Competition Practise

A lot of baristas who enter competitions are pretty active online (myself included) and yet very rarely do you see a post or article about practising for barista competition.  One of the reasons I don’t post about it much is that, to be honest, I hate the practise part.  I find it not only deathly boring but also a little stressful.  I much prefer being on stage and doing it.  I made a lot of cappuccinos today, though it is nice when you change something and it works out to have improved things.

I guess another reason we don’t post much is that we don’t want to give anything away.  (My god! Is he using brown cups!?!)  I felt this very much last year, but then I guess I had something that was visually striking that I didn’t want to reveal too soon.  This year is a bit different for me.  My blend isn’t yet sorted, my sig drink doesn’t require me wearing safety specs and a lab coat and I guess my reasons for competing have changed. 

Some blend testing tomorrow – which I am looking forward to.  I think the coffee will remain my favourite reason to compete, as (unlike most competition baristas) I rarely get to serve anyone my cup of coffee – the espresso that I enjoy.  Something I wish I could do more.

[tags]barista, barista competition, espresso, cappuccino, latte art[/tags]

21 Comments Competition Practise

  1. Phil Proteau

    That is funny because I have been itchen’ to talk about my sig drink ideas. On the one hand I don’t want anyone else using the same principles, and on the other hand the concept is something a lot of people have mentioned online in a casual way. I better not give anything away too soon though.

    This is from last year.

  2. Phil Proteau

    Thanks, they taste good too. It was unfortunate that during competition one of them was a white out. I just received copies of my score sheets from the SCAA this week, which reminded me of every little thing that could have been better. Blueprint for next time!

  3. Hugo

    I have a bit of an issue that bothered me lots last year and still bothers me. How much foam does a cappuccino have to have on it to be considered a cappuccino? Latte art is all very pretty but can only really happen with lightly foamed milk.

    Would a competitor be better off pouring a fern and risk getting marked down on foam depth or pouring a proper cappuccino with an apple or a heart? I bang out beautiful ferns all day but they’re not cappuccinos, they’re lattes. If the competition is to make cappuccions why do baristas do ferns at all? Furthermore, would you get marks for pouring an apple, a heart, a fern and a whatever which makes the ‘cappuccinos’ anything but identical but shows the judges you know how to pour?

    Anyone here know a judge really, really well? I’m not wishing to suggest the Profumo affair but in the interests of an even playing field debate would be helpful…

  4. Jim

    Hi Hugo,

    Rules say you need to have at least 1 cm of foam on your cappuccino. It is possible to pour latte art – specifically the rosetta – and have 1cm to 2cm of foam.

    If you choose to pour latte art you could pour any pattern (as long as it looks intentional) and be scored on it. However, a well poured traditional will score better than an average to pour rosetta.

    The precise definitions for the competition should be up on the WBC website, as a pdf of the rules.

  5. Alistair

    For me personally, there is no way a drink with 1cm of foam can be a called a cappuccino. It would need to be more like 2cm, even in a 6oz drink. I think latte art should be left to the Latte Art comp and not used in the main event. It doesn’t matter what any judge says, you are now expected to do latte art and would be marked lower for not doing it, which is wrong.

    Taken from 2.0 of the rules – (Please note: Although each set of drinks must be identical in content, latte art expression may take any form the competitor chooses. Latte art does not need to be identical on all four drinks in the same set.)

    I think this clears up the point made by Hugo, and also that latte art is a must.

    From the WBC Rules

    2.1.2 Cappuccino:
    A cappuccino is a beverage of ratios, producing a harmonious balance of
    espresso, steamed milk and frothed milk. A traditional cappuccino is a five- to
    six-ounce beverage (150 to 180 ml.), served in a five- to six-ounce (150 to 180
    ml.) porcelain cappuccino cup with a handle and a rounded interior base. (Please
    note: For the purpose of the WBC, cappuccinos should not be topped with any
    additional spices and/or powered flavorings.)

    No mention of milk depth above, or on the scoring sheet. “Harmonious balance” I read that as 1/3 of each. Small point to note is that these rules are for the 2006 championships. There do not seem to be any for 2007!!!

  6. Phil Proteau

    I asked several judges before I competed to get an idea of how much foam they expected to see on caps, and everyone had their own vague idea, or at least few were able to articulate it with precision. It all came down to how it appeared to them when dragging the spoon through the top.

    I was advised to use the taller cups because they push the foam to a smaller diameter, giving it more depth; same quantity, different configuration. This always seemed like nonsense to me because it does not affect the ratio, only the perception when spoon dragging. But that is part of performing to the judges, knowing not just what they look for but how they look for it.

    In the end I went with the shorter cups and made the sacrifice to steam too much milk and have waste, which is a little point loss. The other option being to empty the pitchers and have thin foam, which is a big point loss.

  7. jim

    Latte art is by no means a must. Plenty of people at WBC poured traditionals and were scored very highly on them – Matt Riddle who placed third for example.

