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

Before this week’s UKBC Superheat, we caught up with another UKBC newcomer to find out about his journey to this year’s competition.

Meet Adrian Bytniewski

Adrian 23, is from Poland and worked as a bartender and then as a chef until his friend introduced him to great coffee. Since then Adrian says ” I just got addicted to it”.

Adrian decided to enter this year’s competition after his friend showed him the World Barista Championship videos on Youtube.

“After watching some videos, I started to look for something like that in UK. For me this competition is an amazing chance to learn and meet new people in the industry, I think that made me enter the UKBC this year.”

Adrian got his first taste of the world of barista competitions at the 2013 Union Barista Championship. He enjoyed the competition and it gave him the confidence to enter UKBC.

Having worked with our coffee for the last 20 months, selecting coffee to use in the competition was quite easy.

“I always loved coffee with fruity notes, also I’m a big fan of coffee from Latin America. When I tried Los Lajones for the first time I knew that’s going to be the one to use for the UKBC.

Adrian is taking the competition seriously and tries to practice everyday.

He has worked as a barista for over 2 years now and enjoys every minute on the job.

“After joining Urban Coffee Company I got a chance to get to know coffee better. I’ve started to drink more, and more different coffees, and then my ”mentor” Arthur Pach (former head barista at urban coffee) explained to me what’s important in this industry “.

In his spare time, you will probably find him reading a book, at the cinema or cooking a nice meal for friends (with a freshly brewed coffee on his aeropress).

For anyone who wants to be a barista he says,

“Listen carefully to who mentors you, and don’t be afraid of making mistakes, without them you won’t learn.”

Once again we are sponsors of this year’s UK Barista Championships (UKBC) and the UKBC Newcomer Award. This year we decided to follow some newcomers to the competition.

Meet Jana Slamova

Jana is entering the UKBC competition for the first time. We got in touch with her to find out a little about her and her journey to UKBC.

Jana will be competing with Don Altizo, also from BaxterStorey. Don placed in the top 6 of the 2013 UKBC.  After trying several coffees, she has decided to use  our Fazendas Bobolink, Natural, the coffee that won her our barista competition last year.

“It really is one of the best I have tried, and I am excited to compete with it because I feel like I know it well.”

Training for the competition is intense as she gets one or two days per week in the BaxterStory Barista Academy in central London.

Jana says “I am always thinking about my routine and my signature drink.”

Jana 26, comes from a diverse creative background. Before moving to London, she worked as a dance and fitness instructor in her home country; Czech republic. So how did she then develop her love for the coffee world?

Getting started in coffee

Amazingly, Jana was not a coffee drinker before moving to London, but now she enjoys her favourite coffee drink; a flat white.

Her first job in the UK was working at Gail’s Artisan Bakery. During her time there she developed her passion for good coffee.

 ” The first job I had in London was with Gail’s, they were using Union Hand-Roasted Coffee and they provided great training that really inspired me to learn more.”

Jana has only worked as a barista for 2 years but her skills have developed quickly, making her a valuable employee at her current job with BaxterStorey.  She enjoys this role because they are passionate about coffee and also have their own barista academy which is unusual in contract catering.

We asked Jana for the advice she would give anyone who wants to become a barista her response was,

“Love coffee. Be willing to learn and if they aren’t teaching you, find a job where they will. Being a great barista takes skill, I didn’t know that when I started….”

Training on the job

In her spare time Jana is still involved with dance, but is really enjoying learning about coffee.

“I am in the BaxterStorey Coffee Specialist program, which is an 18-month development program.  At the end of it, I will be a certified “coffee geek” with a Coffee Diploma from the SCAE. This is cool because it is also the same qualification I can achieve back home in the Czech Republic.”

Last year,  Jana was asked to compete at UKBC by the Head of the Barista Academy, Tim Sturk but was too scared. This year, she feels a lot more confident which she attributes to Tim who saw great potential in her and was persistent.

“He was impressed by my skills and desire to learn more and to be better.  He convinced me to compete.”

Rising star

In November 2013, Jana entered our Barista Competition.

“This was my first taste of a coffee competition and I won it! Initially, I think Tim wanted to enter a few baristas from BaxterStorey but we were only allowed one barista per company. He asked me because my managers were very supportive and keen for me to compete.  I still can’t believe I won; someone saw this potential in me that I didn’t see.”

Jana’s signature drink for Union Hand Roasted Barista Championship: a delicious combination of organic dark morello cherry compote, Fazendas Bobolink espresso and double cream.

 

 

Have you been bitten by the competitive bug – are you tempted to enter next year’s UKBC? Here are some invaluable tips to help you to get ready, from one of this year’s barista entrants, Chris Walton.

