My UKBC experiance 2010

10 Mar

So, I find myself appologising for an outage of service, again. This particular outage was in part caused by the annual distraction that is the UKBC (UK Barista Championship).

My entry this year was decided from the moment I finished my presentation at last years semi-finals. In the short few months preparing for the competition I had improved as a barista noticably and my focus and zeal for what I do had been energised beyond description. I focused from the moment I returned to be pushing myself to improve at every oppertunity and had set acheivements I wanted to accomplish in UKBC 2010.

These goals were postponed for a further 12 months after getting disqualified for going nearly 2 minutes over time. I have taken lessons from this and know where I made mistakes for next years performance. However my immediate instinct when I learned my time and realised that I had reached the end of my years competition early was that I wanted to get on stage again, feel those nerves and do the performance I wanted to jump up there and do it again.

A great frustration has been within me since this. Last year the 10 months between the 09 semis and the 2010 heats didn’t seem like such a gulf. Last year I was satisifed in my exposure and my performance. This year I’ve a list of things I wanted to do differently and things I wanted to do and failed to. Of course I have taken as much as I can from my performance score sheets but I feel a single snapshot is a poor reference to build from.

All this leads to, or stems from perhaps, the fact that a barista competition is a once a year event. A huge commendation to James and Anette at Square Mile Coffee for the monthly UBF which is a great amount of fun and a great way to get used to performing infront of people. It provides a great way to get used to pouring under pressure as it were. But there there are immutable differences and this is by no means a criticism of the UBF. They are afterall different animals.

Is there a true solution? I understand that the logistics of setting up the BC heats are huge and require a great deal of coordination between sponsers, judges, hosts, and competitors but I would like to see a ‘friendlies’ version of the competition, I.e follows the concept of the traditional competition but just done to keep baristas sharp and bring together ideas and community outside of Londons network of specialist shops/roasters/carts.

And while I’m on the subject of the concept of the competition I have a gripe with the idea of the signature drink. I do understand the reasoning behind the round. For an ‘outsider’ (which is who the BC is aimed at interesting) it is the most interesting part of the competition. But spectacle covers the fact that the best Signature beverage will rarely be as interesting as a truely amazing espresso. The competition is supposedly emulating the enviroment in a shop and thr judges are your customer… how often do you see tobacco infused cream with chocolate ganache used in a coffee shop?

Wouldn’t the third round be better used to show a different brewing method? Wouldn’t it be more interesting for, rather than the audience but the barista and judges,to have a chemex brewing or an aeropress or an EVA solo and just see what different people bring to he table to show off their coffees?

Back on topic…outside of the scope of the SCAE UK why don’t more people do barista jams or something of the ilk where people throw down skills or just hang out and play with shots or sig drinks or hell ANYTHING?!?! sorry to gesticulated with my grammer but this frustrates me no end.

In living within a reasonably close distance to London and having my own car I can go down for SqM events and atleast have contact with a UK coffee scene and the Internet allows me to chat with people on TMC and other forums. But despite this living outside London and working in a shop where the espresso is nothing I would rate (or drink) and having no local coffee shop I can visit on my day off makes it feel slightly like I am alone for the most part in my passion for coffee. This may sound like a slight digression from my post but it does have a point relating to it.

Looking at the semi finalists for the UKBC leaves a list of (by my count) 8 of the 20 semifinalists from London. This community which drives itself and pushes itself speaks for it’s strength in this statistic alone. London is a unique creature in not only it’s concentration of coffee shops but also the atmosphere and attitude, is the community a result of this? Can communities like this build up in other areas? Should I convince the wife to move to London so I can go to a coffee shop on my day off? Is there another community like this in the UK that I’m missing?

…Is anyone out there?

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7 Responses to “My UKBC experiance 2010”

  1. Steve 11 March, 2010 at 10:54 am #

    Nice post pal, good to see you back on the blogging horse.

    Not sure competition is ever meant to represent what happens in a shop, this is maybe the biggest failing of it. Its aim is to offer the 5 star service with a chance to show off (or peacock if you will) your skills as a barista.

    I think we all agree a brewed coffee round would make far more sense instead of the signature beverage, or even allowing the expression of brewed coffee against espresso all the time, but I don’t see it changing any time soon.

    The community part I think has inspired me to blog post 🙂

    • awlred 11 March, 2010 at 11:04 am #

      Thanks mate, been trying to blog for a while I’ve got my iPhone full of half-posts. The lack of out-of-London community is frustrating beyond measure.

