Friday, February 17, 2012

Barista Championship Thoughts

My first remembrance were the World Barista Championships (WBC) of 2006 in Bern, when Klaus Thompson became champion, with also Picollo, Hoffman and Lunell in the finals. Those were the days.
It was a total new show for me with unknown Baristas battling in an arena somewhere in a galaxy far away from home.
And maybe this 'intergallectic' feel was what attracted me about it.

In 2005 the Belgian Barista Championships (BBC) were at the Hilton in Antwerp. Jessie and Bert (2 of my Barista's) went over watching the comp and came back to the bar telling me that these people were no competition for us, professional Baristas. Later on I learned it was a bit more complicated then we thought that day, but I guess in those days there were only 5 professional Baristas in Belgium from which 4 of them worked at Hopland 46.

In 2006, right after Bern, I was trying to motivate Bert to participate, but he didn't dare to expose and so I thought it was up to me to experience what these championships were all about.
It took me 10 phone calls and emails before I managed to get myself a ticket to ride; the organisation in those days was not very professional, but nevertheless 15 people showed up in Brussel that day in October, to fight for 8 tickets for the finals.

I remembered myself arriving with what must have been a blend of Dominican Republic and Ethiopian Harrar.
The organisation had some brand new Della Cortes installed and I never forget how Holger (DC's big man) was playing with my coffee backstage and enjoying a couple of very nice shots. Unfortunately my espresso's on stage didn't taste that well and my lack of experience and knowledge of the rules costed my a lot of points.
With the 6th or 7th place i earned a place in the finals in Gent, and a big motivation to do better.

All alone, even without a runner, I practised my ass off and did a very satisfying run in Gent. The nerves (I didn't sleep at all the last night) and the fact I forgot to yell 'stop' at 14'59" - yes, my timing was immaculate- made me lose so many points Jeroen and Peter finished just ahead of me.

From that day on the BBC and WBC became a passion and I tried to help as many people as possible.

My trainees mixed good with medium results, but since the day (september 2009) Roeland was treated totaly unfair - to my opinion - I became frustrated and I withdrew as a trainer.

While Caffenation espresso's in Belgium and Holland come day by day closer to the International type of specialty shots, the BBC stood still and also this year there's no Barista on top of the podium, and most probably Belgium will end again somewhere in between the 30th and 40th place at the WBC in Vienna.

What's the reason we have world class Belgian cup tasters, Latte Art champs, Good spirit champs and Aeropress champs, while our number 1 'Barista' is very far away from the finals, stood away first 3?
The Della Corte can be a darn fine machine for traditional Italian espresso and a good piece of equipment for the lovers of the full city roast, but the difference in flavor in comparison to La Marzocco and Simonelli is remarkable.
We made a lot of progress at Caffenation the last couple of years and since we started roasting ourselve we gained a lot of National and International praise for our type of (lighter) roasted specialty beans, but we notice these kind of beans don't work well on the D.C.
An example was the El Salvador Miralvalle. A top rated Cup of Excellence coffee and my #1 coffee last year (out of +30 single estate and +20 'blended' specialty coffees!). At the semis Emiel his shots had the right extraction and color and we only scored a 2 out of 6. That's very poor, but on the same line of all our coffees the last 2 years and less good as our 'cheaper' and darker roasted coffees 3 or 4 years ago.

Yes we can roast darker for the BBC and yes we can select beans with less acidity, something most Belgian and Dutch people aren't used to, or use a more conservative blend like our House Blend, but then we should ask us the question if we still belong in this circus.

When one of my Barista's is willing to compete I'm still ready to sponsor with beans and pay for the participation, but there it all ends. This year I invested over 2000 euros and the results were 4th and 5th out of ..... 5!
Yes I feel stupid now.
After winning the World Aeropress Championships (with Jeff) by beating Square Mile, Coffee Collective, Tim Wendelboe and Koppiane coffees, without discussion, it's very frustrating to end last at the BBC.

Besides all this, do I think there's still a future for the BBC and WBC?

For Belgium I'm afraid it won't last.
And for the WBC i'm not so positive either. With Nespresso as the main sponsor and the lack of attractivity on stage it's not looking very promising. Also, it's every year again the same inner circle and bit by bit the press is loosing all interest.

What to do?
We have to make it cheaper to participate, simplify the rules and make it a lot more attractive to the audiance.

If they keep the WAC, Brewers Cup and the Cup Tasting on the side, I will maybe stay fan of coffee championships, and not only have to travel to a WBC for the social program and classes.

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