Monthly Archives: March 2012

On the Lake Geneva shoreline

Straight after the Gothenburg Regional competition, I went back to Stockholm for some hours of sleep, then off again to the airport to catch a flight to Geneva, Switzerland, where Team Da Matteo were making coffee at Volvos’s stand at the International Car Fair for the press. Six eager baristi, divided on two sides of the stand with a bar each to attend to.

The Annual Car Salon in Geneva 2012

Although you can read up on Geneva here, we didn’t get to see much of it. Arriving rather late at night, at the hotel, then straight out for dinner with the crew. Unfortunately Linn, my fellow vegetarian participant, was ill, so she couldn’t come. Majority vote saw us end up at a, what I think is, a rather staple Swiss restaurant. Nice, cosy with an aura of cheese fondue that you could cut through with a cheese knife. Geneva was a bit of a contrast. This restaurant was situated in an area best described as “the old town”, with an ambience that was almost Barcelona-like. Lovely! But the hotel was at the main train station, and the surroundings there were more derelict and contemporary.

our side of the Volvo stand

We went to bed around 11pm, and woke up again at 5.30am. Breakfast 6.30, bus to the Exhibition hall at 6.50, arriving at 7.15, started pumping out coffees on a massive scale at 7.30. This two group La Marzocco, together with a three group on the other side, saw us dose, grind and extract 54 kg’s of coffee in two days. Unfortunately, Linn was so ill she had to go back to the hotel, so on our side only me and Evelina worked, while the other side had three baristi (Jocke, Jannike and Pernilla).

It wasn’t the ultimate service, since we were also serving cookies, water and making sure only the press (and not competitor exhibitors with inferior coffee on their stand) were served. But we managed, and soon we had a massive line and regular visitors.

L-R; Jocke, Pernilla, Lina and half of Jannike

The purpose with this fair for Volvo was to exhibit the latest V40 edition. Now, I don’t know anything about cars, but lucky us there was a press conference on the first day which allowed us to have lunch and a bit of a look around at the place. Cars everywhere, various life style segments and approaches displayed, which was far more interesting than the cars themselves. The Italians with their models, pouting their lips and sending air kisses to anyone with a camera, the British with their stylish and gentlemanish approach, and so forth.

Magasinsgatan on display

For this event we worked with the Magasinsgatan espressoblend, which is fruity and cuts through milk very well. For what I assume was 6oz glasses, we used single shots with milk, and doubles for espresso which was more than enough for the press to rave about the smooth taste. The narrowness of the glasses didn’t let me develop my latte art skills beyond the token heart though, but on the other hand, I think out of all those coffees I served, no more than 10 lattes were served without a heart, which was good enough for me at this stage.

One thing I wasn’t ready for though, was the massive use of sugar. The lattes were very sweet and balanced, but without even tasting it, people were pouring 2-3 sugars in it. Same went, obviously, with the expresso (yes, the French calls it expresso, but they weren’t alone…) Since this was a fair and about feel good environment for a customer, I didn’t question this but just took note of this bizarre behavior. Funny enough, very few Swedes added sugar at all. A couple of times, I was asked to just let the shot run forever, which I actually refused to do with an explanation. They often said they would have to come back for seconds then.. go figure?

Another cultural difference was the length of espresso. Pernilla was yelled at because her espresso wasn’t long enough (they wanted it to be ridiculously long) and called it a ristretto (guess what nationality “knew their espresso”?). A regular at Printa in Budapest was one of our regulars, showing up for Flat Whites which was interesting (since we served them in glasses) since the big chain in Sweden, Espresso House, just introduced the Flat White on their menu and was one of the recently discussed topics within the community.

tamp like a champ

It may come across as if I didn’t like this, but truthfully I had a blast! Once you get into that flow of just pushing shots across, steaming that milk, pouring those lattes again and again and again, it’s a kind of meditative state you enter which is actually relaxing and a (false) sense of control. False because anything can in theory happen. Glasses break, you run out of milk… etc.

The people working for and with Volvo and Da Matteo were completely professional and super nice. From a cultural aspect, the encounter with the European coffee drinker is actually a valuable lesson. But also one that is promising for the future of coffee in Europe! I am already looking forward to next event!

NP: Deep Purple Smoke on the Water

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The Apple of my eye

Since my former blog will go to waste, I still didn’t want to get rid of all my travel pics. So I will get some transfered from there to here, but more in a gallery form.

