolis to be part of the blog team updating the SCAA Blog. I was in esteemed blogging company – Erin Meister, Travis (quiet but awesome videoist) and Katie and Zachary who happened to change the face of coffee blogging back in Tokyo last year. Our remit was simply to cover the show, and to some extent we were making it up as we went along.
This was my first USBC and my last SCAA show had been Seattle in 2005. I had never attended any SCAA workshops before, so didn’t really know what to expect from that angle. Covering a talk ate up a lot of time, and often resulted in what seemed like not that much text. I think all of us were aware that we were writing for the SCAA, at their expense so we just tried to find the best of the show.
Of course the real draw for most people was the USBC. This has to be the most hardcore of the barista competitions outside of the WBC. The open rounds had 50 spots, and those baristas were whittled down to 16 who joined the 9 regional champions in the semifinals. Some amazing baristas didn’t make it through round one, which was oddly depressing and inspiring.
The highlight of the competition for me was getting to MC the finals with Nick Cho. It wasn’t getting to be onstage, or talk rubbish into a microphone. It was getting all six of the finalists to make us an espresso after their performance was over. I know what you are thinking, it is what everyone has been asking – which was best?
It is a difficult question to answer. Drew certainly had the advantage of making my first shot of the day, and it always tastes better when your body wants caffeine. Nick’s shot was really interesting though I was more focused on looking for the leather/sweet suede he described (which I totally got!). Heather’s shot reminded me of the WBC blend she brought to machine testing – quite heavy and with some prominent naturals. In contrast Chris Baca’s single estate Brazilian natural was not very naturally and super clean and complex. Pete’s blend was, in my humble opinion, more a traditional espresso blend (certainly in contrast to the three other single estate shots I’d taste) – quite heavy bodied and sweet. Kyle’s shot was stolen by Katie and he very kindly remade me a double. At this point I was quite caffeinated but his pull was very different to Nick’s – shorter and more intense, with the acidity a bit louder. Looking back it is tricky to pick a favourite but I told the people right after that it was probably Drew’s – though that isn’t to demean those other shots that were also truly excellent but suffered an increasingly caffeinated taster.
I get to this point and I realise I haven’t really talked about the first round or the semis. I didn’t get to see all of either though it was kind of fun to be allowed onstage (to photograph) whilst a few awesome people performed. I enjoyed Ben Helfen go job hunting in Finland, and Lem Butler… what can I say – Lem was a pure drama, rollercoaster-ride of a performance that brought tears to my eyes when against all odds he came in on time despite luck being against him and scuppering the start of his set. Watch the video…..
Come to think of it that stage was crazy – being up there was not a comfortable experience. The combination of the lights, the sound and the stadium seating meant you felt very distant from the audience and I think the overall experience threw a good number of the competitors. Perhaps those who had to go through round one had an advantage over those in the semis in that they knew a little more of what to expect from that. It looked great as a stage though!
For onstage photographing I was often accompanied by Meister who was far better at being out of the way than I was, and also by Liz “Twitchy” Clayton. Talking to Liz we would often joke and aim to get the best possible intense judging pictures. This is one of my favourites, in my mind the portafilter is glowing like gold…..
Jay’s libation (I know Jon isn’t a God technically, but I couldn’t think of a better word – “toast” just doesn’t seem to do it) was a lot of fun – people always have high expectations of Jay’s performance and this was more touching than shocking.
One thing was clear this year – lots more talking about the coffee. Lots more, which I something I thoroughly approve of. Baristas were there representing their coffee in a different way, seemingly more aware of a barista’s position in the coffee chain. It seemed to be the first competition I’d seen where the espresso upstages the sig drink and that is something no one can complain about.
I didn’t taste as much as I would have liked to – in terms of all the drinks, but I did manage to snaffle a few glasses out of the bussers trays. I’d like to apologise to the busser who tried to stop me tasting a drink, telling me I wasn’t allowed but unable to stop me because she was stuck holding the tray with both hands. (And no – I didn’t give it the “don’t you know who I am?!” crap, despite several people suggesting that this is the way to go in such situations…)
No doubt Kyle’s individual sig drink preparations were a great little concept, in line with espresso being a drink prepared to order, for an individual opposed to other bulk brewing methods. Scott Lucey’s sig drink was also great – simple, yet very tasty and totally ticking the texture box for me with its custard component. I would have killed to taste Baca’s drink but the judges drank it all every time (as asked) so we (me, hopefully bussers, audience members, friends and bloggers) were left salivating but unsatisfied. I have to just add that the whole Ritual crew were very inspiring to me, as were the Intelli crew. People like that get me excited about coffee and I don’t think it is out of place to say that if there were a barista’s barista award at the show (as there have been at some regionals) then Baca may well have picked that up.
One more note on the competition – the live feed. I can’t believe how well it worked out, how much fun it was to interact with people watching and on occaison to pick up the laptop and do a little backstage cam stuff. Sorry for my silliness. The quality of the feed will only improve and I hope to online as well as live at the WBC, interacting again with all those online watching things unfold.
