WBC Scoresheets – a few thoughts

I am aware there is some potential for me seeming like an arrogant so and so in this post, but it really is just about having a bit of a discussion.

It is no surprise that I am a big fan of barista competitions, but having recently gone through the UK judges workshop there are a couple of things I would like to post about and get some discussion going on.  First off an issue that both Anette and I find very frustrating: Continue reading “WBC Scoresheets – a few thoughts”

5 more tips for barista competition

Last year I wrote a post with 6 tips for barista competition.  This year, with the rule changes and all, I wanted to write another little post (though still give the first a quick re-read…).

I really want to  encourage people to enter, it isn’t as difficult or scary as it seems.  Everyone who competes, as long as they do it for the right reasons, gets a lot out of it and doesn’t regret a minute of it.  What’s more – I guarantee it will make you a better barista.

1).    Make sure you put an espresso into every sig drink.

Now to begin with this might sound painfully obvious, but every year people make this mistake and up until now the rules haven’t been very clear.  Just brewing those 4 espressos isn’t enough.  If you blend them into something and don’t pour it all out then it doesn’t count as an espresso per drink.  Under the new rules you would get 0 from all sensory judges for this category so DO NOT make that mistake.

Continue reading “5 more tips for barista competition”

Barista Competition Judging

I know barista competitions come in for a lot of criticism online, and I don’t really want this to be one of those posts. However having seen a bit of both sides there are some things I’d love to see changed.

I don’t really have an issue with the rules of the competition as they are now, and I am not out to suggest a better competition or anything. I am really looking at this from the angle of former competitor.

A few suggestions:

Get rid of the words explaining the numbers

At the bottom of the score sheet there is a key to the numbers:
0 – Unacceptable
1 – Acceptable
2 – Average
3 – Good
4 – Very Good
5 – Excellent
6 – Extraordinary

I think this creates a big misunderstanding around the lower scores. To get a 2, as a barista, is pretty disappointing. It feels like criticism, but a judge could be meaning it was ok. Not bad, not great but average. Equally I think it makes scoring higher difficult as a judge going by the words – What exactly is the difference between Very Good and Excellent.

In the UK we’ve tried to use the mantra of “what more do I want?” as judges because this pretty much mirrors the question you ask as a barista when you pull a great shot of great coffee and get a 4. We’ve tried to ignore the words and just use the numbers. This leads me to my next point:

Explanations are mandatory for scores below 3

If we are to use barista competitions to promote the craft and help baristas improve then your scoresheet at the end of this needs to be very useful. On the day only one person gets the trophy. To some extent all the rest get back beyond the experience are the sheets themselves. Getting a blank sheet full of low scores back is not only disheartening but frustrating. I think judges need to be held accountable for their scores and there is plenty of room on the sheet for notes.

An online barista competition wiki

I think as barista competitions mature around the world there still needs to be some resource available for a variety of things. For visual things it would be great to see if we all rate drinks similarly – be it crema colour, latte art or exactly how a great traditional looks. Useful for both judges and baristas.

Then it would be good if there were somewhere to ask questions about things not really covered in the rules. There are several things that the rules state as being illegal with no indication of the correct way to punish them. There will always be new and surprising things happening and it would be great if the JCC were available for questions on rules (like using a side table to pour capps at the judges table) as well as other judges weighing in with their opinion. I think it is easy to feel that unless you have some level of inside knowledge then you can never achieve the highest points. A little transparency would go a long way.

I am not ought to criticise or rewrite the rules – I think if you chose to compete you agree to play by the rules and if you don’t like them no one is forcing you to play.
However I’d love to see the competition keep evolving in a way that has a positive impact on the baristas entering and on the coffee they serve.

I’d love to hear opinions of both competitors and judges on this as long as we don’t drift into what people think is wrong with the competition format as that is a separate discussion altogether.

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!

UKBC Coverage this year

Last year I did my best to give up to date coverage of the UK Barista Competition, competitors and their signature drinks because I was travelling to each one building stages and helping run the show.

This year I am afraid I can’t offer the same coverage.

