The Northern Irish heat is always something of an epic for me. Mostly because to get a van over to Belfast its a very long drive up to Stranraer (ridiculous winding roads) and then a couple of hours on a ferry. This year’s heat is the first time the UK has had a two day regional heat and to be honest I don’t envy the judges stomachs (the same 7 judged all 20 competitors).
Serious judging face
The venue was great – the Lisburn Civic centre, and the room were in had a gallery that I pretty much failed to make use of with the camera. During the heats I had a few different roles – cleaning machines/screens/pfs in between competitors as well as helping lug people’s grinders about and (most importantly of course) self appointed official photographer.
Lisburn Civic Centre
The difference in standards between the competitors was surprisingly large, and I think a few people had been encouraged to enter without really having had a full briefing of the rules and regulations, which is a bit of shame – if you’ve got the balls to get up there in front of an audience then it only seems fair that you know exactly what you are supposed to do. Anyway – onto the interesting stuff!
Attack of the BBC cameraman
I won’t be able to write up every baristas performance, because 20 or so people would perhaps be tiresome reading. I didn’t get to taste all that many drinks either (which was a shame) though there were a few I muscled my way in on. There were a lot of first time competitors (a good thing) but I think the expectation was on the two seasoned baristas – Jon Armstrong from Clements Cafe and SÃ© Gorman fro Cafe Krem – both of whom have competed in the national finals a couple of times I think.
Jon pours water
Jon was on the first day, and really stood out – technically he was great, very solid technique and a great presentation (often first time baristas underestimate the importance of talking clearly to the judges). I can’t remember what his sig drink was called but I do remember that it had chestnut, coconut, perhaps a little cream and some cayenne pepper. It worked surprisingly well and looked good.
Jon pours the sig drink
At the end of day one John was in the lead, just ahead of Subi (from a company called Ground I think!) who had a really lovely presentation and a sig drink again involving spice as well as strawberries (I didn’t get to taste it but I am told it was pretty good – anyone who can make strawberries work with coffee gets a hat tip from me!).
Subi’s signature drink
For day two I think heavy expectation fell on SÃ©. He was on after lunch and like Jon immediately stood out for his presentation style. (There were some jokes at my expense, but seeing as they were pretty funny all is forgiven). SÃ© had been working hard on his blend for this year, and it was nice to hang out for a little while backstage during his practise time to taste of few of the drinks properly.
His signature drink was quite interesting. The judges were given some ground liquorice root and told to wet their finger and put a dab of it on their tongues and then to wait for 5 seconds or so until the sweetness came. Then they hd to taste the espresso that had been brewed through/infused with a liquorice tea. (correct me if I am wrong on this SÃ©!) I had to try it. It was odd. Initially the harsher tones of the liquorice came through (it burns a little!) and I was skeptical but after you washed over it with the infused coffee an incredible perfume like taste blossomed in your mouth. Interesting.
Sig drinks sitting on the jute tablecloth
What I found less enjoyable was watching a friend running closer and closer to the time limit. Watching any barista get near the 15 minute mark always turns my stomach, and when it is a friend it is even worse – even though he is a very serious competitor should I make it to the finals this year. SÃ©, to say the least, cut it a little fine….
98 hundredths of a second is a little close!
Writing this now I realise that I just won’t be able to do justice to all the competitors – especially the ones from Clements, Cafe Krem (both cafes entered 4 people) and Ground (who had two) – who put in a huge amount of effort. I feel quite sorry for the barista who was on stage when the local BBC turned up and just started filming him without asking first (really not on, in my opinion). Being on stage for the first time and then having a bright light and camera shoved in your face can’t be much fun.
Overall the results (don’t ask me to remember points):
1st – SÃ©
2nd – Jon
3rd – Subi
I’ll try and update this when I get more details of people’s cafes and websites. Aside from the evil journey the UKBC is off to a good start!