  2. Glenn 24 March, 2010 at 10:02 pm #

    The lack of ‘out of London’ community is indeed frustrating. There are a number of industry bodies that seem to cater to the wholesale market (or business owner) but don’t really pay much attention to the barista.

    There is no profit in preparing and holding throwdowns (not an excuse, just a cold reality) and this probably puts people off developing their skills/talents and ironically, profits!

    If there was more of a community (even a town v town type of regional comp) this should bring people together.

    What are business owners scared of… Competition?

  3. Stephen Leighton 24 March, 2010 at 11:33 pm #

    I think your wrong here Glenn I think the barista gets more love and more opportunity than anyone else in the coffee chain.v

    I thin kits up to baristas not the shop owners to organize themselves, as they will be the ones who benefit.

    I love that Alex is mobilizing this, and if there is anything to do to help I’d love to. Maybe sponsor the coffee of the venue or something like that too help, maybe just come and do a cupping?

    • awlred 25 March, 2010 at 7:41 am #

      Thank you Steve, I’ll keep that in mind ;-).

      I don’t beleive anyone is specifically to blame, owners often seether shops as competition and the difference for the London shops is they’re not on each others doorsteps. Gwilym’s cards work well in London because it’s so big. People have their local/regular shop and but may visit other ones when they’re shopping, having a day out visiting someone etc. and complete these cards.

      In smaller towns other shops are competition, but competition can be good, it forces you to push for the absolute best. Using competition in this manner should be embraced. Treating competing shops as the enemy is the wrong way to do it.

      As for baristas, yes there is a lot if help out there but it has to be asked for. I think most don’t realise the support that would be given if they did so and lack the contact book required to organise a proper jam.

      I don’t the we can expect suppliers to organise jams because they spend a lot to do so, not only in direct stock costs but also through time spent getting everything coordinated. On top of this, baristi rarely have buying power so they may get a few single sales but very few long term supplier roles.

      I think this needs to be led from the ground, as it were, and have the people that want the jams to happen to do so. I will be pushing for one as soon as I get enough people together who care about the coffee and want to have some fun.

      • Mike Haggerton (@HaggieBarista) 7 September, 2011 at 7:09 am #

        Hi Alex, just came upon this old post whilst looking for info on signature drinks for the UKBC. Soz to resurrect it 🙂 But being in Scotland I think it would be fantastic to hold more barista events. How have you got on with this since you posted it in 2010?

        Where I am, the biggest obstacle I foresee is not enough people attending due to the travel involved. London has a lot of advantages in that regard, since everyone is used to hauling themselves across the tube network, and everywhere is open late. Other cities are a bit more of a challenge, and villages in the highlands… pffft! But it’s certainly my intention to push for a stronger barista culture up here in Scotland and more interaction amongst shops and roasters. I have definitely found some of the baristas up here to be quite protectionist when speaking to other baristas, as if they don’t want to share any knowledge incase it weakens their shop’s competitive position – even when there’s clearly no geographical proximity between the two baristas (one in Glasgow, one in…say…Edinburgh).

        But my view is that if even only a handful of enthusiastic guys make it to a six-monthly event, that’s a massive plus, and if we (organisers) could promote the event well then more baristas would follow suit. It would give staff in cafes across Scotland, with access to good equipment but lacking training, motivation to learn more barista skills, which has to be good for the coffee industry in provincial areas.

      • Alex Redgate 7 September, 2011 at 7:33 am #

        It usually only takes a few people to start a community. That’s what happened in London, a few people organised a little monthly tasting event and within no time it was selling out immediately.

        London does have great logistical advantages over not just Scotland but virtually every other region, city or town in the country. I think the protectionist attitudes you speak about are instinctual and the easiest way to break them down is to completely open about your practices, if you show you’re willing to share most people will share back. Also, when baristas talk in London the majority of them know each other or know their respective coffee shops so it’s an inherent sense of trust between them, and if someone copies your technique then it’s more a case of flattery than forgery.

        As for events themselves, don’t rely on the SCAE to do the work for you (not implying that you are but just saying) the logistics that would be entailed for them to run an event in London, never mind Scotland, would be difficult. At the risk of being construed a hipster, latte-art throwdowns are a great place to bring baristas together and get discussion going about everything else. Your last sentence hits the nail on the head as to how we get more baristas engrained into the speciality coffee culture and push the quality of coffee in Scotland even higher. If you start any events let me know and I’ll post info to it and RT it etc.

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