Basically, the family went to New York last August/September (2011) to celebrate my mother-in-laws 60th Birthday. As if I could help myself, I had alterior motives for the trip, to experience some of the renowned coffee action of New York first handedly. We stayed on 95th Ave in a beautiful apartment, and the closest coffee haunt from there was Joe. Awaken really early from the jet lag, I decided to drag the rest of the family down to explore the area. Needless to say, I ducked into Joe’s for a couple of coffees. I really liked the place, and for being a chain (coffee roasted by Ecco) it has really really high standards!

Later that day saw the whole family escape the heat for an iced coffee at Grumpy’s in Chelsea. The espresso I had, taste wise, wasn’t the most thrilling I’ve ever had in my life, but the texture of the coffee certainly was. From what I’ve heard, they are using a reversed osmosis system for their water system. Anyway, the texture of that espresso was mind blowing, never thought it would make such difference to a single experience of coffee! I also sampled their ice coffee, but after about half of it, I had a brain freeze. To be truthful, ice coffee will probably never be my thing.

Another place that was on the list, was Stumptown Coffee at the ACE Hotel. Again, I experienced something out of the ordinary, this time in the espresso with a heavy lean towards a pleasant bitterness (balanced though, but just towards the bitterness in a way I’ve never experienced before). The whole ambience at ACE is incredible, especially since you can sit down in the hotel lobby and have your coffee, or a coctail from the neighbouring bar.

One day, I hooked up with Aaron Frey of FRSHGRND blog, who I met earlier in Stockholm and who’s been a Swedish resident for a year down south in Malmö. Our first stop was RBC NYC, where they have several roasters represented for your ultimate pleasure. Sort of regretting not having an espresso from their Slayer, but we had a couple of coffees made from Woodnecks that were great (one Coava, one Handsome. I had the Honduras from Coava).

A couple of blocks away from RBC NYC, we walked past a line to a La Colombe outlet. Curiosity took the best of us, and we actually lined up for what was one of the worst espresso experiences not only of this trip, but of 2011. Interesting though what makes people line up for this kind of coffee. Is it the hype? Is there a hype even? Very weird…

Next stop for me and Aaron was Vandaag where Alex, who now works for Joe, was pouring coffee either as V60 or as espresso. There was coffee roasted by Ecco, and coffee roasted by The Coffee Collective. The place itself is very slick, very minimalistic in typical Scandinavian/Dutch style, though a hint of American diner thrown into the equation. Had a great brunch here, and we later returned with our spouses for a beer degustation as well.

We also had wine and cheese platter at Eataly, as well as coffee at Stumptown again, and a revisit to Third Rail which I had been to in the morning, and where Aaron spotted the 2011 Danish Barista Champion while we were distracted by some rock star who kept on talking about his amazing gig in Vegas.

I had a couple of more experiences, as I went to Sweet Leaf in Long Island City (great guys) and was invited back to a cupping with none other than Scott Rao later that afternoon, something I unfortunately missed out on. I also went to El Beit in Williamsburg where I had a great espresso! Last but not least, was my morning coffee from Joe’s on my last day on 95th, as I had a take away and sat down in Central Park watching the joggers and the sun come up over Harlem.

Our last night, we didn’t have a hotel. I had initially planned to just walk the streets all night, but I soon realized this will not be a good way to spend a night in NYC. Fortunately, my sister in law, who works as a barista at Da Matteo in Gothenburg, was in touch with a regular of hers who lived in Gothenburg but now had moved back to Williamsburg. She invited us to stay the night, and so we did! She took us out to a beer garden, where I met up with an old friend who now works as a fashion photographer, then off to the city for various adventures! A big thanks to Kamni who took us in!

What certainly impressed me most with NY-coffee, was that the quality was high and very consistent, which is something that comes from working at a high speed and with large volumes. I went to a couple of the places and had similar experiences each time, which to me is a very good grade to give! I missed out on a few places, as well as didn’t spend enough time in some other places, however the experience made me feel I certainly need to go back again and again! Love it!

NP: Shelter Message of the Bhagavad 

(Actually, walking back to Vandaag later in the afternoon, we discovered that it was very close to the first Hare Krishna temple in NYC. By coincidence, I recognized Porcell from Youth of Today/Shelter walking past me in the street. Best celeb spotting ever!)

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Judging the Regional Barista Competitions in Sweden

Valentines Day, 14 of February 2012, saw me judging my first competition here in Sweden, which was a really exciting experience. Since the first Regional already had happened in Malmö, and there were apparently not enough sensory judges there to fill a whole panel, we had to judge all the competitions the same way: each judge had to taste two of the competitors four drinks.

