Sprudge.com was proudly represented at last week's Nordic Barista Cup by our Assistant Editor Alex Bernson and photo contributor Kate Beard. A dream team, basically. Let's look back at a stirring weekend of content from Oslo, and congratulations to Team Sweden for their NBC win!
The Nordic Barista Cup has just wrapped up, and as befits the 10th anniversary of one of the leading intellectual gatherings in coffee, this year the presentations were overwhelmingly concerned with the challenges we all face in this moment of sea-change in specialty coffee. The issue is no longer merely determining what areas of specialty need to evolve. Instead, in talk after talk, speakers took a critical eye to the things we are already working on—from water quality, to service, to restaurant coffee, to environmental sustainability—and presented not just questions and hopes, but concrete answers and suggestions, based on in-depth research and experience.
René Redzepi from the acclaimed Danish restaurant Noma gave a talk about the financial and staffing challenges of putting serious coffee in serious restaurants. He was surprised at just how strongly people reacted to changes to their coffee: “We serve live animals to people that don’t get reactions like we get from messing with the coffee!” Putting milk and sugar out on the table helped to ease guests minds and create a more welcoming experience—even though extremely few guests actually used either, their mere presence helped ease a lot of the antagonistic feelings that initially came from their new coffee service.
Pontus Dahlström from the similarly acclaimed Norwegian restaurant Maaemo gave a somewhat contrasting view on restaurant coffee service. At Maaemo they try to completely control the guests experience. For the coffee, they do a gorgeous presentation of traditional Nordic style steeped kokekaffe, and serve it only black. According to Mr. Dahlström, if the guests feel they need milk or sugar, then they’ve failed in their mission to present a sweet, clean cup.
Christian Nedergaard’s speech dovetailed nicely between the two perspectives. He talked about the holistic approach they use at his noted wine bar, Ved Stranden 10: “[We] make conscious decisions about every detail, to the point of being neurotic”, which then frees the staff up during service to “meet the guest on their terms, let them sense through their own experience and invite them into [the bar’s] world on equal terms”.
I gave a talk on service that explored how the differences in restaurant, bar and coffee shop service models enabled and precluded different approaches to service, and therefore created different social roles for each type of establishment. I followed that up with an overview of the coffee shop’s social role throughout history, with an eye towards understanding how elevating coffee service gives us massive opportunities to reshape the coffee shop’s social role in response to current trends in modern social life. It was, of course, a distinct pleasure and professional honor to present at the Nordic Barista Cup.
Francisca Listov-Saabye (NBC staff researcher) and Randy Pope (BUNN) kicked off the science focused Day Two by presenting findings from their research on grinders that seriously challenged some widely held “objective” beliefs about different grinders’ effects in the cup. The one that really got the crowd riled up was the finding that in multiple rigorously controlled triangle evaluations, neither consumers nor coffee pros were able to consistently differentiate between coffee made with a conical-burr grinder and that made with a flat-burr grinder. Ms. Listov-Saabye did however find some correlation between different models of grinders and different flavor descriptors for the resulting cups. The whole talk is seriously worth a listen, even though some folks in the audience got a little shady in the question and answer time.
Emma Bladyka, the Specialty Coffee Association of America's Coffee Science Manager, followed that up with an overview of how scientific research is being conducted and disseminated at origin—an especially valuable perspective for those of us who don’t get to spend as much time in producing countries. Some of the people in the room who do get to do that talked about the very real challenges they face in accessing that scientific research during the Q&A.
Scott Guglielmino of La Marzocco USA got his water nerd on in an presentation that distilled much of the content from his talks at La Marzocco’s Pressure and Flow series into a focused look at how different water variables effect machine longevity and cup quality, and what options are available to manipulate them. The talk was accompanied by an in-depth sensory component: filter coffee made with six different mineral-content waters, and espresso made with three different waters. This meant the truly amazing volunteers and national barista teams had to make and serve 1800 cups of coffee, but the results were fascinating and certainly made a convincing case for the necessity of controlling water, and understanding how it can affect your company’s palate preferences and flavor profile.
The sustainability focused Day Three (with videos still forthcoming from the NBC) was kicked off by Felipe Croce of Finca Ambiental Fortaleza giving a great experiential feel for the benefits and challenges of organic processing for quality focused farms. His conclusions that organic processing, despite being important ethically and environmentally, is hard to recommend economically and that actual certification provided little benefit were an important wake-up call.
Cynthia Sandberg also gave a presentation on the Bio-Dynamic methodology she uses at Love Apple Farms. The talk was a comprehensive introduction to the initially mystifying, definitely totes mystic world of Bio-Dynamic farming.
Christer Söderberg of the Open World Foundation finished off the educational program with a gut-wrenching presentation on the environmental crisis facing the world and how crucial organic farming and end-to-end sustainability is for the continued survival of our species. With Felipe’s talk to start and Christer’s to finish, day three encapsulated the overall sense of this year’s NBC: We’ve largely figured out what we need to work on, but real progress and solutions require a continued dedication to rigorous work, tough questions, and sometimes, tough answers.
And last, a huge congratulations to Team Sweden – Daniela Capuano, Oskar Alvérus, Anna Nordström, and Tobias Palm – for their win in endlessly inventive competition portion of this year's Nordic Barista Cup. Teams from throughout the Nordic countries were challenged to make coffee hella, serving a wide variety of Brazilian coffees in a series of manual, automatic, and espresso preparation methods. Competitors estimate they made over 6800 total cups of coffee in the weekend.
Alex Bernson is an Assistant Editor at Sprudge.com. Read more Alex Bernson here.
Original photography by Kate Beard for Sprudge.com.