Archive for January, 2009

UKBC 2009 Wales and West Heat.

January 29, 2009

      simon1                             

Phew! Still reeling and winding down after yesterday’s results and the last few weeks of stress! It’s a relief that everything went smoothly, and to actually be able to think about something other than the competition for a change! It was so nice today, too, to be able to have a delicious espresso at work and just enjoy it for pleasure’s sake, rather than having to analyse it. Thought it was about time to write a post, given the lack of any offerings lately, so here goes the waffle..!

A really good day all in all yesterday – a good heat with a nice atmosphere and some really high quality competitors whose sets were a pleasure to watch (although unfortunately I missed everyone’s in the morning getting ready for mine, including Will’s and Estelle’s, sadly). I was glad simply to get my drinks out (just) in time, without spilling anything or forgetting anything crucial! I knew my sig drink was a weak point, and there were many other little details I wasn’t happy with, but fortunately I managed to avoid any nightmare disasters. I managed to watch some of the other sets in the afternoon (after eventually condensing most of my seemingly endless amount of gear back into my boxes!): Lance was great – technically really tight – and Dale’s manner and quirky details (like the music and the eggs!) was wonderful too – both with lovely sig drinks and so much in-depth vocal commentary (*envious* – I struggle to talk-and-do at the same time!).

                dale2       lance2

After seeing them, and some of the others, I didn’t really expect to figure in the results, so winning Best Espressos category was amazing and unexpected in itself, and then I was genuinely shocked to hear my name come up in 1st place to win the heat! I guess the size of the heat (only seven of us compared to 12-18 at some of the others) went in my favour, but it was still  really humbling, given the level of the competition in Cardiff. Having such a wonderful coffee to present was undoubtedly crucial too, and a factor I can’t really take ownership of – the growers and producers, Peter James and Co, and the coffee itself all deserve credit where credit’s due. I, as the barista, am just so happy to be able to showcase such a fantastic coffee, and demostrate respect to the other people in the quality chain, by using my skills and techniques to allow at least some of its exiting uniqueness, quality and potential to shine through on the day (although I know I didn’t entirely do it justice by any means!). Operation Cherry Red is a great project, producing some astounding coffees, and Peter James’s expertise with the roasting and blend building, combined with his genuine passion for the coffee, has been wonderful. Also, all the months of careful sourcing and planning, a few weeks of gruelling after-hours practicing and relentless organisation, and list-making which bordered on the nuerotic (well, which actually was downright neurotic!), seemed to pay-off on the day, helping to counteract the nerves to some extent, which was really helpful.

I felt the organisers, the judges, the sponsors and everyone else all did a great job in terms of making sure everything went smoothly and calmly (whilst us baristas jittered around anxiously), and delivered a really professional heat, to really high standards. Lovely and really useful to have feedback at the end from both Angus and James, who constructively advised me of the (many!) areas I need to tighten-up if I’m lucky enough to go forward from the heat. I found the San Remos really nice to work on actually (although I know  a lot of the pros remain unconvinced about their capability), including having a dial for the steamer, which I prefer. It’s just so nice to have a stable, modern machine that can actually make four shots at once to work on for me! Whilst our ancient Ducale at work has lots of ‘character’, and can make really amazing coffee (if you treat it well and it feels like it!), it tends to have a mind of its own, be rather unstable, and is perhaps on its last legs with a broken autofill, amongst other ailments. Trying to practice simultaneous shot brewing with only one double and a single handle is quite a task too; so it was nice for me to see the technique actually working-in-practice for the first time on the day! The BTB guys were there, naturally, and as lovely and enthusiastic as always, and the San Remo folk were really helpful too. The only issues that maybe caused a few of us a slight concern was some lack of time-countdown (30 secs and 10 secs) during some of the sets – but I don’t think this caused any real problems – and also the misplacement of the certs for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place …but they’re only of value for vanity’s sake really, and will probably be in the post at some point, so again, not a problem!

Entering the competitions has given me the utmost respect for everyone else who competes – I’d recommend it to any serious barista who genuinely cares about coffee – but the amount of stress, organisation, expense, planning and practice needed to enter is not to be taken lightly! Whilst it can be a great learning process, and an extension of what you do in the cafe, it’s a very different kettle of fish preparing coffee in front of an audience, under intense scrutiny, for experienced sensory and technical judges, in such a tight time-frame, on unfamiliar equipment, and, as such, would not be everyone’s cup of tea (including mine, in some ways)! It’s one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done (it makes my Degree seem easy!), that tests you on many levels (which feels paradoxical, as most people you mention it to sadly find the idea of a ‘coffee-making competition‘ bemusing, or even absolutely hilarious) – so sincere congratulations to everyone else in the Wales and other heats for their achievements!

There’s no guarantee, by any means, but I guess I should anticipate preparing for Glasgow now (after a few days off!), which is so daunting! Thankfully David at the plan has kindly offered to part-sponsor me for the semifinals in Glasgow, which is a relief, as I was beginning to feel that self-funding myself any further into the competitions was going to be prohibitive, as this next leg would mean a huge amount of expense on top of what I’ve already shelled-out! It’s all been a great learning process though, which, together with a love for the cuisine, is why I entered; and improving my tasting/cupping awareness, getting some insight into the roasting and blending, discovering some of the most amazing coffee and chocolate, and having to constantly monitor and tighten my technique, has all been hugely rewarding and enlightening.

                 blendplan2

compblend   greens-3b   greens   greens-2

        p1   practice1   p2

 018   0081   019

       089   011   blend-single

Sadly, no latte art like this on the day. Whilst these (from today) aren’t great rosettas, and the latte has lost it’s crema around the edge (which is a competition no-no), they’re a distinct improvement on the rubbish I poured at the heat! A combination of the nerves, and resting periods with both the espresso and the milk in order to make four cappuccinos, meant three mediocre hearts, and a lame rosetta! Maybe stick to traditional pours next time… but can I resist the latte art…?!

                cap

cert1

                           cert2a

Happy New Year!

January 15, 2009

myblend13

It must have been Christmas! Santa was very generous this year and delivered a delicious batch of the espresso blend that I’ll be using for competition to the plan! So nice! We are running it as our espresso in the cafe for the next few weeks at least, so if you’re passing, pop in and try some, and I’ll do my best to get it to shine!

I’m fervently practicing for the Cardiff heat at the moment (hence lack of posts!), and am suitably mortified by the amount of little details, expense, planning, practice and preparation that needs to be mastered in order to have a hope in my first year competing, and in what I’m sure will be a tight heat. I’ll just be happy if I can get my drinks out without running over time! I’m learning lots along the way though, and using the nicest, most interesting coffee I have ever had the pleasure of working with, so it’s all a good process.

Best of luck to everyone entering the heat(s)!