UK Barista Championship 2007 – Finals Report

Thanks to everyone who left messages after the result on Sunday – I really appreciate it.

A full article on the sig drink is probably going to be up on Coffegeek quite soon – I will post a link once it is done. (One of the qualifiers for being a columnist is that you actually submit a column once in a while so I hope it is something of interest).

The UKBC Finals

I am really pleased the competition is over for now. The sense of relief is enormous, and finally feeling all the muscles in my body lose their tension is pretty good right now. I worked very hard this year, though I think I turned out a much lower-key and perhaps more workmanlike performance than perhaps I would have liked to. This will change for Tokyo I hope – I really want to enjoy that as I am fairly certain that it will be the last time I compete.

The final practise session the day before the competition was an odd mixture of fun, stress and being a little self-conscious because there was a film crew there for a couple of hours watching me screw up and try to fix the little problems (more about them another day).

It was great to have Stephen and Jenny over to help judge and pick up the little mistakes I was making and give fresh perspective. There were a couple of run throughs that went like a dream and I felt pretty relaxed by the time I arrived at the drinks reception the night before the competition where the draw took place. It was great to see Klaus again and also catch up with a few other people.

I was drawn in 6th position, first on after the lunch break and I was just relieved I didn’t have to get up at some ungodly hour to get myself over to the competition venue. I didn’t get home or to bed til around 2am because we were ticking checklists, shining things and just being a bit nervous.

So many lists!

I didn’t arrive at the venue that early so I missed Ryan, Nelly and Ed. I arrived just in time to see Subi starting. I really enjoyed watching Subi perform in Northern Ireland – she seems to personalise the space beautifully which many people (myself included) don’t really do. I can’t really watching other people compete if I am competing as well. It just stresses me out so I don’t have much in the way of detailed performance notes for each person. Steve Leighton has done a great run through of performers and signature drinks on his blog.

I had been able to drop the centrifuge off the night before so that made life a little easier though unfortunately the event organisers dropped the ball and the stage space was much smaller than it was supposed to be. The UKBC organisers did a great job working around it but sadly the centrifuge had to live on the floor during the performance which was a shame for me to have a show piece out of sight (especially as, unsurprisingly, they aren’t that cheap to rent for 5 days – most suppliers have a three month minimum contract assuming they don’t just hang up on you when you start trying to explain about making a liquid donut!)

One of the best shots I had last year was during my prep time on stage at the UK finals. This year the best shots I had were backstage in the prep area. The coffee finally seemed to give itself up and have a great fruit sweetness and it was just so silky and clean. Anette, Stephen and I were all very relieved that the coffee was tasting good and it puts you in a great frame of mind before you go on stage.

My performance wasn’t great. I felt a little cramped and stressed in the space and I think that probably showed. My prep time on stage has to be quite carefully coordinated – apart from checking grinders, setting everything out and laying up the judges table I also have to prepare a cupping – pour, stir, break and clean the cups and set them up on the judges table so they have cooled just right by the time the judges get to start slurping. As a side note this is probably not something I will try again because its really messy and the judges tend to make a mess of your nicely laid out table. My blend had four components so it seemed logical to me to try and find a way to present that to the judges that went beyond just showing green and roasted. I gave them the grounds to smell in Berne last year and this seemed a natural (if slightly stress-making) progression.

Thankfully this year the onstage film crew didn’t smack me in the head with a camera as they had done in the past though they did get pretty close. Looking through pictures later it took me a little while to work out why everyone was looking away from the stage and the live action – turns out the plasma on the right was more interesting!

I poured my capps at the judges table. The idea came to me whilst watching Billy Wilson create his beautiful espresso caviar sig drink at his regional. I say this as if I didn’t pretty much steal the idea, which I did so I want to publicly acknowledge my source of inspiration – Billy rocks. I liked the tray stands he used and I think this is something that is going to be more and more common. I did it in my regional as well and was later intrigued to hear that Einar (who won the Norwegian competition) did the same thing. I like the idea of more face time with the judges and whilst trying to pour latte art and talking about the different blend I was using for the capps did almost break my head I much prefer to being over at the bench for the pours.

I slightly messed up my sig drink – I added just a little too much sugar and threw it off balance. The idea (in short – full explanation on CG soon) was to create a liquid donut to add to the espresso to try and recreate the pleasure of eating a donut with your cup of coffee. The centrifuge was there to remove solid pieces from the liquid and to chill oil down to a fat which could easily be strained off. I really like this drink – it is both fun and very tasty, which is where many sig drinks fall down for me. Last years was pretty and it was visually striking but I didn’t want to finish it. It was good to see in practise that they guys from Mercanta would often arrive just as the sig drinks were done, steal them away back to their offices and the glasses would always come back empty. Seemed to make Klaus smile…..

There seemed to be a pretty good crowd and they seemed to be as tense as me:

(Steve Leighton – HasBean, Stephen Hurst – Mercanta)

I hate the time between the performance and the result. I just pace around like a caged animal for a couple of hours making Anette cross. The standard this year has jumped up again and I knew that there had been and were going to be plenty of strong performances. I just can’t watch them – it stresses me out too much!

So – the results:

3rd – Ed Buston – 683.5

2nd – Se Gorman – 691.5

1st – Me – 721

I was delighted. Se and Ed were both really good and I think Hugo wasn’t far behind in 4th. I am not sure if all the scores are up yet but when they are I’ll post a link.

The sheer quantity of prizes I won is wonderfully obscene. I get a La Spaziale Vivaldi Mini, a Mahlkoenig K30 Vario in any colour I like, flights and entry to the Nordic Barista Cup, 25kg of Santa Terrazinha CoE (green), a massive hamper from Monbana chocolate, a barista kit from Beyond the Bean, £721 (my score) worth of stuff from Espresso Warehouse/Essenz, a variety of things from Arla and of course flights and accommodation for Tokyo. I am over the moon and feel a little bit greedy!

I want to again thank the people who helped me so much: Anette, Steve, Steve, Stephen and Stephen, Flori, Chris and Chris, Jenny, Grant, Jose and lots more I’ve probably forgotten! Credit again to Billy for inspiration and to Nick Cho whose threats to use a centrifuge pushed me into doing it!

Respect to all the other guys on the day – it feels like I have ignored the competitors (I just couldn’t watch!) but people watching and the judges tasting said all of them – Ryan, Nelly, Subi, Ed, Lou, Hugo, Se, Jon and Graz – were great without exception.

Work will start pretty soon for Tokyo and I have big plans but mostly I just want to enjoy it.

Flickr Slideshow

7 Comments UK Barista Championship 2007 – Finals Report

  1. rob berghmans

    Looks like a fight, not with the other participants, but with yourself.
    It all sounds very exciting. As i will coach two of my barista’s i’ll forward them this post to keep them sharp for the next qualifications.
    Are their any vids to download?
    Looking forward to your WBC show. Thumbs up.

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  3. Ryan Willbur

    Your prizes sound awesome James. Sounds like a lot of cool people are stepping up to show appreciation for all you Brit barista’s hard work. Congrats again! Enjoy and I look forward to reading about your drink…

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