There is lots of other discussion circling around online – from the SCAA blog coverage to the grinders baristas were using onstage and the techniques that went along with them. The doserless Roburs are terrifyingly fast (2.5s for around 19-20g by the look of things) but I suspect the Anfim’s scored higher. It was great to talk to John Ermacoff about the mods he has done on the ones Ritual are using. I suspect that if you put John Ermacoff, Greg Scace and Andy Schecter into a workshop for a month, gave them unlimited budget, then they would come up with something that would totally change the way we brew espresso.
I spent virtually no time on the show floor, which was quite frustrating as there were lots of people I wanted to see, but I had a few good drinks – the Chemex of Ethiopian Konga from Lindsay at 49th was delightful as was my espresso from Jeremy on the Synesso booth. Getting into lectures and workshops at the show was a privilege but I don’t really have anything to add to the stuff on the SCAA blog.
So congratulations to Kyle. I am a big fan of his, it was a pleasure to watch him perform three times and to see that performance evolve onstage. He is not only technically outstanding as a barista but a great ambassador for specialty coffee in the United States. That and he makes me laugh quite a lot. Hopefully I’ll catch up with him before WBC, but if not I can’t wait to see him again there and see what he brings to the stage.
I know I’ve missed out people, coffee and things and I apologise – I always forget stuff and my head still isn’t on the right way around. I am sure people reading this will have questions and I will try and answer them – and if I have forgotten obvious stuff (not unlikely) I will add to it asap.
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!
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…
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.
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.
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.
Washington’s event was the first one in a Counter Culture training centre, and I was curious to see how it would be set up. We were due to cup at 10, but first we headed to a place called Tryst for a little breakfast and coffee (thank you David, for coffee and for suffering my request to make me whatever was good – sorry for being difficult!)
Anette thought the animal crackers were a nice touch and I realised I was drinking my first proper milk drink of the trip!
Then it was time to cup. The open cuppings at Counter Culture have a different approach to most cuppings I have been to. They tend to only cup three coffees, and the discussion afterwards is quite intense with a lot of descriptors going up on the white board.
I agreed with Aaron on my favourite coffee of the three – for me the new Peruvian Valle de Santuario microlot beat out the Rwandan coffee and the Idido Misty Valley on the table. Most people liked the Rwandan Nyakizu, and I can see why – very clean, high acidity (I thought) but still balanced. Amongst the cuppers was Greg Scace, and I confess to getting sidetracked talking about pressure and all things a bit nerdy.
At the end of the cupping Nick Cho and Trish arrived, but then were hustled out of the room along with everyone else so I could do a phone interview on NPR (which apparently is a big deal around here!) Having not said anything too stupid we headed out and everyone piled into cars and vans to get some lunch at Open City, before eating way, waaay too much gelato (and excellent gelato I might add) at Dulcezza. Rob, the owner showed us the production area and I loved this old bit of kit for making churros:
Post gelato coffee and lounging around was provided by the Big Bear cafe, and the press of the Biloya there really hit the spot.
The presentation that evening was on a few things – my background in coffee, food pairing and some competition/signature drink stuff. There was a nice crowd and the training centre was beautifully set up (I chose the 3 group FB-80 to play on, over the 3 group Linea…) but still these sort of talks do make me nervous when there are a lot of very wise coffee people in the room. It went pretty well and a fair few people stayed behind after to chat about the sig drinks, more about food pairing ideas or just to talk coffee. Some of the baristas from Easton had made it down so they must have had an overload of my ramblings!
Not many went out to dinner, and I enjoyed some calmer coffee talk and debate with Nick, Trish and Cindy over some fine Peking Duck.
A quick thank you must again go to the Jensen/Ultimo household for hosting us during our stay in DC – much appreciated. The next morning we headed to Murky Coffee in Arlington for a quick cup and also for me to have a chat with author Michaele Wiseman who joined us for lunch afterwards. Finally the sun came out (until then it had been Londonesque rain) and once lunch was done it was time to hit the road again and head down to Durham, NC and the home of Counter Culture.
Massive congratulations to Stephen on winning the Irish Barista Championship (as well as winning the latte art and the cupping, the talented swine!)
Both Anette and I were gutted we couldn’t be in Dublin to support Stephen, and to watch him win. I know from Tokyo that Jen (Stephen’s better half) is great at supporting someone competing and Tim Styles no doubt did a great job of helping do all the things that make competing a little bit easier and a tiny bit less stressful.
I am looking forward to finding out more about how Stephen did and reading his write up of the event. In the meatime I hope he got very, very drunk after the event as I believe is fitting.
Thanks also to the Coffee Collective for roasting awesome coffee, and as they have set the bar very high when it comes to working on a coffee for Stephen to use in Copenhagen once we start roasting.
Stephen is a great barista, and a great ambassador for coffee in Ireland and in general. I can’t wait to watch and support him in Copenhagen!
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…..)
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!
The voting is now closed and I think we have a clear winner. You guys picked the mouth shot but I have to say thank you to everyone who voted and entered, it was wonderfully silly and I will have to think of another absurd challenge of some sort soon.
So congratulations to the guys involved at Intelli LA, Espresso Warehouse will be sending you your prize (they are gonna send me a photo what they are sending that I’ll post up later).
