For the second year in a row, Ben Put is your Canadian Barista Champion! It's a heck of a way to celebrate the launch of Monogram Coffee, his recently announced partnership with Jeremy Ho and Justin Eyford, and under whose flag Put flew during this, his sixth national level competition appearance. Put's experience allows him to competes with a certain charm, presence, and confidence in his presentation that can only come from years on the front lines of competition. At this stage in the game, Ben Put has developed the ability to push boundaries as a barista competitor while still finding the right balance between performance, experimentation and actually showcasing his coffees. This combination surely played a part in Mr. Put's second consecutive Canadian Barista Championship victory.
Mr. Put's stage setup was a simple combination of earth and industrial elements—think stone, wood, copper, and glass—lending a sort of primitive elegance to the stage. You could feel the feng shui up there—even fire was represented, but I'll get to that.
His routine began by way of introducing two coffees, a washed Gelana Abaya from Ethiopia for his espresso and signature drink, and a natural Wanago from Ethiopia for his cappuccinos, both roasted by 2011 Canadian Barista Champion Josh Hockin of Transcend Coffee in Edmonton. As Put told the judges, he didn’t want to shy away from challenging coffees, but instead chose to face those challenges head on by embracing these coffees for their complexity.
These intricate coffees were balanced with a deceptively simple routine. When I spoke with Ben after the competition, he told me how a complex performance during last year's competition season had influenced his desire for simplicity this time around. “I didn’t want to swing too far but I realized that complexity is a very hard thing to do really well,” Put said. “It can become a very frantic circus because you only have 15 minutes. So part of my set this year was something a little bit simpler so I could spend more time explaining what I was doing, rather than just trying to beat the clock.”
Starting off with his espressos, one of the first things I noticed were the huge shots he pulled, and I mean huge! Like a whopping 20g in/50g out enormous shot of espresso. While Ben pulled his shots into traditional Acme espresso cups for the judges to evaluate crema, he then poured them into wine glasses for the judges to drink so the espresso would cool down and offer more balance. His tasting notes for those mega-shots included tangerine, nectarine, and a floral finish.
For his cappuccinos, Put used the natural Wanago, telling the judges he prefers a natural processed coffee better in milk. He poured a smiley face for the last judge to be served saying, “I always like to pour something special for the last person because I feel bad you had to wait.” All smiles from the judges! Ben’s tasting notes for his cappuccinos included cherry jam, peach, and chocolate.
But where Ben Put really shined in this routine was with his signature drink. This year's concoction from was simple enough to be deceiving, but with a layered complexity drawn from the coffee itself. The drink started with a homemade quince jam, warmed to help amplify the flavour, then filtered through a sieve before being added to brandy-style glasses that also contained shots of espresso. And here’s where that last element comes in: fire! Mr. Put explained that, just as Mr. Hockin had strategically used heat in roasting the coffees to eliminate harsh bitterness, why shouldn’t he do the same with nectarine, a very bitter citrus? So with no shortage of flair, the finishing touch of Ben Put's signature drink was a spritz of cold-pressed nectarine oil lit into a flame over the glasses.
Flashy? Quite literally. A classy and championship-winning move? Definitely.
This year's national performance from Ben Put was a pleasure to watch, and the Canadian coffee community has much to be excited about when he competes next at the 2015 World Barista Championship in Seattle, Washington. In the interim, Put will certainly have a busy year ahead of himself as he juggles preparation for the WBC with the launch of Monogram Coffee in Calgary. He tells me it was really important to him and his business partners, Jeremy Ho and Justin Eyford, to keep competing this year, even as they attempt to launch their new brand. “It’s stressful for us,” Ben Put said, “but I’m just very thankful that one of our values as a company is things like this. I think we’ll try to continue to compete. You can always say ‘we’ll make time for this later’ and I think you just need to say ‘we’ll make time for this now.’”
Spoken like a true champion.
Elyse Bouvier is a Sprudge.com contributor based in Toronto. Read more Elyse Bouvier on Sprudge.
Top photo by Sun Tsui for Sprudge.com. All other photos by Elyse Bouvier for Sprudge.com.