Our United Kingdom Barista Championship coverage continues with an in-depth look at the routines and coffees from UKBC Finals Sunday. Best of all, we've got a variety of photos for each competitor, capturing the true visual feast that happens at the highest levels of barista competition.
Joe Meagher – Flat Caps Coffee, Newcastle – 4th overall
For international readers who might not know the name, UKBC Finalist Joe Meagher has an interesting story. He's a former banker turned barista with his own café in Newcastle, he's competed in the UKBC before, and his experience certainly showed in his presentation last weekend. Joe competed at UKBC with Has Bean's Bolivia Finca Loayza, a hybrid washed and dry processed coffee made up of 40% Typica, 40% Caturra, and 20% Catuai. This hybridization of processing and variety brings a lot of sweetness and complexity to the cup, as Joe told his judges and the crowd.
On stage, each judge has a lovely printed notebook with information about the coffee, cappuccinos, and sig drink ingredients. Joe encouraged the judges to refer to the notebooks throughout his presentation if they need more information.
Roast profile was an important part of this routine. After tasting five different roasts, Joe chose one that was medium/dark, which he felt helped to caramelize the flavours and enhanced the sweetness of the coffee when adding milk. It should be noted that Talking Heads' ‘Burning Down the House’ – an all-time favourite of mine – was the soundtrack to his cappuccino course.
Joe’s sig drink looked quite suave, served in a quaint little cocktail glass with a twirl of lime on the side. With the music Joe Meagher selected, and his “flat cap” style, it was almost as though the audience and judges had been transported to some cool, off-the-path type cocktail bar. His sig included a cascara syrup (from the same farm as his coffee!) prepared on stage in a siphon, with the addition of a little cane sugar. Joe also made a cold drip from the same coffee, to enhance the chocolate notes present throughout his courses. Finally, Joe brought out a homemade tonic syrup, to which he added soda water on stage with a Soda Stream.
Joe told his judges, “Each of these ingredients individually taste great, but when you add them to the espresso, it tastes fantastic!” It was good enough for an impressive 4th place finish at UKBC finals.
John Gordon – Square Mile Coffee Roasters, London– 1st overall
What more can be said about your 2013 UKBC champ, John Gordon? His on-stage style was cool and creative, and his Square Mile Colombia La Serrania was evidently yummy, but I think it's important to reiterate that Mr. Gordon has a certain “wow!” factor on stage. The audience was perhaps the quietest while John was on stage; every person leaned in on their seats, or crowded around the edges of the stage to get a glimpse into what John was talking about and preparing in his on-stage laboratory. I could go on, but alas, I already have – Sprudge has my full breakdown of John’s winning presentation in this previous post. Congratulations, John Gordon!
Don Altizo – Baxter Storey Catering – 6th overall
Described as a “passionate, committed barista” by the UKBC announcer, this was Don Altizo's 3rd time competing, but his first time ever advancing – first to semi-finals, and then on to an appearance at UKBC Finals Sunday. Mr. Altizo is also the first-ever competitor from a caterer (Baxter Storey) to place at finals, where he competed with a custom blend from Workhouse Coffee Company in Reading. His blend consisted of a natural Yirgacheffe, a washed El Salvador peaberry, and a washed Ethiopian Sidamo – the most important bean in the blend, according to Don.
Mr. Altizo used his time on stage to talk about the practice of buying fresh, quality fruit, and drew parallels towards approaching coffee the same way. His espresso service had exacting timing standards, with Don asking the judges to wait about 20 seconds between their first and second sips to really get the “juicy” flavours out of the coffee, with notes of dark chocolate, blueberry, and green apple acidity.
Part of Don’s sig drink included blueberries that had been pressed through an Eva Solo. He’s not much of a talker, so as he finished his sig drink, it was noticeably quiet on stage until he got around to explaining more about the ingredients, which included ice cubes made from Golden Delicious apple juice. Blueberries, apples, chocolate – these were the still life ingredients that anchored in his stage setting, as well as the notes in his signature beverage. Sounds delicious, yes?
Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood – Colonna and Smalls, Bath – 2nd overall
Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood has a gift, a remarkable ability to pull you in to what he’s saying while sharing his passion and knowledge. It is no fluke that he was last year’s UK champion (going on to place 6th at the 2012 WBC). Maxwell gets the judges involved, and I felt like I was involved too as an observer alongside the rapt audience.
