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Getting Caught Up, Pt. 1: Iron Barista, Barista Champs and more
Getting Caught Up, Pt. 1: Iron Barista, Barista Champs and more
Posted June 23, 2003 11:40pm
hyperlink comments (12): read | write

It's been a hectic few "coffee" weeks, which is why I haven't been able to update the CoffeeKid CafeTalk page, but I hope this posting will be detailed enough to make up for it. I thought about doing this as a five part post, once a day, but I think what I'll do instead is a two part post, 4 days apart. To give you an idea about what I'll talk about, I'll give you the short form here:

  • Francis! Francis! XProject book PDF
  • Gearing up for Barista Judging
  • Coffee, Coffee Everywhere
  • Doing 22 pounds of coffee in 20 days
  • The Canadian Coffee and Tea Expo
  • Public Speaking and why I hate it
  • Photos of me and why I hate it
  • Press sightings in the coffee and espresso world
  • Commentary about Rancilio, Mr. Cappuccino and Canterbury Coffee
  • Judging the first ever Canadian Barista Championship
  • New machines in the house
  • Sunday Barbeque for Industry folks and Pro Baristi
  • The first ever Iron Barista competition, and exclusive news and results
  • and more, all of this in no particular order.

So let's get started!

Francis! Francis! News and Stuff

Francis! Francis! Manual
The Manual
Hey, now you can download it. Click the picture to view

Several things to talk about regarding the Francis! Francis! lineup. Last CafeTalk, I talked a bit about a very good promo booklet that Francis! Francis! published to promote their products, and also promote good espresso. Since then, I've gotten permission from F!F! to put the PDF version of the book online, so if you want to check it out yourself, or print it out, here's the link.

I was impressed by it, and I'd like to see other machine manufacturers step up and spend some of their profits on providing more of these types of things. Yes, it is a promo piece for F!F!, but they really turn on the educational stuff, and provide excellent photos (the printed manual has super rich colour, hi resolution photos - the PDF's been scaled down a bit). If more manufacturers were serious about promoting what good coffee is all about, they'd take a lead from F!F! and do similar documents.

I do have a few nigglies about what F!F! wrote in their book (for instance, their perception of what a ristretto is doesn't jive with mine), but it's all good.

But now, I have even more interesting Francis! Francis! news:

The First Ever Iron Barista Competition
Okay, this was kind of informal, but it was fun, and I have no problems saying I lost to the better person in this one. Here's what happened. (note, I have no photos of the event! It was purely social... and I forgot to grab the camera).

On this past Sunday, Jeanette and I hosted about 20+ folks at our house for an outdoor barbeque. About a dozen coffee industry folks showed up, and around 6 or 7 pro Baristi, including Dismas Smith (Zoka Coffee), the North American Barista champ in 2002.

We also had Sherri Johns and Jeff Babcock (owner, Zoka Coffee) here, both of whom are world calibre Barista competition judges. So Dis and I set up a contest - the Iron Barista Contest. Here's the setup:

Two machine setups: Machine station 1 had a single group La Marzocco Linea ($7,500) and a Mazzer Mini ($450) grinder, along with a Reg Barber professional tamper. Machine station 2 had a Francis! Francis X3 machine ($350) and a Rancilio Rocky grinder ($250) and a plastic, "stock" tamper with a crappy seam. Basically, the LM setup cost would buy you 13 Machine Station 2 setups.

Our coffee of choice was a will-not-be-named Italian roasted coffee, containing 15% robusta, roasted God knows how long ago.

The deal was this - our two tasting judges would be "blind" as in they would not know who brewed what. Each competitor would get five minutes' warm up on their station, then have to pull a traditional double (2 cups, 1 to 1.5oz volume brewed per cup, 2 to 3 oz total brewed volume) as soon as the five minutes warmup was up. We'd serve the four drinks to the two judges - each judge would have one drink from each competitor.

Then the two competitors switch stations, and do it all over again.

The judges would blind taste-test and write their comments, and choose the best shots in each round.

Dismas started off on the La Marzocco station, I got the F!F! X3. Dismas was using Elektra branded espresso cups which are awesome cups - thick walls. I was using the equally good Espresso Vivace branded cups for both rounds.

The results from round one? Both judges said the shots were extremely close, but picked the Elektra cup shots as their best. (ie, the Dismas poured, La Marzocco produced drinks) were picked best.

Round Two. I did my five minute warmup, and was ready to go, and I asked Dismas if he was. I did my shots on the La Marzocco, which Jon Lewis (2nd place, United States Barista Championship) felt were the best looking pours of the day. But when I looked over, Dis was still setting up his second shots, and just finished dosing. I had a decision to make - keep these good looking shots, or dump them and go again, so I would have as fresh-possible shots for the judges. I decided to dump and try again, trusting my ability to replicate the good shots.

