Woah! That was wild!
My first time competing in this year's UK Barista Championship (UKBC) and what an amazing experience it turned out to be. I’ve now had some time to reflect on my journey, so I think it’s about time that I got it all on paper (or screen) to give you an insight into what it takes to compete at the UKBC’s.
Let’s go back to the very beginning on what inspired me to compete this year. One night as I was doing my usual evening scroll on Instagram, I noticed that competitor tickets were live for this year's competition. I clicked through, out of curiosity more than anything, and low and behold, there was a Scottish heat……in GLASGOW! There was no doubt in my mind that I had to do it. I would never have forgiven myself If I had missed the opportunity to compete for the very first time in my home city. With very little knowledge on what to expect, but safe in the knowledge that I had the passion to compete at the highest level, the ticket was purchased and with that, I was competing in this year’s UKBC’s.
What goes into actually competing? To the untrained eye it would seem relatively easy, make two espresso’s and two milk based coffee’s, surely every barista in the land could do that, right? But there’s so much more to it than that. For two month’s I meticulously studied the rules of the competition. After all, I didn't want my first experience of competing to end in disqualification. I also watched so many World Barista Championship routines on Youtube that my recommended page is now exclusively coffee performances. Then there’s the script. Writing, then re-writing, then ripping it up and starting from scratch, recording myself reading it and then listening to it at every available opportunity. At this point you're thinking ‘What about the coffee?’. I’m getting there, I promise. First we had to select the coffee, a task in itself. We tasted several coffee’s before deciding on the delicious Ethiopian Odaco, a natural micro-lot from Daye Bensa Farm inShantawene, Sidama, Ethiopia. With the coffee selected we began experimenting with different roasts and then began fine tuning the coffee to taste its best as an espresso. From early morning to late nights, I practiced my routine until it was impossible to forget, perfecting as I went and with the support from the team at Dear Green, we were able to put together a routine that I’m immensely proud of.
With the preparation complete, all I had to do now was perform. No big deal, just perform flawlessly in-front of a packed house of friends and family, a head judge, a technical judge, two sensory judges and shadow judge. I’ve got this!
February 24th. 5am. I’m awake. I’m feeling quietly confident. The people around me had absorbed the burden of my nerves, which in a way was comforting. I knew I just wanted to have fun, enjoy the experience and learn as much as possible from the day to help progress my skill set for competing in the future. From the get go I was absorbing everything around me. My first experience backstage, following the strict time frame and rules for setting up my trolly, speaking with the event organisers, dialling in my box fresh grinder and getting mic’d up. Combined, all of these things could have easily led to distraction or an enhancement of the nerves I was already feeling, but I’m pleased to say I was able to keep a lid on it.
Now it was time to perform. Oh, I also forgot to mention that I was up FIRST!
With people tuning in to the live stream from across the UK, the room once filled with the chatter of coffee professionals and enthusiasts fell silent.
“Good morning judges and welcome to an actual sunny Glasgow” - and I was off.
As it turns out, 7 minutes isn't actually that long. But in that time I feel like I delivered my routine in a clear, concise manner with a great pace, which is one of the main things I wanted to achieve.
Now let’s talk about coffee preparation. For my technical assessment I scored well, apart from cutting my milk drink shot off early (due to a muscle memory from all my practice sessions using a slightly different setup with my cups and scales). Because of this there was slightly less espresso in each cup, which then had a knock on effect when I prepared my pre-dosed milk, leading to the cups being under-filled. When it came to sensory perception, the judges didn’t quite have the same experience flavour wise as I had had through my tastings in the run up to the competition. One of the most important aspects of sensory evaluation in competition is that the judges taste experience aligns with what you tell them they are supposed to experience, and unfortunately I fell slightly short on that aspect.
Remember when I said 7 minutes wasn’t actually that long? It’s so easy to lose all concept of time on that stage. When you’re in the zone it’s so difficult to look over at the massive red timer, never mind the world's smallest timer that I’d decided to bring on stage with me. These things combined perfectly to create the situation that I found myself in. Seven seconds on the clock with my second milk drink still in progress. At this point I had to rush, there was no other option, but unfortunately I still finished 4 seconds over time.
Overall it was a fantastic experience and the feedback provided to me will be invaluable in progressing my skills and improving my routines for future competitions. I now feel more capable than ever to take on the challenge of competing again next year. BRING IT ON!