Saturday, November 15, 2008

Nicaragua: Semi-Finals and Cupping Comp

Judges Vanessa, Castalia and Alirio.

It's another morning in Managua and after another hotel buffet breakfast our little crew is back in the HiAce van towards the Galeria Santo Domingo.

Day Two of the Campeonato de Baristas means another eleven competitors fighting for six spots in the finals. As with anything here in Managua, things get off to a later than expected start but once we're rolling, things move rather smoothly.

Salome prepares under the lights.

Quite simply, the experience, knowledge and competition savvy of the Nicaraguan competitors is about four years behind that of the United States. Yet another day filled with stemmed glassware, vanilla ice cream, ice, blenders and all sorts of flavored syrups in what we would consider to be very large servings.

Amongst some competitors, we seem to be seeing the same serviceware. I can't count how many times I've seen those stackable foodservice espresso and cappuccino cups these past two days, but they seem everywhere.

Getting Serious: Tech Judges Juan Carlos and Erika, Head Judge Cleofas, Sensory Judges Vanessa, Julio, Rouki and Frank.

What it means is that the competitors are sharing amongst themselves - evidently, some are "sharing" more than others when, allegedly, a fight broke out in the competitors room when one competitor wanted others to "share" their cups a bit more than they knew they were sharing.

One of the disconnects I experience as a judge is the disconnect from the baristas. For baristas, competition is an opportunity to learn more about the craft, meet new friends and spend time with old ones. The very nature of judging means that you're sequestered separately from the competitors and it's that camaraderie of craft that I think is missing when you're a judge.

Giving her all during the preliminary round.

Meanwhile, we're chopping away through the competitors, tasting drinks, evaluating technique and trying to quantify it all in a manner that can help the barista competitor prepare for either the World Barista Championship or next years' championship.

For me, I want to impart as many thoughts as possible and I'm cramming as much as I can into the limited space on the scoresheets with the hope that I can sit down with the competitors and go over their scoresheets to review, consider and prepare for the next round.

Taking a moment to consider the scores.

Sadly, the reality is that competitors are typically too disappointed that they didn't make the cut to take the time to review the scoresheets. I understand. You've just been cut, the wound is still fresh and it's tough to look at what you've done wrong, much less absorb it and consider the next competition, which is about a year away.

Cleofas and the six finalists: Diedrich, Rebeca, Salome, Alberto, Lesther and Miguel Angel.

Back to the competition space and it's time for the Finals Announcements. The Finalists are (in the order of performance tomorrow):

- Rebeca Ramos
- Alberto Mayorga
- Lesther Balladares
- Miguel Angel Zamurio
- Salome Corea
- Diedrich Moreno

Cupping Championship

As the competitors head off to prepare for tomorrow, Brent, Rouki and myself venture over the cupping competition and give it a try. For the competition, they're using the Cup of Excellence form - which I don't understand. After getting a quick and dirty lesson in CoE Cupping from Rouki, we're off.

Quite frankly, cupping competitions are downright frightening. There are twenty-one coffees to cup and identify. The competitors are flying through the samples and I'm struggling. I'm stressed. You have to write down the details of the sample, then smell, taste and whatever else is necessary while marking the score sheet and moving along at the proper pace. I'm freaked, and sweating my ass off. I'm starting to crack.

The competition starts off with one sample of each coffee. Each competitor will smell and taste the coffees and make notes regarding. Then, all of the coffees are cleared away and three samples of each are set and the coffees are cupped blind. The competitor to accurately identify all of the coffees wins. Since we're just interlopers, I jump out of the way because I can't keep up with the pace -it's relentless.

With Rouki, Castalia, Brent, Alirio and Martha.

To top it all off, a crowd has gathered and the television camera lighting is like a roaring fire on my head and I'm covered in sweat - both from the lights and the stress of my cupping inadequacies.

It's getting late and we're hungry, so we decide to ditch the competition, gather our friends, head to the hotel to change and then off to dinner.

Christmas has arrived at Galerias Santo Domingo.

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