Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Burning The Midnight Oil

Crunching the numbers.

Most people think that when they go home it's all over and there's not too much to worry about. It's the night before competition and it's time to scramble, a little. Competitors means conflicts. Some judges can't judge certain competitors for a variety of reasons. Maybe they've worked together, maybe they're friends, maybe they've trained together, maybe they're lovers. Whatever the case, it turns out to be a tricky field to plow matching judges to competitors without overworking some judges or creating conflicts elsewhere.

I'm just glad that I don't have to do the actual juggling and retire to bed...

The list of competitors.

Greeting Baristas

Brent eats.

It's the night before the competition begins and we've found ourselves whisked into the Usaquen neighborhood where the barista welcome party is being held and we're the guests of honor. Luckily, since I'm just a plain old judge and not a head judge, like Jose, Scott and Brent, I'm not required to speak. Myself, Ian and Danilo can simply eat and drink our way through the evening.

And what an evening it was. Of speeches. Of congratulations. Of well-wishes, and of the drawing of competitors. Each competitor is given the opportunity to speak briefly and pull their number out of the bag. One through forty-three, the numbers are drawn. Some are happy, some are scared. It seems like a fun way to meet everyone, see the competition and choose your place in the order.

The baristas.

The difficult part is that we're judges. This means we have to be impartial. We cannot seem to have favorites. As such, we're really limited in our interaction with the competitors. We can't sit down and drink with them or get to know them. It truly is the downside of judging.

Instead, we drink at the bar, listen to the speeches, or hang out with the girls outside.

Ian and nachos.

Training Amy

Judge candidates listen intently on how to score the espresso.

Training baristas is a long and arduous process. Training judges is almost the same, except you only have two days to do it. The days are long and intensive. The first day was difficult mainly because I stepped off the plane at 5am and then walked into the training center at 10am - with no sleep in-between and almost no sleep on the flight.

But by the second day and practical exercises, I was basically rested and ready to assume my role as arbiter of all good things espresso: pulling shots and making drinks. Drinks that would be torn apart and critiqued without mercy. Drinks that were designed to be bad. Drinks that tried to be good.

Brent explains the finer points on taking apart my drinks.

The judges are a good lot. But it's interesting to find how local tastes sway the scores. Some of them want to go heavy on the penalization and it's difficult because you try to train them not to play the "bad cop" or "toughest judge" role. It's natural because everyone wants to show that they have some knowledge and standard so the first-time judge seems naturally disposed to being "tougher."

As the day progresses, all I can think is that I'm glad some of them weren't my USBC judges - they're tough!

RFTW - Ready For The World (barista championship)

These two ladies came by, asked for cappuccinos and got their wish!