    Personally I don’t like much more than 2cm of foam in my capps, because I have paid for liquid and not for air. I agree 1cm is a little thin, but competition is not about “day to day”. It is about adapting those skills to a competition which has a set of rules, and by entering we agree to play by them. (Which is why, as Phil noted, many people prefer taller, tulip cups because they compact the foam into a deeper layer) I thought the definition of capp foam was in the rules – odd that it has disappeared. 2007 rules aren’t up yet, nor are the scoresheets.

    I like to pour latte art in competitions and if you don’t aim too high you can pour nice art in a proper capp. By nice I mean clearly defined, symetrical art with fewer leaves than you’d want in a latte art comp. I like it because I like what it offers a barista – a point of interaction with the customer, and ice-breaker where people start to feel comfortable about asking more questions about the coffee they are being served.

  8. Hugo

    I love doing good art on the coffees I serve and take pride in serving every coffee as best I can, appropriately decorated. The feedback is wonderful. What I don’t quite get is where competition leaves the realm of the real barista and goes into a fantasy land where knock out boxes are supposed to be kept clean, cappuccinos come with ferns, cups are so small real customers would feel ripped off and speciality drinks have to be so complex and or expensive as to be unmakeable in a coffee shop environment.

    I want to compete but want to make real coffee that real punters would want. Turning the competition into an fantasist perfomance getting further detached from the reality of the jobs we as baristas do will not achieve a core objective of what the WBC should be striving for. Namely making coffee better for the consumer.

    Oh dear, I’m ranting again.


  9. jim

    The ranting is fine. I think what we have to accept is that competition just cannot be about real life coffee making – the challenges faced in serving consistently high coffee through different recipes would be too hard to replicate in a simple and repeatable format.

    Are cooking competitions just like working in a real kitchen, or bartender comps exactly like working a busy bar? I doubt it, but I am confident you would find it hard to succeed in a competition like this without having the skills that make your bar/kitchen/cafe capable of turning out high quality product.

    I have various issues with competitions, with consistency of the judging, with the clarifications of rules. It only really becomes fair once everyone knows what the rules really are – be it, as you brought up, latte or capp foam depth. There are new scoresheets for this year, with less points available and some changes to the format of the competition – you can set you judges table during prep time for example. Except I am probably not supposed to say that because they haven’t even announced it on the WBC website – which is a little bit shameful, no make that utterly shameful, especially considering the fact that the first UK heat is less than 10 days away. That pisses me off, that is unfair, and I think that is not productive for the competition – especially in the UK.

    I know about these changes because I attended a workshop in Dublin as part of the European Team Challenge and we were talked through various changes there. 3 of us there are likely to be competing in the UKBC – Lou Henry, Ben Townsend and myself. It could be claimed, quite reasonably, that we have an unfair advantage over the other 100 or so entrants. Is this our fault? Should we be punished somehow for this? No, we are not to blame.

    Again – the scoresheets are done, the exist, but they are not up on the wbc website yet. They have been sent out to judges in the UK, and – as I understand – they should have been sent out to competitors as well. Has anyone had theirs? If not and they are still up on the WBC site in the next couple of days I will get them and upload them.

    You got me ranting too!

  10. Alistair

    With the first rounds of the UK barista championships starting in a few weeks I would suggest that it is far too late to be changing the rules from those shown on the UK web site. Disgraceful!

  11. Hugo

    Sorry Jim, didn’t mean to get you ranting too.. I’m just het up because I’m far too busy getting my business off the ground to worry about competition, yet this year it’s far more important I do it properly.

    As for competition being unable to be like real coffee making, I disagree. I think it would be a positive bonus to present the barista with three random ‘orders’ for their heat so they can’t robotically act their way through their set, but actualy have to think on their toes like they have to for a living. That way those of us who can’t rehearse our set daily aren’t up against seasoned actors in a competition where the real life equivalent job is a million miles from a stage show. I’ve never yet been asked for four espressos or four capps at once. I get excited when I get an order for two.. great! A chance to practice! Except my business needs my grinders so I have to make do with one of your new fangled Mall-cone-iggs and a coffee machine with a stumpy wierd steam arm, on-off switch rather than twisty thing, odd shaped PF’s, a huge choice of knobs and handles and glowing lights everywhere…

    As a little aside…was last year’s ‘thing’ about extra points for having a clean knockout box just the curveball of someone with a wierd sense of humour? I nearly pissed myself when I watched one of the women in the final remove her tinfoil knockbox lining, with the evidence of her spent pucks in it, and bin it…how the hell do the judges judge the result of her tamping? I got marked down for an uneven tamp but she couldn’t have been… not right’n’proper as they’re fond of saying down ‘ere. Like asking a surgeon to perform a hip replacement without any swabs being visible afterwards, or a bit of old hip for that matter.

    No pressure mate, but you’re in a rather privelieged position as far as knowing what’s what, especially where rules are concerned!

    Best I go to bed… and dream up a speciality coffee.

  12. jim

    The problems with “real life” orders is that it removes a level playing field. What about the person who gets an order or an espresso, a macchiato and a capp versus someone who gets asked for 2 capps and a latte. How long before someone complains that they didn’t get to serve their espresso as is, or the person who complains that they didn’t get to make a drink that shows off their latte art.

