WBC 2008

Well, where to begin?

Copenhagen was not what I expected, in just about every way. I thought I’d get more time to roam the streets, visit cafes and hang out. Somehow it ended up being very busy indeed. That didn’t mean, however, that I missed out on my favourite part of these events – seeing lots of great people. Too many to list, and all of whom I wish I could have hung out with longer and in more relaxed circumstances.

Did I mention Anette and I drove to Copenhagen? No? Well when we got there it didn’t seem like the smartest thing to do. Six countries in a day, 14 hours on the road, and the autobahn actually gets pretty boring pretty quickly (unless, I guess, your car can do 150mph – which our rental could not). It was nice to be able to bring all the competition stuff, spare stuff and lots and lots of our coffee. Seeing as the roastery had only just gone live I have to admit that this being our first real public showing for our espresso was quite terrifying. We had a quick chance to taste it with a few of the Intelli folks at the LM Denmark distributors place. It didn’t taste how we wanted it to and that was a bit stressful, but then it came back to life at the event during Stephen’s first practice time. Then we got quite excited. We got to share a couple of shots with people and the reaction was great – especially what the lovely Barista Magazine folks wrote on their blog about Stephen’s performance.

MCing was interesting. I have to be honest and say I didn’t love MCing on my own, but it was an honour to be on stage with those baristas – even if some of them put me through the emotional ringer whilst I was up there with them. MCing the finals was a great pleasure though. It felt like Carl and I made a good team on stage, and the differences in our styles seemed to compliment each other well. I was pretty relieved to have something to do instead of worrying about Stephen’s set up and water glasses etc. I think Stephen and I were very pleased to have Jenny there to help keep things on track as she did before in Tokyo – so much thanks due to her. On the one day I wasn’t MCing the cupping competition provided the distractions – I was very pleased to get 5th. I don’t think I could have expected more, and Casper was an inspiring winner and it was just a lot of fun to be up there with some great people like Jorge and Edwin. The afternoon of lecturing also helped distract me – I suppose it is quite funny my lecture was titled (not by me) “Breaking the WBC code”. Didn’t appreciate getting locked out of the complex by the staff.

So – the result. Calling out those names was always going to be intense. Each card hoping it wouldn’t be Stephen and then having the excitement tempered by feeling bad for each of the amazing finalists who had come so close. I had some really great drinks up on that stage – Dave’s sig drink was a lesson in working with fruit and using its natural acidity to very cleverly and simply compliment a coffee. A simple idea that is incredibly difficult to execute. I had snuck a shot of his espresso that morning and it was tasting great too. I also have to say that Daniel’s coffee was a lot of fun to drink – and passing them out to the audience always makes me think that the baristas on stage should be sharing more of the coffee with the people watching.

Stephen entered both the competition and the finals in a great psychological position – what I would consider the ideal position: excited, nervous and aiming only to give the best presentation he could and not worry about his final result. The mistakes in the first round gave us focus for the finals and he gave a great performance. I’d seen it many times before but never enjoyed it that much. Seeing the scores his drinks got afterwards was wonderful – he did a great job preserving and delivering what we love about those coffees to the judges. I hope that Stephen’s win will be a signpost to future competitors, and I think the judges are sending a clear message that I hope the community will hear and understand. Already I am curious about next year’s competition.

Stephen is going to have a great year, and I hope I can help him in any way and pass on my experiences (both good and bad) to help him get the most out of it. It is an amazing year of learning and a great privilege coupled with a great responsibility. We are all excited about what the year will bring.

Now it is back to relative normality. Anette is back doing incredible things at the roaster and we are all excited about the potential we have to improve and explore what we are doing. Talking to Andrew Barnett (something I could do for hours) we were talking through the geeky facts of competition and I think we have two firsts – Anette is the first person to roast WBC winning coffee twice, and this is the first winning coffee to be all washed coffees. (Do correct me if I am wrong on these).

Usually these long posts are peppered with photos, but my camera is almost as broken as my mac (let’s not even start on how borked the macbook is – sorry to those suffering email issues with me) so no photos were taken. Anette took a few I think, and they should end up online soon I hope.

I didn’t bring home as much coffee as I initially wanted to, but then winning kind of changed my plans. We are planning to run open evenings of espresso tastings for other baristas around London and surrounding area and the first one was going to be the top 6 WBC blends, but now it seems a bit commercial. Instead we will be doing one country at a time, getting coffee from 5 or 6 of our favourite roasteries and sharing them over the course of an evening once a month or so. Instead the first one will probably be Norway but more on that another time – I am way off topic here!

Thanks to everyone who helped us, who helped Stephen and massive thanks to Anette for not only being awesome but for doing great things with coffee in a very quiet way. I hope to see lots of you soon, either in London or if I end up travelling more again. And once more:

Congratulations Stephen!

6 Comments WBC 2008

  1. Mark

    Great recap.

    Sorry I didn’t know about your borked camera sooner. I sold my Xti body (400D) last month, and would have sold it to you really, really cheap.

  2. Klaus

    Congratulations to team Square Mile – especially Anette. I can’t wait to taste more of the coffee she’s roasted. You guys are going to change the face of coffee in the UK for sure!
    It was great to see you again and I do hope we’ll get a chance to visit you in London before long.

  3. Tim Varney

    Nice wrap James. And congratulations…

    All the lovely Aricha is here and Tim/Ola are roasting it as we speak…

    We’re doing another ‘Black Coffee Only Week’ at Tim’s and Chris’ signature drink will be on the menu for all to taste… strawberries anyone?

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