Friday, February 06, 2009

The Big Weekend

I spent last Thursday through Sunday at the Australian coffee championships weekend, so I suppose that I really ought to do a quick recap on this blog. Many of my regular readers were actually there, but for the benefit of the overseas guys, the non-coffee industry guys and the sorely missed Tony, here goes nothing ...

Before we begin

We live in the communication age; this entry isn't here to reinvent the wheel, so you might want to refer to a few other sites as well.



Entry forms/rules:

Barista comp rules:

Latte art rules:

Cup tasting rules:

Coffee 'n' booze rules:

... and also take a look at the gagillion blogs that will cover it.


I guess that I have been around all of these competitions for so long that it's getting a bit ho-hum. Every year, the difference between first and second place shrinks and the overall standard improves. The change to the Nuova Simonelli machines from our beloved La Marzoccos might not have met with universal approval, but at least it shook things up. Meanwhile, everyone involved gets better and better at running these events every year, so it was set to be a good weekend.

I lazed around the gold coast for half a day taking in some sun and polishing off a novel before Nim arrived and we checked in to our apartment. I owe Nim a great deal of thanks for organising a lot of the trip, including taking a whole bunch of coffee stuff in checked baggage so that I only had to worry about a backpack and suit bag. Thursday night was time for the judges' calibration and then a nice, overpriced, italian meal.

Barista Competition

Three gruelling days and a lot of wonderful performances. I was privileged to sensory judge four competitors and walk away having enjoyed some very yummy espresso, indeed. I also got to be a timekeeper and see a number of performances close up, including that of the champ, Tim Adams. The competition keeps on getting better and better organised each year - check out the nifty AASCA branded stuff in the photo below! Major props to everyone involved, especially Emily Oak and Dave Makin.

Given that overseas competitors may be looking to this post, I'll make only general observations to preserve the competitive advantage of our guys overseas! There were a number of interesting labour, time and mess saving devices that were employed by most competitors and most competitors also realised that the competition can be won and lost on setup time. The transition to a more taste-focussed scoring system didn't really result in more informal and sloppy presentations, but it certainly did make it harder to work out how well people had done if you were anyone other than a sensory judge. I suppose that the most valuable information as a spectator came from watching the pours very closely; generally speaking, the kinds of pours that the simonellis favour seemed to do well and the kinds that the simonelli punishes were presumably also punished on the sensory score sheets. The new format requires the competitors to prove themselves in an additional semi-final and most of the competitors whose performances I watched - fewer than I would have liked - delivered strong, polished performances on both days. For this reason, I suspect that some competitors may have found that their coffee peaked on one day and died the next.

Tim delivered an amazing performance on the day and before the results were announced, the phrase 'dark horse' followed his names in many of the 'whaddayareckon' conversations that I had. As Wolffy said, Tim really put the work in himself to win this competition. I hope very much that all Australian competitors will volunteer to lend a hand for his WBC training.

At this point, I'll just pause to mention a dilemma that I face in writing this post - there are lots and lots of competitors and volunteers whose efforts I would like to praise or point out. Too many. Unfortunately, the only thing that I can think of doing is just listing a few and not mentioning others - so please don't take offence if I haven't mentioned you here.

Latte Art

I think that the past three Australian world championship victories have really increased the seriousness with which people take this competition. Consequently, the audience seemed to be pretty tense and on the edge of their seats for both the opens and the finals. I had to laugh when Will from Maling Room beat both Habib and Kirby to win the opens by pouring a pacman eating a ghost, given that I got laughed off the machine with my attempt at the same thing a few months ago at the caffenatics competition ... might have been something to do with my crappy latte art skills. Nonetheless, given that I can't find the ustream vids of the latte art comp, I'll post up a crappy attempt here:

Kirby and Habib were both on 23 points in the open, so there was a countback. This only makes sense if you understand how the latte art comp works; you are scored for various categories, then the scores from those categories are matched up to a band. The points listed in that band are added together to give you the final score. So the countback procedure for breaking ties is the addition of the raw scores, rather than the scores in each band. Confusing? Read the score sheets!

Anyhoo, the finals were a clash of the titans, with Erin and Habib on the same number of points and spectators biting their nails as the countback procedure was used. Erin was eventually declared the champ by 8 points after countback to be immediately congratulated by Habib. Given the amount of training that Erin has put into the various comps over the years, I think that we have a great chance at this year's WLAC.

Coffee 'n' Booze (Coffee In Good Spirits)

I didn't really watch too much of this, but was amused to find out that Kirby had won. Kirby was a late substitution for another competitor and put her routine together in the 45 minutes before the competition, with the help of CS member Mark!

Cup Tasting (Cupping)

OK, so if you have never seen a cupping competition before, you should know that it is an awesome competition to watch. This is what it looks like from the audience's perspective:

24 cups of filter brewed coffee are placed on the table. These are divided into 8 groups comprising two cups of one coffee and one cup of another. The competitors' task is to taste through all of them and pick the odd one out. The cups are then emptied and the bottoms of the cups selected are revealed to the audience to see if they have been marked as the odd ones out. Though it takes a few hours of coffee grinding and brewing and many volunteers to set up the competition, it is done and dusted in a matter of minutes. Dave Makin had cleverly worked out the dimensions of the stage so that a whopping six people could compete at a time. The videos should be pretty good; I loved the soundtrack for the first open heat!

Anyhoo, I originally started competing in these comps because the game plan was always to keep in touch with the coffee industry by setting up a coffee review ( and I wanted to see if I could have some objective measure of credibility. I haven't yet managed to win one yet, but I have had an irritating five podium finishes. Nim and I did a bit of training for the event and I was very proud to see him win the open heat, though I probably wouldn't have minded if I had come first and him second ;P
As for the finals; fantastic performance by Ben nailing 8/8 within cooee of Casper's time last year! Ben finished a few seconds faster than me, so the competition was clearly over before my last cup was revealed. Nonetheless, I'm glad that Ben and I were able to keep the revealing of the cups interesting until the end! A big thankyou to Mick Kiely for roasting and brewing the coffee - no small undertaking.

The Rest

Other than the competition, the whole weekend was absolutely frenetic. Nim and I thought that we could save some cash by cooking at the apartment that we booked -- wrong; we didn't even have time to buy groceries!

The guys from BeanScene seemed to really get behind the event; they printed a bunch of rather nifty stickers and programs for AASCA and I think that they even delayed printing the bulk of the magazines to do so. It was a shame that Steve was sick, but Brad and John seemed to really get into the whole event. The magazine looked fantastic, but I haven't been able to read it yet.

The coffee companies exhibiting at the show put all other food shows that I have been to to shame; it was utterly ludicrous to be able to get excellent coffee at a trade show ... that doesn't even happen at so-called coffee festivals! I walked over to Campos and got a shot from John Ronchi, JP at Veneziano and Anne Cooper at Di Bella ... craaazy stuff. A big thankyou to Di Bella for the book and t-shirt, Campos, Veneziano and Emanuele from ristretto for the coffee beans.

A nice highlight was eating out each night with a bunch of cool people from around Australia - so much for saving money by getting a serviced apartment!

Unfortunately I had booked flights home on the assumption that I would be needed at work on Monday, so I missed out on the afterparty and the trips to Mountain Top, but overall it was a great weekend.

Veneziano Booth: A bunch of awesome baristas kick it on the Synchro.

Campos booth: John Ronchi and Co keep deliciousness flowing with two lineas. No photos of the Di Bella booth, unfortunately.