    Why can’t we be happy to leave day to day bar work as day to day barwork and allow competition to be something different from the norm, perhaps more like a showcase.

    I am not sure why I feel like I am defending myself here but with reference to the rules changes:

    Back in 2005 cold hard cash was spent sending me for three days training with one of the WBC’s head judges Fritz Storm. That was useful for understanding more of the subtleties of what judges at WBCs may be looking for – though that has continued to evolve. I asked Fritz about the cappuccino, and subsequently I have checked with David Cooper (as he does the judges calibration in the UK). His e-mail is available on the WBC website.

    I am aware that there are several reasons people may point the finger at me and say I have an unfair advantage. However there is nothing I know that is “secret” or that couldn’t be discovered with a little legwork. I know this because I’ve done the legwork. I’ve asked the questions and I’ve worked hard at what I do.

    I am also aware of the slight absurdity of the current UK barista champ not working on a bar day to day. I don’t think it is productive to confine the definition like that. Perhaps I look the “actor” to you, prepped like a performing monkey to do his little dance on stage, and perhaps you think that my head would positively explode should I get five different drinks to make in one order. Perhaps it would. Who knows….

  13. Hugo

    Umm, didn’t mean to touch a nerve there…..

    Sadly I’ve just managed to delete a post before posting, the jist was:

    Last year I was even less of a practising barista than you but managed to act my way to the final. I hadn’t made coffee for a paying customer for nearly two years. I wasn’t referring to you as the actor. I wasn’t questioning your right to be the champion, heck, you were clearly the champion, by a mile. I was questioning the competition format and poking fun at your unique position of working for the headline sponsor, being remarkably close to a head judge and being able to carry off a pink shirt without penalty.

    I seriously appreciate what you do for the profession I’ve chosen to invest my life in. I enjoy your blog, the knowledge it imparts, the opinions it airs and the debate it encourages. It strikes me as a much better place for debate than the WBC website or coffeegeek. You’re one of us and one of them at the same time, a foot in both camps and seldom on the fence. Great.

    By airing my opinions I don’t doubt I’m damaging my chances of getting to the final this year, even though I’m a far better barista and should score far higher. But I’m paranoid.

    Come and do a shift in Relish this summer and I’ll video your head exploding. I know mine tried to several times during the christmas shopping bedlam.

    Gotto get the accounts done now….

  14. jim

    I suppose you did touch a nerve. I’ve worked very hard at what I do, and because of the factors you’ve identified – close to a judge, work for a sponsor, pink shirt wearing ponce etc – various people have made some accusations from me being a cheat, to it being a rigged competition and all the rest. Which is a little frustrating and tiresome, especially considering all the hard work I put into the competition last year from building stages to being backstage helping competitors out with questions or lugging their grinders on stage for them.

    There isn’t much I can do about my current situation. Perhaps I should come back and compete again when I have left La Spaziale and we have no links to the judging.

    I think you’ll have to work pretty hard to damage your chances by talking on this blog – as long as you stay away from certain subjects (which you have, and I am not going to tempt you by telling you what they are!). I think you should do well this year. The score sheets (have you got yours yet!?) have meant that the focus has moved away from “the performance” and is more on the coffee. As it should be.

  15. Hugo

    Back from accounts…

    I first met you when you were jockeying in Falmouth last year. You looked knackered but were friendly, exceedingly helpful and encouraging. I had no idea who you were, simply that you were obviously good ‘cos you freaked me out with the Stockfleth move whilst showing me how your machines worked. I just found it funny when I did find out who you were and who your missus was and who you worked for. Cheating? Hell no. Advantageous? Hell yes. Unfairly? Irrelevant.

    You should compete simply because you set the standard in the UK for the competition in it’s current format. I expect this years standards will be way higher because of how you did it , not how the rest of us did.

    On the random order front, how about head to head heats, identical coffee and kit, identical orders. Speed, quality, cleanliness and consistency under pressure the goal. All of it very markable because it’s head to head, one winner. No speciality drink, just real drinks that real punters buy. That’s about as level a playing field as you can get. Way more level than it is currently. And far more fun to take part in and exciting to watch. Though I’d worry about the judges caffeine levels even more…

    I still think the current competition is odd and some of the rules barking. It serves the industry, not the baristas.

    And the pink shirt? Brave.

  16. Sasha King

    I don’t mind practicing but I prefer doing it at night. I like to come in when no one else is around and I can listen to music. I get so nervous in front of my coaches and I find I am more calm if I can work in the lab and then feel like I own that space when I come back in the next day to work. I used to work behind the bar but now I work in Customer Service and can never get away from the phone long enough to practice or experiment with out worriing about leaving my co-workers alone.

  17. Guarde

    Am a newbie to blogoshere, so s’cuse whilst I catch up!!
    Be interesting to know how Cameron at FW intergrated his competition experience with being a real time cafe jockey!
    It’s that beautiful thing when the synergy of people and location make for an experiece that just works. Once you have a team of people that care and are committed something good is always going to happen! It must be wonderful to be a barista where you and your team are delivering drinks that make people’s eyes light up and then nip round the corner to pick up your blend from the roasters! Sigh…

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