The Barista Road Trip

One of the really good and interesting things about working for Da Matteo Torrefazione, is the opportunity for me to engage in competition, not only for myself but for baristi that we sell coffee to in Stockholm. Joel, proprietor of Kafé Esaias in the heart of Stockholm, has a strong desire to be engaged in the barista competitions. Since he himself has competed before, he knows the benefits of competition, and what it does for your every day performance at the bar. His apprentice, Charl, a young and budding barista at Kafé Esaias, is aiming at a slot in the upcoming Swedish Barista Competition 2012, and together we’ve done some training.

For me, this year is really about trying to understand the basics and mechanics of judging the competition, so when Da Matteo announced they were doing their annual in house competition a couple of weeks back, Joel, Charl and myself jumped at the opportunity to visit Gothenburg and face the competition in reality.

Flying down to Gothenburg saw us experiencing true barista breakfast (triple cheese burger at the airport) and other shenanigans, before hitting the coffee lab at Da Matteo Torrefazione and getting down to business. We spent a vast amount of hours in the lab, going through the presentation, drinking coffee in unbelievable quantities.

In my opinion, Charls key strength is in his technical skill. He’s a natural, but learning from my own experience in competition, you have to fit into the format. It is really exciting, and I think I can speak for Joel here as well, to compete through someone else. You’re building a monster, and hopefully this will show in the finished product. For this competition, Charl was using the Vallgatan blend, that they use at Kafé Esaias, however slightly problematic since the blend was so fresh still, it took us some time to make it work with signature drink properly.

Hours of training, crazy dancing to African tunes, coffee, apple pie and more coffee, we were ready for the night. We went to the hotel and had a sauna, and then out to some crazy event in the suburbs where Joel had some friends, and arriving at midnight again in town the guys called it a night, and I went out for some more fun with my sister in law at a night club in town that has a coffee bar on one of the floors.

The next day saw us back at the lab again (yo!), this time with Joel and Charls old work buddy Robert of Non Solo Bar and Monmouth fame. More coffee, more assessing, more feedback, more of everything really. As the units of Da Matteo were closing down, the in house competitors gathered around to see what the night had in store for them. You could literaly feel the nerves in the air, all baristi awaiting their turn. So to lighten things up, mr Da Matteo himself, had a bit of a surprise for his staff.

Matts Johansson, a long time dedicated coffee person in the World Barista Competitions and new format WCE, has been part of developing the WBC into what it is today. Admitedly though, he has never himself competed in the format, so here was his chance to both amaze his own staff and to try it out himself. Last time he competed was in 1996, in the Swedish Cappuccino Championships (I picture mountains of foam), so I bet there was a bit of a rusty feel getting up on that stage. But what an extraordinary performance. We learnt a lot from it, and had some good laughs! Again, Matts shows what a delight he is to work with!

Charl was up after Matts, since we had a plane to catch. Seeing someone train, and then judge them, it was a really interesting experience being on the other side of that table. I basically knew exactly where Charl was on the money and where he was ad lib, and though I will not reveal any results here, I can still say I am happy to see so much of Charls every day barista and hospitality skill at Kafé Esaias, shining through in his performance.

For me personally though, regardless of how great it was to see Charl compete with Joels and my own input, the main thing for me was stepping up as a judge. Matts calibrated us, and the set up was basically the same as any competition; Camilla, Pernilla, Lina (who had just come back from Barista Camp with Fritz Storm, with great enthusiasm to share) and me did the sensory judging, Christian and Victor were technical and Torkel was head judge. What great insights of the protocol I got from just this small task. I now understand a bit more of what happens when competitors are assessed in the back room. I sure hope I will get the opportunity to pass the national tests this year in order to judge the Barista Competition in Sweden 2012.

So who won?

We’ll see a lot more of this person in 2012, I’m pretty sure! Anyway, it was a great event, and a lot for all of us to take in. In house competition, using the WBC format, is really genius since it offers the perfect training and fostering your staff, both as managers and floor staff. Thanks so much for having us, and I hope that next year will be even more intense!

NP: Whitesnake Young Blood

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