UKBC 2007 – Northern Irish Heat

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 Sé 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 Sé. 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). Sé 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.

Sé dosing


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 Sé!) 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. Sé, 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 РS̩

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!

Full Flickr Set

[tags]barista competition, ukbc, uk barista competition, northern ireland barista, barista, latte art, cappuccino, espresso, signature drink[/tags]

6 Comments UKBC 2007 – Northern Irish Heat

  1. JIm

    As I prepare for a competition myself, I find this post invaluable. Thank you for covering this. Brilliant. Thank you.

  2. Paragon

    …so cool to read… … I wish I could see some competitions…. (3 years ago I saw Italia’s…the only time ever… But I just think it is important to see those if you are a barista, because every coffee goes to a ‘judge’…there is no perfect for certain event… there must be this will to do it perfect every singe time)

    heheee, and I stupid thought you are competing there….and I was cracking my head to figure out why the hell that far heheeeeee :)

  3. Philip Mills

    Hey James
    Great coverage of the NI’s, thanks for that. I felt sorry for the competitor who was subjected to the TV camera, but when the crew arrived I was told they had to wrap it in 10mins or not do it at all, and at no point did they suggest they were going to film up close. trying to intervene at the time would have caused a greater disturbance for the competitor and resulted in zero TV exposure for the event……so I did what any self centred egotistical PR hungry coffee roaster would do, sat back and ensured the intreview with Coops and myself got to air…hehehehehe (plastic surgery booked!)
    Good luck with the rest of the UK tour and with your own entry, see you in Glasgow

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