So I’ve finally decompressed and mostly decaffeinated myself from a heavy weekend of espresso based activity at the W.A Barista Championships for 2008. And what a weekend it was. A myriad of competitors (well, 18 of them anyway), all of excellent quality, were vying for the title of W.A Barista Champion, and I’m proud to (secondarily) announce the winner was Jen Murray of the W.A Barista Academy.
Jen’s performance was fantastic and polished. Her style relaxed and natural, her technique rock solid, and most importantly, her coffees tasted fantastic. Jen works as trainer for 5 Senses, and you can tell the time spent correcting other peoples mistakes definitely pays off. Perhaps one of the issues many baristas face when coming into these competitions is that it’s not just standing behind a machine and making coffees. It’s communicating and connecting with the audience and judges to convey that you know what you’re doing and why. Jen’s consummate ease in explaining what she’s doing, at the same time as doing it, set her up for a well deserved win.
Runner up this year was Vanessa Moore of Epic Espresso. Vanessa consistently performs well in these competitions and was always going to be at the top of the field. The consummate ease in the way she goes about her work and her dedication to the job will serve her well when she competes in the Open Heats before the Finals in Melbourne later on in May. She also took out the latte art throwdown (!) (or was it a smackdown) with a seriously symmetrical rosetta.
So then onto the fun end of the day. After the final competitor of the barista competition, and a steady lineup of hopefuls wanting to take out the latte art crown, it was up for the final event of the day. The W.A Cupping Championships. Cupping is of course not what you think it is (if I know my readers), but is the method by which roasters and coffee tasters break down the flavour profile of coffees by grinding them relatively coarsely, adding water, and slurping and smelling the coffee to work it all out.
The idea behind the competition then, is to have 8 sets of 3 cups. Two of the cups have the same kind of coffee in them, the third has a different one. The fastest person to correctly identify the most number of odd cups from each set, wins. Now I’ve cupped coffees before. Not on any great scale or length though. I’ve been to cupping sessions at roasters and cafes, and done a little at home when I was back in my home roasting days. So I figured, what the hell… I’ll give it a shot.
Mc Grendel did an excellent job of building the drama, as he went down the line and announced whether each cup was a “Yes” or a “No”, and despite my attempts to look relaxed, I was getting the shakes (though that might have been to the 20 or so coffees I’d had to judge earlier). So to cut a not very long story even shorter, it came down to a final group of competitors. The score to beat was 4 out of 8 cups correct. I took my time, slurped, swirled, drew in long questioning breaths, and made my choices.
MC Grendel then went down the line and lifted the cups… “No”, “Yes, “Yes”, “Yes”, “Yes”… wait for it… “Yes” !, “No” :(, “Yes” ! 6 out of 8 in total. I was pretty happy with that, mostly because i’d just been judging baristas for the past two days and assessing how their coffees tasted, so if I had no palate of my own to rely on, it’d be only fair to question what the hell I was doing there.
So I thought I had it, but you can never think too soon. Catherine Ferrari of European Foods and Brazilliano was right next to me, and as another barista competition judge, wanted to make sure she did well. Which of course she did. Finishing well before me, and eventually coming through with 7 out of 8 cups correct. It was an excellent performance, and testament to her skills that even after two days of coffee tasting, she could pull up the win.
After all was said and done, and we’d been through the score sheets with the baristas to make sure they each get some good feedback from the event, and hopefully feel encouraged enough to try again next year (which they should ! the standard just keeps on getting better and better), it was off home to relax, rejuvenate, and not drink another coffee for a looong time (well the next morning anyway).
Special thanks for the event must go to Ben Bicknell, whose tireless efforts at pulling the whole thing together almost single handedly do not go unnoticed. Also Rob Forsythe for being a font of knowledge and a great help to all the judges. To Nicki and Azza Kindred for winging their way over from Tassie to help out, and to all the other judges and helpers, and time keepers. It’s people like these that make events like this one happen, and continue to grow the coffee scene in Perth.
Bring on next year :) and go Jen Murray for Australian Barista Champ 2008 !