Maxwell's routine began with an invitation to “taste something together” with the judges. That “something” was two blackberries: a regular one, and a second that had been processed in a manner similar to the coffee he went on to serve. That coffee was a Colombian from Finca Tamana, sourced by Nordic Approach and roasted by Tate, the UK's national collection of modern and contemporary art. This exercise in blackberry taste experiences set up the whole point of Maxwell's routine: Process affects flavour.
His signature drink called for updosed espressoes, to which he added an infusion of some processed blackberries and just a hint of Jersey cream, “for balance.” He tells us that this drink is “first and foremost inspired by the coffee” and the provenance of the bean. Provenance + process = character. Never one to shy away from evoking traditional English dessert notes, his sig drink this year tasted of “sweet treacle and the acid of fresh fruit” (his signature drink at last year's WBC was notable for having notes of “Walnut Whip“).
To Maxwell, “a cappuccino is also a process. You are building a drink.” He used the same Jersey herd milk as in his signature beverage, and poured a nice, clean heart on each drink. His capps tasted of walnut, fudge, and vanilla, but the “walnut really steals the show.”
Finally, for his espresso, Maxwell talked about the process of acquiring green coffee in the first place, including a tasteful lauding of Nordic Approach for being a transparent and ethical sourcing company. Maxwell's Finca Tamana espresso had “medium body, the acidity of blackberry, sourness of apple, and the bitterness of cocoa.”
Chee Wong – Taylor Street Baristas, London – 5th overall
This year was Chee Wong's first ever competition season, and he was the only first time competitor to advance to finals. A big congrats Mr. Wong for making it through a tough competition, and for placing in the top five of the UK's best baristas.
Chee's routine began with him rhetorically quoting a friend: “Balance? What is balance?” This was to be an exploration of the often elusive pursuit of “balance” in coffee, using a caturra from La Predera, Colombia roasted by Union. Chee explored balance by first presenting the espresso in its pure state, and then by using two wildly different flavors to balance the coffee. The first flavour was quite familiar – and indeed, demanded by the rules – the sweetness of the milk in his cappuccino, which created balance and a “soft creamy caramel” taste.
The second flavour was rather unconventional. Chee’s sig drink seeks explored the other end of balance through a homemade consommé of roasted homegrown mushrooms – grown in 75% ground coffee waste – and local tomatoes that he soaked overnight to bring out their ‘umami’ flavours, meant to achieve a “different kind of balance” in the cup. He asked each of the judges to add 5ml of this mushroom mixture with a syringe directly into their espressos, stirring well before tasting.
Estelle Bright – Caravan Coffee Roasters– 3rd overall
Having competed twice before, Estelle is well known around London for being a kick-ass barista with awesome style, although this reporter may be a bit biased, as I personally love her style and tattoos! She currently works as Head Barista and Quality Control at the busy Caravan Coffee, and her skills and energy on stage have earned her the honor of being one of the top 3 UK baristas, very much at home alongside John Gordon and Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood.
Starting right off, Estelle told the judges that there were two reasons she picked her particular coffee for UKBC. First, because “it’s super yummy”, and second because “it represents my personality.” With the fun and wild nature of the Dumerso Ethiopian Yirgacheffe natural she selected, I think she’s probably right!
One of the fastest and cleanest competitors, Estelle began with espressos first that yielded notes of strawberry, apricot, and peach, but “mostly strawberry.” I should note that Estelle’s soundtrack included such favourites as “Can’t Touch This”, “Milkshake”, and “Super Freak” which certainly created a fun atmosphere in the room.
Estelle’s cappuccinos continued on the strawberry theme, tasting of “strawberry milkshake,” before she moved onto her, you guessed it, strawberry-themed sig drink. She started by using sodium alginate – yes, I had to Google that – blended with water and strawberry syrup. It looked something like this:
Now this is the cool part. Estelle took small spoonfuls of this liquid and dropped it into calcium chloride mixed with water to create little pebbles. Each judge got their own “pebble” and were instructed to pour espresso directly over it, then “knock it back” and pop the pebble in their mouth. This created an explosion of strawberry flavour to compliment the espresso. Very cool.
I took way more pictures of Estelle, and we'll share this last one with you just to capture her style – this girl really has an awesome look.
Original photography and reporting from London by Elyse Bouvier.