Karlstad, a city I’ve been in less than three times as an adult, and always during a blizzard for some reason, was the stage for this Regional where I together with local judge Anna Nordström (for local organizers Löfbergs Lila), Erik Rosendahl of Stockholms Drop Coffee and head judge Emil Eriksson from J&N in Malmö were doing the sensory evaluation of eight competitors this day. Technical was Dan Magnus Wingård and Matte Carlsson.

photo by Ida Hedqvist

On this day, the Regional was, as mentioned before, organized by local roasters Löfbergs Lila, probably Swedens largest still family owned roaster, in their fairly new opened café Rosteriet (“The Roastery”) in the same building as the actual factory (of which we were given a guided tour). As the saying goes in the Highlander films; there can be only one, and after a long and tough day of coffee drinking barista Johan Morén from Stockholm was crowned winner of this Regional, using a natural Ethiopian from Shakiso that he later told me was used as a reaction to what he had experienced during his studies in Canada, where the naturals basically were non-existant in the shops.

photo by Ida Hedqvist

Tuesday the 21 of February, it was time for the third Regional. This time organized by Kaffeknappen, on a venue that slightly reminded me of those cruise ships to Finland. Again, an interesting field of competitors had risen up to the challenge and I was lucky to judge four out of ten together with Peter Frenhoff of Love Coffee, Emil Eriksson again, and his collegues Jonas Hult and Rebecca Thurfjell of J&N, with their boss Johan Damgaard as the head judge. And again, Matte and Dan Magnus did a great job doing the tech judging.

For this competition, the competitors basically served the judges from across the counter, like a true bar experience basically, which was interesting but maybe not optimal from a judges perspective. I hate to be picky, but the lightning also sometimes made it tricky to fully evaluate the color of crema I found. It’s very interesting as well to experience the change of dynamics in the Judges room, when there are a different set of judges. Not that it was better or worse, just different.

Unfortunately, this time I didn’t get to judge the winner of this regional, Alexander Ruas, who delivered a routine that was taking us back to last summer and his grandmothers apple tree garden. Alexander is last years Swedish Barista Champion, so it will be very interesting to see the progress, since in Malmö Sebastian Ryberg, last years runner up, also directly qualified for the Semi Finals that will be held in Stockholm in April.

Brew Bar

The last of the regionals was hosted by Da Matteo. When applying for the event, we were told that each application will be evaluated from what kind of extra activities/arrangements the organizer could offer. Since I work for Da Matteo, it might sound a bit biased to say that the Gothenburg event was the most interesting one from that point of view. Well organized (there were no time delays, everyone knew exactly what to do and where to go), and a really really good vibe and preparation of both the event (Pernilla Gard did a beautiful job at organizing) and of the community (the TNT GBG has hosted events prior in order to gain interest in the competition etc.). Before the actual competition there was a brunch beat in the room, to get both spectators and competitors in good spirit, and afterwards there was live music from the lovely Lovisa Samuelsson, beers and snacks in the ambient location of Magasinsgatan, in between brewed coffee was served from the brew bar sponsored by Love Coffee, J&N and Da Matteo (see picture above).

So, what about the competition? At this event, Lars Pilengrim and Anders Holzner of J&N were  sensory judging, together with Emil Eriksson as head judge (also J&N), and event coordinator Ida Hedqvist as tech judge. In order to cut out conflicts of interest, we took turns in judging the competitors where I couldn’t judge the baristi using Da Matteo coffee for instance, and in the case of always one judge being from J&N, we chose the judge that came from another region than the competitor.


Hard working coordinator Ida Hedqvist

At the end of the day, Carl Ahlman of J&N won the Regional in Gothenburg with a presentation I really enjoyed and a coffee to match made out of three coffees from the same region with three different processing methods (unfortunately I have no pictures of the winner(s) since I was judging and also announcing the winner) . So that concludes my experience as a regional judge in Sweden. Now I’ll get into some thoughts around this.

These thoughts are not in any way to point fingers in specific directions or at certain people. It’s not a way to undermine the value of the competition either, since I believe in the format and love it. What I am about to say is sometimes what I already suspected took place in the judging room, but think is worth mentioning once experiencing it first hand.

judge dread

"the judges room"

For the first round of the competition, we had four inexperienced sensory judges (the head judge was inexperienced too, but was judging as sensory in the Regional prior). In my opinion the head judge did a great job, however that competition was setting the standard for me since I was a first timer. The points we scored were probably calibrated differently from the other competitions (we did a pretty long calibration this time) and even though I strongly believe that in each competition (at least in Sweden) there is one clear winner that all judges before counting the scores, already agree on and then the scores usually match those opinions.