One reason is that I am now involved in judging and I don’t think it is fair to comment, even on competitions I am not judging. Also I am not going to get to all the heats this year sadly – a shame as I really enjoyed it last year.

Hopefully various other people will step up to the plate and blog away.

For the South West you have Tristan’s Blog
For the Midlands you have Steve Leighton’s Blog

I will try and post up links as and when they come in. If you are blogging do please drop me a line or leave a link somewhere!

UKBC 2008 – Who is entering?

With the judges calibration days coming up and the first regionals for the UK Barista Championship happening next month I thought I just put up a quick post to see if anyone who reads this is entering the competition and if so – which heat? Feel free to leave a comment – say hello.

And if you are thinking about entering then throw caution to the wind and go for it.  Details are on the UKBC website.  I think some of the regions are getting pretty ful but there are spaces in others.  If you are hesitant then I can promise it will be a valuable learning experience no matter how long you’ve been or barista or how advanced you’ve become.  It is fun and it is always nice to catch up with other competing baristas.

So – who is up for it then?

UK Barista Championship 2007 – Finals Report

Thanks to everyone who left messages after the result on Sunday – I really appreciate it.

A full article on the sig drink is probably going to be up on Coffegeek quite soon – I will post a link once it is done. (One of the qualifiers for being a columnist is that you actually submit a column once in a while so I hope it is something of interest).

The UKBC Finals

I am really pleased the competition is over for now. The sense of relief is enormous, and finally feeling all the muscles in my body lose their tension is pretty good right now. I worked very hard this year, though I think I turned out a much lower-key and perhaps more workmanlike performance than perhaps I would have liked to. This will change for Tokyo I hope – I really want to enjoy that as I am fairly certain that it will be the last time I compete.

The final practise session the day before the competition was an odd mixture of fun, stress and being a little self-conscious because there was a film crew there for a couple of hours watching me screw up and try to fix the little problems (more about them another day).

It was great to have Stephen and Jenny over to help judge and pick up the little mistakes I was making and give fresh perspective. There were a couple of run throughs that went like a dream and I felt pretty relaxed by the time I arrived at the drinks reception the night before the competition where the draw took place. It was great to see Klaus again and also catch up with a few other people.

I was drawn in 6th position, first on after the lunch break and I was just relieved I didn’t have to get up at some ungodly hour to get myself over to the competition venue. I didn’t get home or to bed til around 2am because we were ticking checklists, shining things and just being a bit nervous.

So many lists!

I didn’t arrive at the venue that early so I missed Ryan, Nelly and Ed. I arrived just in time to see Subi starting. I really enjoyed watching Subi perform in Northern Ireland – she seems to personalise the space beautifully which many people (myself included) don’t really do. I can’t really watching other people compete if I am competing as well. It just stresses me out so I don’t have much in the way of detailed performance notes for each person. Steve Leighton has done a great run through of performers and signature drinks on his blog.

I had been able to drop the centrifuge off the night before so that made life a little easier though unfortunately the event organisers dropped the ball and the stage space was much smaller than it was supposed to be. The UKBC organisers did a great job working around it but sadly the centrifuge had to live on the floor during the performance which was a shame for me to have a show piece out of sight (especially as, unsurprisingly, they aren’t that cheap to rent for 5 days – most suppliers have a three month minimum contract assuming they don’t just hang up on you when you start trying to explain about making a liquid donut!)

One of the best shots I had last year was during my prep time on stage at the UK finals. This year the best shots I had were backstage in the prep area. The coffee finally seemed to give itself up and have a great fruit sweetness and it was just so silky and clean. Anette, Stephen and I were all very relieved that the coffee was tasting good and it puts you in a great frame of mind before you go on stage.

My performance wasn’t great. I felt a little cramped and stressed in the space and I think that probably showed. My prep time on stage has to be quite carefully coordinated – apart from checking grinders, setting everything out and laying up the judges table I also have to prepare a cupping – pour, stir, break and clean the cups and set them up on the judges table so they have cooled just right by the time the judges get to start slurping. As a side note this is probably not something I will try again because its really messy and the judges tend to make a mess of your nicely laid out table. My blend had four components so it seemed logical to me to try and find a way to present that to the judges that went beyond just showing green and roasted. I gave them the grounds to smell in Berne last year and this seemed a natural (if slightly stress-making) progression.

