Vaiva Maskova, now at Caravan, was working at Harris + Hoole when she competed in the 2014 Barista Championships in Lithuania and conquered the field – we talked to her about the competition and how she started her career.


How did you get involved in coffee?

I worked as a barista for six months in a coffee chain back in Lithuania. I left to go to university, but soon realised that it was not for me, so in 2012 I moved to London. Within days I got a job at Harris + Hoole, speciality coffee chain.

Who is your biggest inspiration in the coffee world?

Ieva Malijauskaite, who hired and trained me back in Lithuania, became Lithuanian Latte art champion in 2013 (14th in the world). She always inspired me with her love for coffee and her stories about the barista championships stayed with me.

Ieva and her partner, Domas, opened a roastery – “Taste Map” – with the aim not only to roast high quality coffee, but also to educate Lithuanian people about the coffee culture. They’ve always been my greatest coffee inspiration.

What motivated you to enter the Barista Championships?

I’ve always been a competitive type, so with the help of Dennis Tutbury (barista trainer at Harris + Hoole), who recognised my talent a year ago, we worked towards the victory while staying late five days a week after work and just working on the technical aspects of my routine while trying to come up with a solid concept for it.

How did you prepare for the competition?

Home ground seemed as a good choice for my first national barista competition.

Only two weeks left until my competition day I switched my coffee to Union Hand Roasted’s Los Lajones from Panama. I’ve been privileged to meet Graciano Cruz, always been a fan of his farming practices that use the minimum of natural resources. The natural process is reflected in the final cup – strawberries and chocolate all the way.

How did it go on the day?

I picked up two kilograms of coffee from Union only a week before my competition, was focusing all good thoughts on it, so it would be rested enough on the day. Unfortunately, due to some organisational issues, I had to dial in my coffee on stage, during my 15min preparation time. There were no strawberries or chocolate cream, but – hey! – green apple and red berries worked well for me 🙂 I knew the story behind my coffee inside out, knew my routine and goals, so no major hiccups on stage!

When I was standing on stage with another competitor with the head judge between us, holding our hands to raise the winner’s, my heart was racing as crazy. The moment my arm was up in the air, tears came out of my eyes because I was never brave enough to actually consider winning. I wanted it but, probably, didn’t want to jinx it.

The best thing about winning is the feeling you get when it’s announced, the confidence you gain and the doors that open for you.

So the next big thing for me is the world championship as I tell everyone – finally playing with the big kids.

 

Congratulations Vaiva, and good luck in the WBC in Rimini! 

 

They’re the Men (and Women) in Black. Vital to the success and smooth running of every UKBC event, a cohort of calibration (sensory) and technical judges work hard to ensure consistency and the same high standards are a hallmark of each heat. At the 2014 “Superheat” in Birmingham this year, our own Dave Jameson trained his beady eye on some of the aspiring champions, and we asked him to tell us just how he got to be there.

“The judge certification process is truly scary. This year was my second time through the process, and I felt just as nervous this time as last time. 30-odd people you don’t know in the very swanky surroundings of the Masteroast cupping lab in Peterborough. The certification process is not a training programme – it is expected that you know what you are doing when you get there, from the right way to tamp, to the correct procedure when filling your basket, to being able to accurately gauge the weight of waste coffee left on the grinder and judge the correct volume of leftover milk.

Dave judging during John Gordon's heat (©Kate Beard)


Day one basically consists of instruction on how to correctly complete the judges scoresheet, so we set to pulling shots, making cappuccinos and assessing them, testing coffee and milk waste and running through mock routines with the help of Guan Ha Park, the Korean Barista Champion. It’s a long day, and the epic coffee ingestion does nothing to lull you to sleep at the end of it!  Chair of the Judging panel, Jessica MacDonald from Square Mile, tweets that she is awake at 4am – I have full sympathy, as I am too!

Day two is certification, and takes a very similar format to day one, except this time everyone is being examined on their performance. The pass mark is 80%. Some of the judges claim not to have taken an exam since they were at school, others show the tell-tale signs of being that kid who walks out of the exam in tears claiming to have failed before coming top of the class.

Jess and World Coffee Events Head Judge Sonja Bjork Grant spend the evening marking papers before emailing the judges to give them the good news……

A trio of judges scrutinise Eve Purdy's performance (© Kate Beard)

Day three is calibration, this is to ensure that all the newly minted judges are scoring the same things at the same level. Once more we have espresso, cappuccino, full routines (including a brilliant and intentionally bad display from Andrew Tolley of Taylor Street/Harris + Hoole – Rich tea, earl grey latte anyone?) By the end of it, we have consistent and relevant scoring and a real sense of achievement that this disparate group of people with very different levels of expertise in the coffee industry have pulled together and managed to form a cohesive team.

Judges getting right into the thick of it at the superheat

It is such a privilege to be in a position to be able to judge these competitors. Coffee is a temporary, fleeting sensory art. This is not a statue or a painting, more a brief moment in time where flavours, emulsions and solutions exist momentarily in perfect balance before they die away. Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Engineering, Craftsmanship, Skill, Artistry and Experience work together and the result, in the right hands, is spectacular. So few people get to experience the genuine brilliance of this work first hand and close up, and each competitor we come into contact with has made the commitment to stand up and be judged alongside their peers. I have so much respect for everyone who competes, and it’s so important that the quality and commitment of the judges matches that of the competitors.”

Not only a judge, Dave also competed in the Coffee in Good Spirits competition this year and he’ll be back to tell us more about that soon!

 

ALL PHOTOS USED WITH PERMISSION. COPYRIGHT KATE BEARD  asouthernbellein@gmail.com