The UK Barista Championship is a competition held once a year by the SCA (Speciality Coffee Association). It is seen as the top level coffee competition out of the 6 the SCA organise. From a personal point of view it's something I've been interested in for a few years. Watching the finals gives you great insight into the industry, and you get to see the best coffee professionals do their thing and look on in awe as they push the boundaries year in year out. We finally took the plunge this year and entered.
The first port of call was to find a coffee we could take to the stage. We needed something interesting, suitable for espresso and most of all, something delicious. My first choice was a coffee we had tried at the Manchester coffee festival through one of our sourcing partners,Ensambles; A honey processed Geisha from El Equimete in Mexico. This ticked all the boxes. Suitable for espresso, yes. Delicious, big time. Interesting, very much so.
This coffee was produced on a biodynamic farm.Biodynamic farming is like organic farming taken to a whole new level. Everything the farm needs to operate is made or grown at the farm itself. This stops the need for shipping in fertilisers and pesticides. To give you a picture of what that’s like, imagine a carefully planned forest rather than the farms we’re familiar with here. The coffee grows alongside other crops and animal life. To achieve this takes an immense knowledge of natural cycles and a highly scientific approach. The quality of coffee pays testament to this amount of effort and care.
With our coffee secured and en route, we started planning for the day itself. Being a company of competition newbies, we thought it best to sit down and read through the rules and score sheets, so as not to make any glaring errors and end up being disqualified. It turns out, this was a good idea! Beginning to feel a little out of our depth, we reached out for help. At this point I realised just how special this industry is, as the amount of support we received was honestly astonishing! I feel so lucky to be a part of this community.
As the big day loomed ever closer we gathered all the necessary equipment and built a routine around the coffee. We practised and practised and practised. In what seemed like an instant, I was sitting in my car with coach Ben at 6am on a chilly Thursday morning, heading to Manchester to compete.
Our 20 minute prep time was called and we entered the practice room. We unpacked our gear and polished everything until it was our turn to dial in. This is where I encountered the first major mistake that I had made. In our final preparation session, I decided not to take the grinder we’d been using to practice and instead chose to use one provided by the grinder sponsor. In hindsight, this was obviously a terrible decision. It took us almost 15 minutes of struggling with the unfamiliar grinder to even get to our starting recipe. This then had the knock on effect of not being able to rehearse preparing the milk beverage. But mostly, I felt that I hadn't got the coffee tasting as good as it could have. With this in mind, I took to the stage and proceeded to forget everything I had planned to say. Long story short, I flapped it and ended up losing a hefty amount of points for going over the time limit. Not ideal.
Would I do it again? Absolutely! Although things didn't go to plan, I’ve walked away as a better barista for it. Being objectively marked and compared to others in the industry was daunting but has given me massive insight into how to improve. I also had the opportunity to meet so many inspiring professionals and fly the flag for our company. I’m incredibly privileged to have the support of an amazing team at Crosby Coffee and access to the resources needed to do these competitions. This whole experience took me way out of my comfort zone and I can't wait to do it all again next year!
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