As far as bias and conflict of interest is concerned, I think in most cases the psychology of the situation drives the person with any conflict of interest to evaluate the competitor harder and score on average lower, so to me this is not a big issue. However, I found that in the group dynamics of the competition there might always be someone who on average is a lower scorer, and someone else in the room balancing that out (good cop/bad cop). Again, in that certain competitors score sheet, those two extremes might be balanced out, however comparing that to other competitors scores, I am pretty sure anyone with an agenda (be it consciously or unconsciously) can raise the scores a couple of points that later will throw the totals out of balance.

I also think this specific competition suffered from a very unfortunate start, where not enough judges could be found, and instead of compromising the “standard of the judges”, all competitions suffered from being judged by two sensory judges instead of four. I think definitely this is altering the group dynamics regardless if for better or worse. Instead, why was not the first competition postponed to a later date, in order to make sure all competing baristi got the evaluation they deserved? If you judged eight competitors on the day, it actually mean you judged sixteen since each judge evaluated two drinks each round and scored an average.

GBG event

beautiful poster by DCILY

From commercial point of view, I think it’s essential to host regional competitions in order to gain media attention. In Karlstad no less than two local TV-channels came and did a story, in Stockholm it was on the news, and in Gothenburg there was a story in the paper. It’s also a wonderful opportunity for regional coffee communities to push the event and make a night out of it as well as getting it out to the public (the brew bar was an amazing way for people to actually get an idea of what coffee is and can be from full blooded coffee professionals).

However from a judges point of view as well as the SCAE, I believe it was not satisfactory. How can Sweden have so many certified judges, and still a lack of them? The first regional might have been unfortunate, but it cannot set the standard for a whole competition. Also, having three different head judges (only Emil actually experienced all four competitions together with coordinator Ida) is risking inconsistency between Regionals. You might argue that in all cases there were competitors that were clearly ahead of the pack, and that all judges agreed on this before even seeing that the score sheets told the same story, however the ones that didn’t make it straight to the semi-finals had to wait to see their scores. Not saying it actually did occur in this specific round of competitions, but the risk of it is still that between two to four competitors there might be such small differences in scores, we might end up sending the wrong barista because of Regional differences.

The conflict of interest is problematic, and I say this not because I suspect foul play, but to prevent any such thoughts from people who only look at the scores eventually (which mostly will be the competitors). With such lack of judges willing to be there on the actual competition days (or judges living in the area not even asked if they could do it), it is hard naturally to get this a 100% correct. Also, the coffee scene in Sweden is small. What if someone doesn’t feel comfortable with for instance me judging them (we might have a history of huge disagreements etc. but not necessarily an obvious conflict of interest)? That person should be able to say that they do not wish to be judged by me and another judge should be chosen. Again, a lack of judges doesn’t help in this case even though if necessary it would probably been able to work out anyway. Just saying…

So, who am I to say this? And what credentials do I speak from? I entered the wonderful world of judging to better understand what goes on behind the scenes, how the dynamics of the group, and the psychology of that group dynamics plays part in evaluating the drinks, and in the end the competitors. I also did it because I love the competition, I think it’s a great way to promote a progressive coffee culture, and also from a sensory point of view I’ve gotten the opportunity to taste a lot of coffee from other backgrounds and with other philosophies behind them than my own, that I’d rarely do otherwise.

I am only writing this in order to try to get my head around how to possibly make the competition even better! When keen on getting started on my judging “career” I thought the idea of “tail judging” (as a newbie, judge behind an experienced judge without my scores being taken into consideration) was nonsense. Now, with first hand judging experience three times, I actually agree it is a good idea, out of respect for the competitors. What if I was the one that made an error somewhere and it made a difference for one or more competitors? I hate the thought of that being on my conscience.

The judging is also from volunteer work, so I am not pointing fingers at specific judges not putting their hands up. I know there is a reality factor in this, and if anything there can be more effort in planning ahead for next years competition. Like, get started once this competition is over. Also, I think the extra arrangements, such as in Gothenburg, holds a quality to the competition for its spectators and volunteers that can be deepened and more thoroughly executed at all Regionals. The Brew Bar is such an event I think should be at all events! And the Head Judge should be the same in each competition to sure fire consistency from the start.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank everyone that helped out, arranged, judged, running and most of all competed! All did a very hard and great job! I am looking forward to next years competition season already!

NP: Agnidev Das Damodar Astakam

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