Barista Champs

Some time ago I competed in UK Barista Championships. The competition left me mentally exhausted. A mix of happiness, pride and disappointment.

It took me a couple of weeks to gather the courage to watch the video recording of my performance. However, due to technical problems, it has not been recorded. Some kind of relief, I have to admit.

I didn't start preparing until the date of the competition was announced. In fact, I haven't done anything until I had chosen my coffee - on the 12th of June. The comp was on the 9th of July. Less than a month. Very tight timeframe for a first-timer. But I wanted to be motivated and very focused throughout that time.

Learning upon Brewers Cup I got most of my equipment in the first week of preparation. Also, I didn't try to save on anything. Quality and design are important. It gives me the confidence to work on good equipment. But still, everything within reason. For example, as long as £30 scale does the job well I don't need any better, but if my existing scale doesn't fit on the drip tray I need a better one.

I was quite lucky to have a chance to work on La Spaziale ahead of the competition. It's quite different from what I'm used to. Particularly establishing a recipe for my coffee before the prep-time.

I did a lot of run-throughs, more than with Brewers Cup. But getting people to watch and judge me is crucial. I didn't have it as much as with Brewers. This kind of feedback is necessary to do well. I was planning to do them in the week before the competition, since I had everything ready a week before. Unfortunately, some unexpected events popped up and I couldn't get people to see me. My fault in planning.

In some areas, I was more prepared than with the Brewers Cup, particularly espresso and my speech. Others, such as signature drink and milk drink, not as much. And that comes down to the goal I had set for myself. I didn't even have an idea what I want to do with sig drink and milk drink, so any positive outcome was good enough.

I felt very confident and quite excited before the performance. Smooth set-up, last changes regarding which cloth would suit be better. Some stickers on glasses that I've noticed in the last moment. Another glass breaking in my hand while setting the table (that one was cheap).

My music is on and I'm rocking it.

Well, almost.

The grinder was consistent, only my mistake made me waste a full dose of coffee. Shots were running as they were supposed to. Judges smiled. I smiled. Had an eye-contact while steaming milk. Even managed to look them in the eye while pouring. No shaking hands.

But steaming milk and watching shots was a bit too much of a stretch. Particularly that I failed to tare the scale (which I didn't realise).

Boom! Damn it...

Stopped the shot way too early.

Without hesitation, I had announced I needed to remake those shots. As if nothing happened. That confidence surprised both me and the spectators. Well, it's okay to screw up, right?

Not quite.

Before preparing the signature drink I had only one minute remaining. Sig drink takes more than two minutes.

"Moving swiftly to signature drink..."

I rushed it. Inaccurate dosing, too much ice, not enough shaking, didn't serve the whole espresso.

Went overtime. 16.06 - disqualified by 6 seconds. I knew it already when looked at the timer while shaking the sig drink.

They knew I knew. I loved how Maxwell said: "my favourite phrase: moving swiftly to sig drink...". After all, then we could only laugh about it.

After that, I didn't know what do to with myself. All that was left was the feedback from judges. Which didn't lift me up. I was annoyed by the mistakes I had made, like not flushing the grouphead.

It only took someone else to point out that my espresso scores were pretty good. I still need to learn not to focus on negatives and appreciate positives.

From the positives, I achieved my goal for espresso scores, 3/3,5/3,5/4 across 4 espressos. Not too bad.

Next time, I need to work more on different parts of the routine. Think about how to avoid technical mistakes, what to do when the shot goes wrong, have more clothes. Not be afraid to ask people for help.

I'm happy that I have experience in the most difficult coffee competition. I served a drinkable espresso, stayed calm under pressure, figured out sig drink - which seemed impossible beforehand.

I am going to compete next year, even if just for the sake of not making the same mistakes again.

Since the video is not recorded, I'm going to use this post to give thanks to everyone who helped along the way.

I'm profoundly grateful to Diana for inspiring me to compete, suggesting little details having an immense effect on the score, answering last-minute questions, making sure I would manage to prep and show me good things on the score sheet. Big thanks to Leo for helping with prep, tasting things and being present on the day - the only one, an absolute legend. Big up for Jamie and Andrew for help with choosing coffee, suggestions and scoring my coffee.

Main picture - SCA UK Instagram


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