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My first coffee competition: Pt 2

July 26, 2010

This is the second blog post about my first coffee competition – the UKCIC 2010. The focus this time is my performance and lessons for other perspective entrants to competitions. So – what are the top lessons I learnt?

Competition is about communicating something to the judges. The coffee should do that, the physical presentation will do that, but if you don’t talk you’re wasting a valuable communication opportunity.

That said, what you say needs to be appropriate and accurate – details of the coffee and estate, tastes to look for, theory, history, etc. could all be apt. And they need to be said at the right time – whilst the clock is running. It sounds obvious, but I made the mistake of doing a lot of the talking to the emcee afterwards, rather than during the competition – and all of that couldn’t be counted towards my score.

Have a message or story:
You aren’t just being marked on the end product (coffee) – you’re being scored on the experience. That’s just like in a shop, where the customer is paying for the service as much as your coffee (no matter how good the coffee is!). So make sure your performance is just that – a coherent, focused communication of a message or story, in which the coffee is a big part of how that is communicated.

These are barista competitions – every element of the performance should also meet professional standards, including hygiene. Particularly consider any areas that you don’t practise day-to-day – if a speciality drink uses ingredients, do you need tongs to handle them? How will you keep the work space clean? And remember to keep fingers away from the necks of bottles, ingredients, etc. Easy mistakes, but these things will lose you points.

In the Cezve/Ibrik competitions, you can have an assistant. I tried it on my own. That was a mistake – an extra person lets you concentrate on making the coffee and doing what you want to do. If the rules allow for anything like this, which will make it easier or enhance the presentation, take advantage of it.

Finally, and most importantly, practice. Try the routine, to a timer. Make coffee. Do it a lot – for months in advance. When you get there, it needs to be totally familiar – the stress and unfamiliarity are bad enough, without you forgetting what you wanted to say or getting your coffee over-extracted.

All of these areas are things I could have done better, or just straight forwardly did badly. I’ve made these mistakes – so hopefully anyone who is yet to compete will read this and make new mistakes 😉

If there is one final point I want to end this on – have a go at competing. It doesn’t matter if you’re a home barista or do it as a job, it doesn’t matter what kind of competition you compete in – barista, cevze/ibrik, cup tasting, good spirits, aeropress or anything else, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been into coffee, it doesn’t matter even if you’re competitive by nature or not. By competing, you meet other enthusiasts, who are likely to be friendly and share their knowledge. You also appreciate a different side of coffee – coffee as performance – which most of us don’t do day to day, if at all. And you help build a national and international community of people who care about coffee and who enable us to get great coffees on our streets and at home.


From → Ibrik/Cezve

  1. Interesting stuff! I was surprised at first that there was so much to talk to the judges about, but that makes sense; it would be the same if you were serving wine rather than coffee, wouldn’t it? Your blueberry coffee recipe sounds awesome. 😀

    • Thanks! Wine would definitely have similarities – I don’t know if there are equivalent competitions around already? What stands out with the coffee is just the amount of choices for a performer to make – not only do you decide what coffee beans to use, what you want to serve them in, what to say, what to do – but also what ingredients to add, how you want to prepare the coffee etc.

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