Prufrocker: The Blog

What would I do if I was competing in the Barista Competition this year? Part 1

Part 1: Past masters and dealing with judges.

by  |   |  Competitions, Tips & Tricks

Kaori Takasu in an all Prufrock Quarter final

The first thing to do is to start training. Now is the perfect time. One of our star baristas is entering and step one in his training is learning to judge. Let’s call him Gazza, though that’s not his real name. He already needs to be able to score espresso as part of his role at Prufrock as a senior barista because he’s filling out our espresso journal a couple of times a day. Beyond this, critiquing the finer points of customer service as part of a judging panel should help mould his own service skills. Competitors are not allowed to do the UKBC judge’s calibration but some formal mock judging will show him how good a listener he is so that he can have perspective on the judging panel’s duties. Judges get nervous. A judge might be anxious about missing some crucial information the barista tells them. It might be their first judging season. They might have a headache. Gazza needs to judge a few mock performances so he can develop an understanding of what it is reasonable to expect a judge to pick up. After that he can write his speech and structure his performance with more empathy. Then he will get better customer service points. 48points on the line here. That’s how this post is going to work.

It is very common that a competitor will present espressos for assessment and then immediately launch into a lengthy discussion about their upcoming signature beverage. You’ve got to tell them this stuff at some point, but we are training Gazza to avoid distracting the judges from scoring his drinks accurately. Part of the judges training also requests that the judges don’t write while you are speaking to them as a courtesy. When we structure routines at Prufrock, we get together as a big training group, do a bunch of run throughs and try to avoid conflicts like this. Now I should say it is the responsibility of your national chapter to ensure they train and select judges with outstanding receptivity and coffee acumen. The competition is a forum for advancing barista techniques and machine development and this is totally reliant on great judging that can keep up with great baristas. This said, it can’t hurt to hedge your bets a little. Don’t let the judges miss anything important. I don’t mean keep it simple, I mean make it easy.

There is an argument for making fantastic menus to give the judges. Quite a few competitors did this last season to great effect but if Gazza wants to make sure his menu is useful during the performance, then his own mock judging will help demonstrate to him what kinds of layouts are easier to read than others. We’ll be trying a few different formats out during training. If you go down this route, the judges don’t need a memento to take home that cost lots at the printers. They need clear large print with perfect concise, accurate and intelligent coffee information.

In anticipation of next years competitions, we’ve entered every throw down going recently. A nice ‘un at Kaffeine the other night.

Kaffeine Throw Down

The Taylor Street + Coffee Kids throw down last month certainly demonstrated a good four pints can conquer nerves. But this is not going to win you any professionalism points if the judges notice your speech is slurred. A coping strategy is necessary. It is hard seeing top baristas get the shakes and spill things or forswear never to compete again after an attack of nerves in the public arena. Barista trainers are generally well placed to compete in these kinds of competitions as they are constantly talking about coffee to large groups of strangers. I’d look to get involved with my company’s training program if I was planning to compete. The real trick here is to be well prepared, familiar with your coffee, and to trust your skill. Get to the point where you won’t need luck and then you won’t be as anxious. If you are still shaky, you can just as easily pour your capps like this.

Colin Harmon.

Step two in my training process would be to investigate past masters like this world’s most easy to listen to guy, and I might have my stop watch in hand. Colin hollers out things to write down from the espresso machine. Having been given ample time to jot these things down, Colin’s sensory judges can then just tick things off if they recognise the sensation when the drinks arrive. They all look like they are positively enjoying the experience. The WBC live stream archive should prove an invaluable resource in helping you structure your routine.

The history books demonstrate some pretty interesting things. Check out espresso sin crema from Alejandro Mendez Pretty great structure in this performance. Very clear instructions to the judges (he tells them twice) to evaluate the crema but not stir or taste the espresso before he can strain/filter it off. Without sacrificing any points he’s likely to gain a half a point or two extra on the tactile and taste balance scores for what would certainly have been a smoother and  less bitter tasting espresso without all those suspended solids floating on top.

To be continued…

Read on for Part 2