Prufrocker: The Blog

What would I do if I was competing in the Barista Competition this year? Part 2

Part 2: Rinsing the score sheet.

by  |   |  Competitions, Tips & Tricks


I’ve got the rules on my phone saved in ibooks as a PDF. There is no reason to suppose the rules are fixed in place forever but you are bound by them as a competitor and it is essential you know them. Here are some doozies you should be aware of before you start to design your drinks.

Check this one out in the espresso evaluation section. 48 points on the line here:

  1. Flavour…. Flavour descriptors must be given or a score of zero will be received in this category.

Don’t give sixteen different descriptors either. Even if your team have identified this many, it is unlikely they will all pop up unequivocally on competition day. Three or four accurately described and quality flavours should suffice for a high score. Work them out in the week of the competition with the same roast batch of coffee you will use in performance with a large group of coffee people, just don’t forget them. Make sure they are water tight and slight variations in shot time don’t make them indetectable. You might just stick to the SCAA coffee flavour wheel. But be mindful the UK Judges training places a strong emphasis on precise flavour notes that point not just to species, but varietal comparisons with other foods and drinks.

This is a good one (on page three in the beverage definitions section) when applied to the signature beverage; something of an off-side rule for the barista competition and a staggering 96points rides on getting this right:

  1. Signature Beverage C. Each of the four signature beverages must contain a minimum of one espresso shot (per the definition of espresso in 2.2.1 A-K), otherwise the competitor will receive a score of zero points for “Taste balance” on the sensory scoresheets in the signature beverage category.2.2 BEVERAGE DEFINITIONS2.2.1 EspressoA. Espresso is a 1 fl. oz. beverage (30mL +/- 5mL) made from ground coffee, poured from one side of a double portafilter in one continuous extraction.

Consider the overall volume of an espresso includes crema and crema rapidly dissipates. Many competitors prepare sig. bev. espressos in advance to benefit from an increase in perceived sweetness after the espresso has cooled. Let’s say this espresso, when it was first poured, occupied 30ml in the cup, but 25% of this volume was crema. Then 10min later when a competitor gets around to using it, it will occupy 22.5ml and thus be heading towards a taste balance score of ZERO. Food for thought? Don’t use calibrated beakers to serve in is my advice.

As the rules stand, the competitor isn’t allowed to alter the group-head temp. The sponsored espresso machine from San Remo has the technology to allow baristas to adjust the exit temperature of the water as it is a multi-boiler machine with nice small PID’ed independent brew boilers. Maybe down the track, this rule could be amended but for the last two years it’s been set at 93.5deg C. I would be fairly sure this will be the case again. So play the game. The trick for 2014 UKBC is to find a coffee that brews fantastically well at 93.5deg.

Many of the rules are there to keep calibrated judges in calibration. They might fall out of calibration if they are scoring coffee-shots (lungos) against ristrettos. The scoring is fairer if the drinks are more focused in TDS range. The Brewer’s cup even puts a TDS cap of 2% which seems very reasonable to me.

The SCAE UK Chapter’s annual general meeting in 2012 discussed at length the issue of bringing all rules and regulations in line with the WBC and this became policy for our competition in 2013 onwards. Interestingly, this means to get a rule looked into at national level, it is necessary at the moment to contact World Coffee Events. I had a good chat with Jessica MacDonald of Square Mile fame who is on the World Coffee Events Rules and Regulations committee the other night at the London Latte Art Smackdown finals and she pointed out, the rules are being finalised at the moment for 2014. This means any lobbying you may have in mind will only have bearing on UKBC 2015. That’s ok. Follow World Champion Pete Licata’s example and play the long game. We’ve got Gazza and Heidi (who has just decided to enter the fray) on a once a week rule reading diet. Make sure you trawl through all the fine print a couple of times but from page 12 onwards is the real business end for scoring criteria.

This week if I was competing in the barista competition I would read the 2013 rules and the competitor’s code of conduct and stand by for the release of 2014’s rules in case anything has changed. These will apply to the UK too. The point is, you should train with these considerations in mind, not find out on the day or one week ahead and then you’ll enjoy the rules. Elite football is easier to watch and generally more wholesome than kill the dill with the pill. (Maybe this is a game known only to Aussies?) The World Coffee Events want a fair and modern competition. Take heart, last year they put in an and/or clause in the taste balance section for espressos: an harmonious balance of sweet, acidic and/or bitter. This is a very good thing.

Read on for part three…


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