Tuesday, April 20, 2010

United States Barist Championship (USBC): results

I was given the privilege to compete in the USBC in Round 1. I really enjoyed the experience competing at South East Regional Competition.

Just like the regional competition, I had two main goals: become a better barista, and tell my story. Similar to the regional comp, I feel like I was able to accomplish both. A barista competition was a rather new sport a few years ago. Even within the coffee industry it was barely understood. Now after many years of competitions and the winners receiving much recognition, barista comps are well accepted and the level of performance and coffee have gone through the roof. This year was by far the most competitive field I've ever seen.

The coffee I used was from my farm. This makes me the first ever farmer/barista competitor. Most baristas use coffee from the shop they work at. Some work for roasters, some don't even work at a coffee shop. It did make it special for me to take a coffee from before it was flower all the way through picking at red cherry, washing, drying, exporting and finally working directly with the roaster to develop a roast profile that would show the best attributes of the coffee. When I finished the competition one of the prevailing thoughts was worry that I did my coffee justice.

Usually I can stand and deliver a good presentation. This time, I couldn't shake the nervousness in my voice or hands. I don't know if it was the large venue or just an off-day. Oh well. I told my story and served my coffee that I was able to guide through every step of the process, personally.

There were a few different types of processing that went into this coffee, 55% washed - post-fermentation-soak, 15% underwater-ferment, 30% full natural. The blend wasn't intentional, but it was delicious. The blend was actually comprised of the samples I had on hand that were destined for roasters to try my process experiments, but something came up. I had my coffee air shipped so that it would arrive on April 1st to the warehouse. However, the FDA flagged my coffee for a random inspection. No worries, but the the fact that I had a competition coming up and wanted that coffee to compete with did make me worry. In the end after countless phone calls and emails, the FDA released the coffee only to tell me it didn't have Ochra-Toxin days before the comp. Hence, the roast I used was a total one-off. It was simply, about 6.75lbs of coffee I had on hand. So could I prepare like most baristas and taste the coffee as it aged off the roast date? No. Could I even know how my coffee would take milk for the capps? No. Did I know if my coffee would taste good in my sig bev? Nope.

I made plenty of time to dial in the grinder for the comp, which was the problem I ran into during regionals. This time I served some great shots. I received some really good score on those. The notes were red fruit notes and deep chocolate all wrapped around a silky body. The capps were good, but not amazing. And the sig bev could have been better sold. But it seemed like I just couldn't communicate like I wanted to.

It was an awesome experience. Had I made it to the semi-finals, I would probably say that is enough validation on my barista skills and on my coffee to not compete again. Instead I have this feeling in my gut that next year I can do better. . .

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