Monday, November 22, 2010

Understanding "3.5"

The Uganda Coffee Development Authority Worldwide Headquarters.

It's Day One of barista training in preparation for the 4th Annual Ugandan Barista Championship. Twenty-two baristas have advanced from the early elimination rounds to go to championships this weekend. The task for the next two days is to spend a little time with the baristas and answer any question they may have regarding competition. Some have competed before but many are making their first foray into the competition.

As a competitor, one of the hardest aspects of competition was understanding what constituted a "3" or a "5" or any of the scores. I mean, what exactly is a "5" espresso? I don't know. I don't know if anyone really knows. In four years of judging national barista championships, I've never even seen a "5" espresso.

Ugandan coffee trees. Almost harvest.

Which is why I don't understand why the World Barista Championship is reluctant to release that nice espresso cappuccino visual guide to the general public. Let it out, I say. Let it out so that people/competitors/judges worldwide can have a common understood language, because your "3.5" may very well be that persons "2.5" and without common reference, it becomes very difficult to make sure everyone is on the same page.

The morning started with an open discussion about the scoresheets, its parameters and their meanings. Break it down, strategize and really figure out whether or not those two points for Immediate Insert and Brew are worth sacrificing for something else. We focused on time strategies and when to just throw it all in and stop. We discussed ideal ways to maximize those 0-6 point sections and which sections used the x4 factor.

I even let it out of the bag that even the World Champions themselves don't get all perfect scores. That it is possible to make it into the finals after going overtime, or that you can win the World Barista Championship with Espresso Scores of 3.5. Then we drilled on identifying and scoring visual aspects of espressos and cappuccinos.

Baristas listening intently to my Science.

After lunch, we watched videos from the 2007 World Barista Championship and discussed the differences in the rules between then and now. From the relaxed and confident presentation of James Hoffman, to the experimental sig drink of Carl Sara, to the sharp and ruthless execution of Heather Perry. Like her or not, the best lessons to learn from watching Heather Perry is her ruthless drive to extract as many points out of the scoresheets as possible. Everything is presented just enough to hit those point factors.

From there we moved on to practical work. The baristas went to work on the SAB Espresso Machines and we spent the rest of the afternoon tasting, scoring and judging the drinks.

All in all, a good day of working with the baristas. The training workshop continues tomorrow at 9:30am.

Watching Hoffman make his 2007 moves.

Hands on practicals.

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