Union Barista Jam

Just gotten back from the Union Coffee Roaster barista jam in East London. I am overly caffeinated hence the write up at nearly midnight.

Got up surprisingly early for a Saturday to fight our way, Anette and I, through London over to West Ham where their roastery is located. It was nice to see a few familiar faces but also to meet lots of new baristas keen to learn more. After a quick cup of one of their estate Brazil’s we were divided into two groups and got on with the program.

My group’s first thing on the agenda was a talk from Roastmaster Steven Macatonia on how they source their coffee and a little bit on how they have built relationships with farms. He used a farm in Guatemala called Santa Ana la Huerta as the main example, talking through the seed to cup process with the some really good photos.

Steven in front of the screen:

Steven talking about the coffees

Union have some very long standing relationships with farms and have done some great work for quality with them, as well as social programs and their Coop in Rwanda was a great example of this.

From here it was into their cupping lab for their first cupping. I count myself as very lucky that I cup fairly regularly and certainly a lot more than most baristas. It was the first time that several people there had done the slurp and spit thing so was good fun. The coffees on the table were good examples of really distinct differences – a Brazilian Minas bourbon, a Kenyan AA, a Sumatran and a rather crazy but great Yemen.

Pouring the cups:

Pouring the cups

Talking to a few of them over lunch they seemed to already be looking to use that confidence they then had in their coffees they retail as filter to help push and promote different coffees, to better explain that differentiation in coffee actually exists. People also seemed pleased that they had found the differences in the cups so clear.

After a lunch (a wisely large one in my case) it was back into the cupping lab for a rather interesting table. I often get to cup a wide range of coffees but had never done the same farm’s coffee processed three different ways and I had never done a regional coffee graded on height which is what we had. There were five bowls of the Guatemalan – from Prime Washed up to SHB, and another Brazilian estate called Lambari as washed, pulped and natural.

The coffees for the second cupping:

I really liked this, it was amazing to see bands of quality tied in to the height of the farms, with a sudden acidity and juicy quality appearing at 4000ft (HB). The other surprise for me was that the pulped natural was closer to the washed than the dry processed and I kind of expected it to be the other way around. The pulped had a pleasing and strong acidity but was backed up by a little more body and sweetness than the washed.

Ben (UKBC 4th) breaking a coffee:

From here it was into their training room to play with many of the coffees we had cupped as single origin shots. The Guatemalan Santa Ana la Huerta was interesting, but just a little too acidic (it is really high grown) though quite nice in milk. The Indonesian coffees seemed to split people into two camps and I am in the one that just doesn’t quite get on with that deep, slightly woody character, though the spice in them can be really interesting. It was also interesting to see what many people liked in their espresso and what their expectations of how it should pour and taste were.

Some of the grinders:


Someone’s pour of a Costa Rican Coop:

Claire (the coffee fairy), who is head of Union’s training, has a rather spanking skull tamper that I thought ought to get a picture:

After this the structure of the day relaxed a little, and there were optional classes that included a roasting demo and a pairing of coffee and whisky (that was probably really good – I was driving and I don’t really like whisky so it didn’t seem the thing for me.) I ended up messing around with latte art with a few people and sharing a few tips and tricks whilst trying to pour something half decent myself.

My best of the day:

After it was all over everyone needed an antidote to the masses of caffeine consumed so Union kindly laid on a barbeque, and a very good one at that, out of the back of the roastery with a little marquee and everything.  They also lit the roasting in a really great way, couldn’t resist a few pictures:

10 kilo red roaster…

It was a really good day, and I am always grateful of the invitation to come into someone’s business to learn and it was definately worth the entry monies (I got a goodie bag and everything….)  I would love to know the effect it has on the businesses of those people who attended, surely it can only be good.

This was my first ever barista jam.  I am working on one for the SCAE UK next month up in Chesterfield so now I have a benchmark, which is not going to be very easy to live up to.  A good day….

[tags]barista, barista jam, coffee, espresso, competition, coffee competition, coffee cupping, coffee origin, coffee roasting, union coffee, latte art[/tags]

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