I didn't replicate them. The second shots I did looked good, but not as good as the first. Dismas pulled some AMAZING looking shots on the X3 station, using a grinder and machine he had never seen or used before this day. We served them to the judges.

The judges said that it was a tough call in this round two. Sherri Johns at first said they were equal, but when prompted to pick one over the other, she picked the Elektra cups again (Dismas' shots from the X3 this round), but by the barest of hairs. Jeff Babcock concurred.

Bottom line? Actually there's several. First, Dismas Smith is a stellar Barista. Second, this proves that even a Francis! Francis! X3 can "beat" a La Marzocco when in the hands of a super qualified individual. Third, it shows that the X3 is a capable machine for pulling awesome shots.

Lastly, I should note the judges didn't really like any of the espresso shots. Jeff Babcock could tell there was robusta in the shot before he drank his first cup - he knew by smell. They basically judged the best as being "the least offensive of the lot" :) But that was part of the Iron Barista challenge - try to do the best with the worst possible stuff.

Overall, it was a very fun thing, and I was honoured to be even close to what Dismas could produce.

Canadian Barista Championship - Gear Up

Click for larger image
Judges Meeting
The judges get together to compare notes, discuss what to look for, debate the finer points of Barista'in'

Those who talk to me know how serious I am about being a judge, a Worlds-Qualified judge, for Barista competitions.

For instance, I knew that this past Thursday (June 19), I would be put through a Judges' Qualification and Calibration just prior to the 1rst Annual Canadian Barista Championship (CBC), so to ramp up, I studied the heck out of the judging form and rules and regulations (you can download them here), and I went through 22 pounds of coffee in about 20 days calibrating myself (that's about 450 double shots poured).

How did I do it? I purposely messed with individual parts of espresso preparation. I would pack uneven. I would mix coarse ground with finer grounds. I would underdose. I would overdose. I would tamp with no pressure. Tamp with excess pressure. Run the water hotter (luckily the La Marzocco makes this kind of minute temp adjustment easy) or colder. I would brew without flushing the grouphead, or with excess flushing. I would purposely keep the dispersion screen dirty. I would keep the portafilter dirty, not cleaning the lip where the filter seals against the gasket in the grouphead. I'd do everything "wrong", in individual sessions or combinations of "mistakes". And I evaluated every single shot, and evaluated every single spent puck, looking for what the indicators are of that bad shot.

I actually learned a lot during those twenty days. Enough to write a half dozen articles on the subject. And I'm no where close to being done in my "learning" - I still missed a lot of things, even knowing what I did wrong.

I also had several informal sessions with John Sanders from Hines Public Market Coffee over the past month, who is a very talented Barista judge and world class espresso evaluator. That was invaluable.

Add to that my other judging experiences.

So when Thursday night came, I feel I was adequately prepared. But I still have a lot more to learn, mostly about very refined taste subtleties, and also my "stature" as a judge - stone faced, but nice, never show what I'm thinking. I suck as a poker player, but I will eventually develop that perfect poker face that guys like John Sanders and Joe Monaghan from Espresso Specialists have.

Click for larger image
Bronwen Training
Bronwen Serna doing her training gig with new Coffee Business Owners at the Coffee and Tea Expo in Vancouver

One cool note - Bronwen Serna (from Hines) was the Barista who was pulling "bad" shots for the judges at one point - she's purposely screw something up. We weren't told, and couldn't watch. I was getting pretty good at making the call on what she did wrong. I didn't get all of them, but I got a lot, especially when I got to examine the spent puck.

Judging in the First Annual Canadian Barista Competition
Some of what you're about to read comes from my as-yet-unpublished Canadian Coffee and Tea Expo report destined for CoffeeGeek. Normally I don't like to duplicate content, but I'll do it here as a sneak preview, of sorts.

It was an sincere honour and a privilege to be part of the process involved not only getting the Canadian Barista Championship started, but being a judge in the event, both in the flights and in the final. I cannot state that enough. This event is not only important for developing espresso and coffee appreciation and skill building for Baristi everywhere, but especially in Canada, where we sorely need it.

As you can probably guess, I took this very seriously, and wanted to make sure that I judged fairly, and evenly. I am friends with some of the competitors (and very honoured to be friends with them) but was very cognizant of the fact that to all the Baristi justice (even those who were my friends), I had to put aside any friendly feelings while up there as a judge.

Let me tell you something. Judging is tough. Not nearly as tough as getting up there and having seven people stand around you as you do your fifteen minutes, but being one of those seven is a tough job.