The one thing every competitor says about their experience at the UKBC is how much they learned and improved. And that’s the best reason for entering the UKBC. Not for winning or “glory”, but to improve your skills and knowledge. The competition provides a great environment for this. The motivation to do well, and the people you meet all add to the learning experience.

When to start preparing for the UKBC?

Admittedly it takes hard work and commitment to benefit so the first piece of advice is start early. Give yourself 3-4 months’ head start to begin planning. There are a lot of elements to work on for those fifteen minutes on stage.  Even small things like the table dressing will take up time, so the earlier you start, the more time you’ll have for the inevitable panic buying of spoons, saucers and glasses for water.

Which comes first – the coffee or the signature drink?

I started by picking the coffees I was going to use as a blend. From there you know the flavours in the espresso and cappuccino, and can start figuring out what you can do with it for the signature drink. You could also start the other way round, outline what you want to say with your signature drink, and work out which coffees can help you achieve that. Previous competitors have presented interesting ideas like using all parts of the coffee fruit, or showing how different water pH levels can alter the flavour of coffee. Whichever route you take, the earlier you start more time you’ll have to prepare, and you’ll save yourself a lot of stress the closer you get to competition time.

How can you make your signature drinks really original?

I decided to look into blending. It’s not something a lot of baristas have a chance to do, so I took this opportunity play around. I started by tasting a lot of the coffees we had at Union to see what tasted great. After that, I had to pick two or three that would work well together and start trialling them in different combinations. This meant dialling in and drinking a lot of espressos. Great practice for a shop environment, making sure you get the best out your blend, but a hard task if you want to sleep that week. It was a great exercise though, and I’d recommend it if you get the chance. I’m in a fairly unique and privileged position to have access to do this. Once I had the blend sorted, I could start working on ideas for a signature drink.

Last year there were comments that many of the signature drinks people were serving were too heavy, laden with cream and chocolate. I decided to try something light and refreshing, which the judges might appreciate and set me apart from the pack. However a lot of other people had this same idea. Great minds I guess… One of the criteria in judging for the signature drink is the creativity and synergy of the drink. Don’t mistake this for something crazy and original. It can be something simple, done well and that works perfectly with the coffee. If you over complicate it, there’s more that can go wrong on the day, and the benefit isn’t worth it.

Get your basics right

Another thing you should start early with is honing and perfecting your barista skills. You may think you prepare an espresso perfectly, but is your tamping absolutely level to the degree? Is every shot you prepare exactly the same every time? This is what is going to be evaluated by the technical judges, and they don’t miss a trick. They’re trained to have the eyes of a hawk and spot any and all deviations you make. So analyse every shot you make from when you decide to enter, to that last practice shot. The technical points are easy to pick up, so don’t throw them away! This is one of the areas where it’s easy to improve quickly, and it’s going to help you every day.

Those eagle eyed judges watching my every move

How important is your routine?

Once you’ve got these elements sorted, it’s time to start working on the routine. Fifteen minutes is not long to prepare and present three sets of drinks. You need to somehow say a lot with as few words as possible. I gave myself about ninety seconds to two minutes for the introduction. In that I gave a short talk about the farm, the flavour notes of the coffees and why I chose them, the flavours of the espresso, cappuccino and signature drink. That way the judges had all the information they needed for evaluation, and when I came to serve the drinks, I only had to give a few quick notes to remind and prompt them.

Preparation is everything

The more you practice this little presentation, the more confident you’ll be saying it aloud on the day. It sounds sad and a bit mental, but I used to practice my presentation out loud in the car. Probably did look a bit crazy if anyone was watching me, but it really helped me speak with confidence during those fifteen minutes.

As well as the presentation, I’d recommend practicing the full fifteen minutes. In the rules released before the competition, there’ll be a diagram of the equipment layout. If you get the chance, try and set up your practice area to match this. It’s something I didn’t do, and I got marked down for station management. It wasn’t a lot of points to lose, but they were such easy points to gain that it was a real waste to throw them away.

One last point I think can be important is the music you pick to play during your routine. It can be used to keep unofficial time, give you cues as to where you should be in your routine, and set a mood or tempo to your presentation too. Your music choice will influence the judges’ perception of you, the same as the way you dress. Importantly as well, it’s going to put you at ease, and make you more relaxed when you’re on stage.

There's no pressure, honest! Just people staring over your shoulder and judging you. Easy!

Final words of advice

I don’t really want to finish this with a cliché like “just have fun”, but this time it is true. You’ve entered the competition because you love coffee; don’t let stress and pressure ruin that. Keep smiling, and be proud of yourself!

Thanks to Chris, one of our brilliant barista trainers, for sharing his experiences at this year’s UKBC. You can read all about his heat here and follow @espressoChris on Twitter. 

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