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Champions Of Coffee

“I want to be a barista when I grow up.”

I’d hazard a guess that you’re not likely to hear little Johnny or Mary coming out with that one too often.

The tools of the barista's trade

The tools of the barista's trade

Yet it was the wish expressed by Flavio Urizzi, export sales manager with espresso machine manufacturer CMA SpA and one of the technical judges at last week’s Irish Barista Championships, that being a barista would be seen, not as a job on the way to another career, but as a worthy profession in and of itself. His was a vision of people retiring at 60, saying I was a barista and proud of it. And why should they not? Good baristas have a lot to be proud of. Anybody watching the championship finalists in action last Thursday could have seen that.

Irish Barista Championships 2010

The carefully judged Irish Barista Championships 2010 and (bottom right) the 3,2,1 of Irish baristas:
David Walsh, Victoria Fitzhenry and Colin Harmon

With 15 minutes apiece to prepare and present four espressos, four cappuccinos and four of their own signature beverages, all carefully scrutinised by a panel of technical and sensory judges, the finalists displayed skill, knowledge and craftsmanship in spades. More than that, though, there was a clear awareness of the fact that a good barista stands squarely on the shoulders of the farmers and roasters responsible for producing their chosen coffee beans.

It was brought home to me in no small measure that these folks are not alone champions in the sense of being judged finalists and winners but, more importantly, they are champions of the cause of both good coffee and good coffee producers. None more so than Colin Harmon of 3FE, who brought home the Irish barista crown once again and will go on to represent Ireland at the World Barista Championships in London in June.

Colin Harmon

Colin Harmon, Irish Barista Champion:
Go to 3FE and have this man make you a coffee

No stranger to that particular competition is Gwilyn Davies, the reigning world barista champion, who was in Dublin for last week’s proceedings, serving up coffee and no small amount of coffee knowledge. While championships are all about espresso, he says that what most baristas drink at home is filter coffee, and (as I had learned previously from Karl Purdy of Coffee Angel) there is a real desire to educate people on how to do filter coffee well.

Helping to lead the charge is Paul Stack of Marco Beverage Systems, one of the MCs at the event. He is the programme leader for the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE) Gold Cup, which aims to improve the standard of filter coffee in Europe, and is the driving force behind Marco’s Über Boiler – a water delivery system which allows precise control by the barista of water temperature and volume for brewing. The new über machinery was on show at the event and the Brew Haha competition running alongside was open to anyone who wanted to try their hand at a precision filter brew.

Dale Harris gets to grips with the Über Boiler

Dale Harris, UK barista championship runner-up, mans the Über Boiler

It was a privilege to watch assorted champion baristas get to grips with an über filter brew. There was genuine interest on their part in a tool that can enable them to experiment with different brewing parameters and pinpoint what works and why each time. Champions or not, there was a ready acknowledgment of the fact that that there is always a better coffee to be brewed. It sounds like a worthy lifelong pursuit to me.

15 Comments

  1. Sophie

    Very interesting!!
    I don’t think this is easy to do correctly!! It is an art apart!

    Lovely shots!

  2. Stephen Leighton

    Nice piece some lovely photos too

  3. Caroline@Bibliocook

    For me, one of the most exciting things about working in Urru was getting to grips with the coffee machine. It took me ages to figure out how to create the perfect foam for a cappuccino – lots of practice cups, pestering my Polish workmate for tips and looking at baristas online helped!

  4. Daily Spud

    Sophie: it is indeed an art apart – I have a new found appreciation for people who can do it well!

    Stephen: thanks Steve and it was lovely to meet you there – there was so much for me to take in at the event, I think this only scratches the surface

    Caroline: I can well imagine! I have a great respect for the amount of effort that goes into producing consistently good coffees.

  5. Lori

    Such a great topic. I had barista duties at a bakery I once worked for and it is hard work, and we weren’t busy at all. I really enjoyed it and I marvel at the people behind the counter at busy shops offering up tasty coffees so quickly!

    There are so many components to do the job well, what an experience to be surrounded by some of the best. I have a lot to learn about the profession and skills involved. Sounds like a very interesting and fun event.

  6. Phyllis

    Sounds like a fun event! I’m always very impressed when I watch baristas do their thing, I can’t even operate my coffeemaker at home without my husband’s assistance!

  7. Tangled Noodle

    Oh, how I’d love to have been a judge for this competition, just for a small sip of each of the top entries for espresso, cappuccinos and special bevs! The hubs and I visited a local roastery where we learned so much about the different brewing methods. Ah, the wonderful world of coffee!

  8. Jenni

    I think that all of those automatic espresso machines have dumbed down the art, but a real barista making a real cup of espresso or cappuccino “by hand” is a beautiful thing.

    Again, I am jealous of you a little bit:)

  9. OysterCulture

    What a wonderful event, as much as I love coffee I might be too wired to be effective in those circumstances. Sounds like a great time!

  10. Chef E

    Oh, coffee…how I love thee
    thy smell rises memory
    commercials- like visions
    plastic lid, metal containment
    of my fathers garage lined walls
    holding screws, nuts, and bolts
    your black gold restored
    each morning of my childhood
    you perked…now you sputter
    often hot milk breaths
    new life into your already
    cheeky finish- cafe noise
    sleep, beans, sleep
    rising like Christ- rolling
    away walls, barriers that
    cannot hold your flavor, a
    forever reminder- you are king
    morning obsession- sleepy companion
    speak, beans, speak
    metal alters await
    no instant gratification
    ever is found…

    Six AM, and no coffee in my life- we divorced sadly, in my early 20’s due to my realizing a love-hate relationship with my body chemistry- but I still adore the smell, and now and then slip a shot into my hot chocolate to slip into my own memory coma- letting down my guard…

  11. sippitysup

    You go to the coolest stuff! GREG

  12. Kitchen Butterfly

    When I first read and you mentioned barista, I assumed it was something to do with making cocktails…till I read espresso and the like and now……..I’m thinking it is the art of bevarage making. Hmmm. You learn daily!

  13. Daily Spud

    Lori: definitely a fun and interesting event and there is a huge amount to learn, it’s a fascinating topic

    Phyllis: I’m not so expert at it myself either, lol – am learning, though!

    Tangled Noodle: I only got to taste a couple of the competition entries. I figured out late in the day that the place to stand was to the left of the stage, where you could grab the leftovers from judging as they were cleared away – good stuff!

    Jenni: you know, I sometimes have to pinch myself when I find myself at things like this – not something I’d even have imagined doing a couple of years ago

    OysterCulture: there would, of course, be a danger of coffee overload at such an event – somehow, I managed to keep my intake reasonably in check, which was impressive under the circumstances!

    Chef E: ah, the stuff of poetry indeed – coffee truly has an effect that can linger for a long time…

    sippitysup: trust me, it surprises even me sometimes the places I end up!

    Kitchen Butterfly: oh, absolutely, there is new stuff to learn every day

  14. The Nervous Cook

    As a day-job coffee professional (I train baristas and do wholesale-customer support for a coffee roaster), I have to say that this is one of the finest posts about the specialty-coffee industry and about barista competitions that I’ve read in a while.

    Thank you for taking us and our craft so seriously!

  15. Daily Spud

    Dear Nervous Cook, thank you most kindly for your words. I have a new found appreciation for baristas and their craft and I’m very glad that came through here.

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