Let me set it up here for those who don't know what a Barista competition involves. First, every contest in North America is moving to the world standards for judging - it used to be four judges, it is now seven:

  • Four Tasting Judges, responsible for 153 points on the form each (612 total for the four judges)
  • Two Technical Judges, responsible for 62 points on the form each (124 total points)
  • Judge Captain who doesn't counter his or her score, but does score the entire sheet (215 points), provides consultation, arbitration to the other judges

Each competitor can achieve up to a maximum of 736 points, but will almost never get this high a score. Around 375 is "good", 450 is "very good", 500 is "excellent" and 600 is world class.

186 points on the form are made up of "opinion" decisions by the judges, with 28 individual boxes allowing for points between 1 and 6 for each box. 6 is exceptional, and almost never given - certainly not by me - I hold that in my back pocket for something I've never seen before, something truly exceptional. In all my judging roles of about 50+ Baristi, I think the highest I gave was one 5.5, and maybe three 5s. I usually give out Averages (2), Goods (3) or Very Goods (4).

29 points on the form are from Yes/No questions - pretty black and white stuff, with very little gray area - they either wiped their portafilter or they didn't. They either purged the steam wand or didn't. Etc.

Click for larger image Click for larger image Click for larger image
Angie Serves
Angie Lof serving her signature drink to us judges, as she answers a question from the Emcee.
Crowd Watches
We had a good crowd for almost all the competition.
Sammy Drinks
Sammy Piccolo's hand is a blur as he completes his complex, beautiful, multi-stage signature drink.

Judging as a Taster
I find being a Tasting Judge fun, but also challenging. I have now gotten into the groove of spitting the drink - if I judge 10 competitors, that's 36 coffee drinks to have and it is too much. I even developed a method to get that "backmouth" feel that is important in evaluating espresso, without sounding like I'm a regurgitating idiot.

At the first ever CBC, I have to say that almost every competitor served drinks I would be happy to drink. We have a lot to be proud of in our country.

Standouts? Sammy Piccollo (Caffe Artigiano, Vancouver) had an amazing, complex signature drink that impressed me, though he does need to bring out the coffee taste a bit more. The espresso shot produced by Tina Albrech from JJ Bean was great, as was the shot produced by Zack Lakic from Artigiano. Mark Pfaff's signature drink was also a standout, as was Layla's (I lost her last name! from Artigiano) cappuccino drink, which was the best of the competition for me.

I judged in both flights in the qualifying rounds, drinking the drinks prepared by 13 Baristi, from Toronto to Victoria.

Judging as a Technical Judge
This was tough. You have to hyper-focus on the technical aspects of what the Barista is doing, putting out of your mind anything to do with taste, drink serving, or drink look over at the Tasters' table. You gotta concentrate on things like groupheads being flushed, wiping the portafilter, cleaning the wand, flushing the wand before and after steaming, how much milk is left over after steaming and pouring, shot times (challenging! I had to use two stopwatches - so did the other technical judge) and more. On top of that, you have to "opinion judge" on things like "grinder knowledge", correct dosing and tamping, no spill/waste while dosing/tamping, and much more.

I got serious tunnel vision when I was a technical judge in the finals, judging three Baristi - Tina Albrech and Angie Lof, both from JJ Bean House of Coffee, and Sammy Piccollo, from Caffe Artigiano. I think I did okay, and what's ironic is the person I scored lowest on technicals ended pu wining the competition… and that was:

Barista Competition Winner

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First Annual CBC Champs!
The champions, with their shop owners - from the left: Tina Albrech, JJ Bean Coffee, 2nd place; John Neate, JJ Bean Owner; Angie Lof, 3rd place, JJ Bean Coffee; Sammy Piccolo, 1st Place, Caffe Artigiano; Vince Piccolo, Caffe Artigiano Owner.

Sammy Piccollo, of Caffe Artigiano, is the first ever Canadian National Barista Champion. A BIG congratulations to Sammy for his hard work and dedication. What he lost in technicals, he more than made up in taste, drink quality, and presentation. Sammy's now setting his sights on the World Barista Championship 2004, to be held in Trieste, Italy. As the winner, he gets an expenses-paid trip to the big show, and represents his country.

Sammy won by around 15 points (I actually don’t remember at the moment exactly how much), but I can say that Tina finished second, and Angie finished a very close third - only 1.5 points behind Tina. Both did awesome, and Tina was the best technical Baristi, and was very natural about it. Congratulations to both Angie and Tina. In fact, a hearty congrats to every Baristi who tried out this year - all stars!

Wow… long, huh? And it ain't over yet. The next one covers even more!

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