Thankfully this year the onstage film crew didn’t smack me in the head with a camera as they had done in the past though they did get pretty close. Looking through pictures later it took me a little while to work out why everyone was looking away from the stage and the live action – turns out the plasma on the right was more interesting!

I poured my capps at the judges table. The idea came to me whilst watching Billy Wilson create his beautiful espresso caviar sig drink at his regional. I say this as if I didn’t pretty much steal the idea, which I did so I want to publicly acknowledge my source of inspiration – Billy rocks. I liked the tray stands he used and I think this is something that is going to be more and more common. I did it in my regional as well and was later intrigued to hear that Einar (who won the Norwegian competition) did the same thing. I like the idea of more face time with the judges and whilst trying to pour latte art and talking about the different blend I was using for the capps did almost break my head I much prefer to being over at the bench for the pours.

I slightly messed up my sig drink – I added just a little too much sugar and threw it off balance. The idea (in short – full explanation on CG soon) was to create a liquid donut to add to the espresso to try and recreate the pleasure of eating a donut with your cup of coffee. The centrifuge was there to remove solid pieces from the liquid and to chill oil down to a fat which could easily be strained off. I really like this drink – it is both fun and very tasty, which is where many sig drinks fall down for me. Last years was pretty and it was visually striking but I didn’t want to finish it. It was good to see in practise that they guys from Mercanta would often arrive just as the sig drinks were done, steal them away back to their offices and the glasses would always come back empty. Seemed to make Klaus smile…..

There seemed to be a pretty good crowd and they seemed to be as tense as me:

(Steve Leighton – HasBean, Stephen Hurst – Mercanta)

I hate the time between the performance and the result. I just pace around like a caged animal for a couple of hours making Anette cross. The standard this year has jumped up again and I knew that there had been and were going to be plenty of strong performances. I just can’t watch them – it stresses me out too much!

So – the results:

3rd – Ed Buston – 683.5

2nd – Se Gorman – 691.5

1st – Me – 721

I was delighted. Se and Ed were both really good and I think Hugo wasn’t far behind in 4th. I am not sure if all the scores are up yet but when they are I’ll post a link.

The sheer quantity of prizes I won is wonderfully obscene. I get a La Spaziale Vivaldi Mini, a Mahlkoenig K30 Vario in any colour I like, flights and entry to the Nordic Barista Cup, 25kg of Santa Terrazinha CoE (green), a massive hamper from Monbana chocolate, a barista kit from Beyond the Bean, £721 (my score) worth of stuff from Espresso Warehouse/Essenz, a variety of things from Arla and of course flights and accommodation for Tokyo. I am over the moon and feel a little bit greedy!

I want to again thank the people who helped me so much: Anette, Steve, Steve, Stephen and Stephen, Flori, Chris and Chris, Jenny, Grant, Jose and lots more I’ve probably forgotten! Credit again to Billy for inspiration and to Nick Cho whose threats to use a centrifuge pushed me into doing it!

Respect to all the other guys on the day – it feels like I have ignored the competitors (I just couldn’t watch!) but people watching and the judges tasting said all of them – Ryan, Nelly, Subi, Ed, Lou, Hugo, Se, Jon and Graz – were great without exception.

Work will start pretty soon for Tokyo and I have big plans but mostly I just want to enjoy it.

Flickr Slideshow

UKBC 2007

I promise a bigger, more exciting post full of pictures soon – but for now I am happy to post up on here that I managed to win the UK competition this year, though the competition was incredibly tough. I don’t know exact scores but I clocked in around 720, Se came in second around 690 and Ed Buston very close to him.

Standard was very, very high and I think that this will be that last time I compete in the UK. The last three years have been great fun but I think I have reached my limit of enjoyment. Looking forward to Tokyo very much and I got some great prizes but more to follow in the full report….

I am very happy, and very relieved and very, very tired.