Monday, October 25, 2010
WBC Judges Certification
Welcome to class - suckers!
It's Monday morning in Bogota and I'm slightly stressed.
Today is the first day of certification class for the World Barista Championship (WBC). For those of you unfamiliar, the WBC is the top level of barista competition in the world and two years ago they instituted a Judges Certification Class. Two years ago, I had the credentials to take the class but thought it was stupid and decided against it.
Now, two years later, the certification has generated some value and since I was already going to be in Bogota judging the competition, it made sense to take the class as well.
I'm stressed because even though I've judged national barista competitions on three continents, they've always been at the invitation of the national body hosting the competition and now it's time to put my skills to the test - and I'm worried that I might come up short.
I mean, consider that I lead a team of baristas back home in Baltimore of whom I consider to be some of the finest baristas in the industry today. They work day in and day out, crafting drinks to my standards. What does it say if I am unable to successfully complete a judges certification - after judging competitions for so many years?
Especially since I've recently discovered that you need to know each line of the scoresheets and must complete a blank scoresheet by hand.
For years, I've relied on the English (and sometimes Spanish) language to tell me the scoresheet categories. Now, I'm screwed.
Within a matter of hours, friends and fellow judges are turned into evaluators and candidates. A division forms as the judge candidates gather. It's been a long time since I've been in this position and I'm finding it slightly uncomfortable - mainly because we're not sure what to expect.
Two years ago, the WBC had a 98% failure rate. During the first certification class in Guatemala in 2008, only one person passed: Adriana Hid of Mexico. The test back then was grueling, uncompromising and did nothing to encourage the candidates to pass. In fact, the reports I heard made it sound like it was designed to fail everyone.
Later, the WBC would have to relent on its testing procedure by suddenly declaring many of those who had failed the certification test as "passed" and then "certified" to judge. Probably because with a 98% failure rate, you simply won't have enough "certified judges" to conduct the competition. That would be bad.
Were we to be subjected to the same test, with the same failure rate? No one really knew. And no precedence had been set since this was the first certification class and we were its guinea pigs.
Danilo, Lauro and Ian doing Technical practicals.
The class of candidates was small. Eight in total. Four of us, Lauro Fioretti, Ian Clark, Danilo Lodi and myself, had just come off judging the Colombian Barista Championship, while the other four flew into Bogota from the Ukraine, Mexico, United States and also Bogota. It was a small class, but also a cross section of judges from around the world.
In order to qualify for the class, the individual must have two consecutive years experience judging a national barista competition. Luckily, I've been judging national competitions for the last four years in Ethiopia, Canada, Mexico, Nicaragua and now Colombia. Of the class, I think only Lauro, Danilo, Ian and myself had judged competitions outside their home nation - and I think I'm the only judge NOT to have judged within his home nation. This mainly due to the fact that I'm tired of American coffee politics and also spent the last six seasons as a competitor in the United States Barista Championship.
WBC President Mark Inman works fastidiously on foodservice problems.
After a light breakfast of fruit and oatmeal, we're off to class. The morning is spent in lecture and open discussion about the test, its requirements and what's going to happen during the test. The class will be broken down into three groups that must successfully complete three test sections. Each judge must choose one discipline: Sensory or Technical, as their specialty. However, each judge candidate must successfully complete the entire test in order to pass.
That means that each of us must pass both technical and sensory tests.
This would be achieved in three sections: 1) Practical, 2)Written and 3)Sensory.
The practical section would be somewhat the easiest since it's essentially what we do as judges. A mock competition presentation is staged (this time with former Colombian barista champions, Ever Bernal and Mauricio Romero) and you evaluate and score the presentation as given.
The written section is both a multiple choice and fill in the blanks type of test, including a written test of the scoresheets. Over a hundred answers must be completed. The written also includes a sensory portion where you must identify different characteristics of a brewed coffee presented to you for evaluation.
The sensory section is multi-faceted. First, a series of videos are presented to you where you must identify problems or answers to questions regarding the video performance. The second set of videos present you with snapshots of drinks that you must score appropriately based on visual appeal and texture.
The second part of the sensory section comprises triangulation eliminations. Three samples are presented and you must choose the odd sample of the three. During the open discussion, the samples are widely varied and easy to pick out. During the actual examination, the coffees are much closer together in character and are harder to discern. Those who are familiar with Q Grader Certification will be familiar with this test methodology.
World Barista Champion Stephen Morrisey and Jose Arreola waxing judgement.
Originally, I didn't know what to expect. In some ways, I was expecting the worst. This is the WBC, afterall - I typically don't have high expectations for these kinds of things. However, I thought the class was very good. I found it educational, invigorating, challenging, difficult, tough, enlightening and really quite enjoyable.
Gone is the system designed to fail the candidates. Instead, the open discussion was informative, educational and helped us prepare for the examinations. Attitudes were positive. The test was difficult. It was challenging. There could be no short cuts. You either knew the material when you walked into the class, or you didn't.
Truth be told, I don't know if there's any real way to prepare for the class, other than studying the rules and knowing them thoroughly. Everything else is based on your experience level. Two years consecutive judging experience is a must and is probably the only way to really be prepared for the class. Your sensory skills need to be experienced. You need to be able to discern flavors and coffees. After taking the test, I realize that four years judging experience was probably about right.
And I still thought I could fail the class.