Thanks again to everyone – it was very silly!
This hasn’t exactly been bugging me but perhaps it is worthy of some thought. In all the talk of “traditional” cappuccinos (let’s not get started again on the absurdity of thirds) there is another drink where the role of tradition is becoming questionable.
These days there is a huge variation in the taste of macchiatos. Whilst they mostly consist of about an ounce of espresso (be it a short double or a single) the amount of milk going into them varies wildly from the old fashioned teaspoon of milk with a dot of foam to signal its addition to equal quantities of coffee and milk, or in some cases about two parts milk to one part coffee. Whilst the variation in ml of milk is quite small the ratios, hence the taste and texture of the drink vary wildly.
For me there was a pivotal moment in my approach to this drink where I went from the old fashioned way to the 1:1 ratio way: I got good enough at latte art to pour a half decent rosetta in an espresso cup. I would quietly hope that people who order macchiatos from me would let me decide how to make so I could show off my new found skills (no point lying about this). But most of the time they didn’t because I worked out quite early that macchiato drinkers are fussy. (Well, you are!) Let me turn this around into a few questions:
When was the last time you asked for a macchiato (from somewhere you expected it to taste good from) and were served the full espresso cup version without latte art? Do we make the full cup because it tastes good or looks good? Why are we adding the milk – at what point does the milk go from softening the espresso to smothering it?
I’ve had lots of old fashioned ones, and plenty with nice art but nothing really in between. This isn’t to say that one tastes better than the other. I think a teaspoon of milk in an espresso can soften the experience of a straight shot without masking the espresso too much. It seems to be the drink of people who drink a lot of coffee, who can’t face another straight shot but would like to see how good the coffee is. For me the other drink with more milk is more like a cortado though I’ve struggled to really pin down what a cortado is, perhaps because I’ve struggled to find particularly tasty coffee when I have been down in Spain and I have yet to make it to Portugal. Oddly the cortado was a drink I saw quite a lot in Norway though it was amusingly explained as the manly way to have a cappuccino, and it was a bit milkier than I would have expected though was served in a short glass which I thought was appropriate.
I am not claiming to have any answers on this. I’ll be honest – I prefer drinking the old fashioned ones, but prefer pouring the full cup ones, but I think in any cafe environment it is always worthwhile getting as much input from the customer as possible (they usually know exactly what they want….)
Being on the road like this is far more draining than I expected. Dragging ourselves out of bed the next morning was difficult and we rolled into Ritual mid morning. They knew we were coming but we still ended up spending 5 minutes casting furtive glances across the room at Chris Baca who eventually made the first move and came over to introduce himself.
Gabe was at the roaster, somewhat nervous because it was his first day or production roasting on his own. Their roaster is insane. I am sure most of you reading know it is a 5 kilo Probat from 1919 (Quite possibly the oldest working Probat outisde of the Probat museum in Germany). It belongs to Duane from Stumptown who found it down in South California somewhere.
The most unusual thing about it is the cooling – they dump into a rotating tray and for the initial cooling then the entire tray is transfered to another base that has a big fan to speed the cooling up. Very cool.
We had a few coffees and then Chris organised a little cupping for us. Their two Kenyans really stood out, nothing against their Gio Gio but I am a sucker for their Gethumbwini – complex, sweet, amazing fruit and delightful mouthfeel. I love it.
It is definitely worth mentioning that Ritual have a very cool Steampunk styled Robur working away there – it looks so cool:
Having hung out long enough we got out of their way and ventured down to the Blue Bottle Kiosk. Their espresso was great, perhaps because I had no idea what to expect from it. Stephen had a little chat to them and they were really friendly and gave us a couple of cups of a Colombian they had on the Melitta drips. (Their porcelain drippers are so pretty I had buy one!). Stephen even managed to blag a bag of an African blend which I am looking forward to trying. Stephen and I were chatting and we thought it only fair to do a Steve Ford tribute shot:
And that was about as much coffee as we wanted that day. Having upgraded out of an evil Best Western into the lovely Phoenix Hotel we decided to maybe spend some downtime in San Francisco and try and catch up on feeling human.
That evening we met up with Chris and Ryan from Ritual and wandered down to get some food. The table wasn’t ready yet so we nipped over to a bar called The Knock-Out. It turned out to be an odd memorable experience and I have never played highspeed bingo in a bar full of people yelling back the numbers called with such force. I could have stayed another couple of rounds…..
The meal at the Blue Plate was absolutely delicious. We were also joined by Lindsay who works for Zoka and had been hanging out at Ritual earlier in the evening. The food was great and Baca and Ryan make me laugh my ass off.
We drank no coffee then next day, as if to prove to ourselves we weren’t addicted. We did spend a little tourist time round the city and spent enough time snoozing to feel ready for the last leg down to LA.
Before we left we had to head to Ritual again. I love that place, and every one of us loves it. If I lived in San Francisco I would spend a great deal of my life in there. Eileen and Gabe once again made us feel welcome and thanks to Matt and everyone behind the bar for looking after us and for yelling goodbye to us so loudly on our way out. I look forward to going back.