Monday, 6 May 2013

You went to a Barista Championship?

Yes I did, and very much fun was had. 

Last year, the Midland Heat of the UKBC (UK Barista Championships) was held in Norwich, so it was easy for me to rock up. I had lots of fun there too, so when Dave started getting ready for this year's championship, I started to become a bit of a pain. Eventually, he relented and he took me to Chester for Heat 4.

It sounds so simple, doesn't it? A barista has 15 minutes to make 4 espressos, 4 cappuccinos and 4 signature drinks for the panel of judges. 

Presenting the coffee to the judging panel

Don't ever underestimate the work that goes into those 15 minutes.  Firstly, the barista sources the best coffee they can; they have to learn all about it, not to mention drink cup after cup to master its secrets. Once they've done that, they build the signature drink around the flavours present in the coffee. The trick here is to enhance, not overwhelm the espresso and to do it with flair. The baristas practice, practice and tweak their presentations so that their 15 minutes on stage leads to semi-finals and hopefully to the finals. It's hard work. And then there's the whole performance anxiety to deal with.

The venue was packed for the finals*

Behind the scenes, there's so much that goes on to ensure the barista has the best opportunity to strut their stuff. The Sanremo UK guys look after all the machines and the nuts and bolts of the venue set up. If it doesn't work they're the ones who get the bigger hammer to make it happen.

I was lucky enough to be a runner for Heat 4, the semis and the finals. It gave me such a great insight into the world of speciality coffee. It meant I could taste all the coffee coming off the stage. Some of the sig drinks were amazing! After Heat 4, I'd been wondering how to explore this world further, after all, the SCAE UK (Speciality Coffee Association of Europe UK Chapter) is always looking for judges etc. After the London Coffee Festival and the Barista Championships, I figured I'll start from the bottom and work my way up. I'm sorting out my Barista training.

Volunteering for the Championships was so much fun. There's such a brilliant atmosphere and everyone ends up totally over-caffinated, so they talk really, really quickly and with great enthusiasm.

Me annoying Sanremo Steve*

On the Saturday of the Semi-finals, there were 20 competitors jostling to go through to the finals being held on the next day. These are the 20 best in the UK. Take a moment to think about how many baristas there are serving coffee in your town...Yeah, that's a lot of baristas. So being in the Top 20 is a big, big deal.

The six finalists: Don Altizo, Estelle Bright, John Gordon, Chee Wong, Joe Meagher and 
Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood

The finals were an amazing experience. From a volunteering point of view, there were only six people to look after, but the atmosphere was charged. Everyone from volunteers to baristas to judges, brought their A Game. 

The judges had a tough job. No two ways about it. These are the six best baristas in the country. And my goodness, the quality of the professionalism was outstanding. Watching these masters at work, at the beginning of my coffee journey is a little bit intimidating. And I'm not entirely sure it was a good idea. They set the bar so high. I'm going to have to work incredibly hard to manage a fifth of their expertise and the thing is, they make it look so easy. Trust me, it's not.

This year's winner: John Gordon!

John Gordon in the middle, with Sanremo's Andrew and Dave on either side of him*

I'm thinking I've still got time to grow an interesting beard!

*Pictures used with permission of Sanremo UK! Thanks darlings! 

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