It was a day where a few shone and many did not. It was a time yielding evidence that practice makes perfect, or at least that practice is helpful. Out of 23 competitors at this past weekend’s Auckland Barista Championships, at least half went overtime with their set, some even up to 2 minutes.
But all hope for the coffee industry in New Zealand is not lost.
In the battle of Auckland baristas this past weekend, it was the seasoned vetran, David Huang, who came out on top once again, with second place going to his sidekick from Espresso Workshop, Kayoko Nakamura. Also making the top six was our friend from Gravity, Andrew Pearson. The first barista we met in Auckland, Ben from Toasted, competed as well. We are proud of our friends for working so hard, months beforehand, preparing so diligently for this event.
Carl Sara, the former NZ Barista Champion, mc’d the event this year, and did a fantastic job of encouraging the competitors after their set, even if things didn’t go as planned. Carl Sara is passionate about coffee and is earnest about brining the third wave of the specialty coffee industry to NZ, and supporting the industry in NZ by sourcing high quality green.
For those of you who are new to the whole barista competition scene, let me fill you in. Each competitor has 15 minutes to serve 3 drinks to each of the 4 sensory judges: An espresso, a cappuccino, and a signature drink (which is basically a drink you make up yourself).
The panel of the 4 sensory judge, plus a head judge, are the only people who get to taste the drinks during each round, and there are another 2 judges who simply look at the technical aspect of the barista’s performance.
The technical judges will be checking for things such as: Consistency of extraction, evenness of tamping, wastage of coffee and milk, how long it takes to pull a shot of espresso, cleanliness of work station, etc. With that being said, the competitor is under immense pressure and is critiqued not only on how their beverages taste, but also on their performance and presentation as well.
A number of creative signature drinks reached the judges palettes on Saturday.
Everything from fizzy drinks, to custards, and layered martinis were prepared for the judges to sample and critique. The most common ingredient used to compliment the signature drink this year was honey, followed closely by berries, as well as citrus. Some flopped, while others got rave reviews. In my opinion, the coolest sig drink I saw was a fizzy drink made of espresso and some kind of raspberry syrup, served in a cool glass bottle with a straw.
Would have loved a sip of that one.
I reckon that competitors should all set up stands and sell samples of their sig. beverages after their performances. After hearing competitors explain the components and complexities of their drinks, even someone like me, who is not the hugest coffee drinker, was pretty keen on trying some of the beverages presented.
Brendon had a great view of all the action, as he volunteered for the day as the official timer of and runner of station 3. Let’s hear from the one who’s really the coffee expert here to fill you in.
Overall impressions were probably that of disappointment.
As Mel has alluded to already, there were many competitors who were not adequately prepared for competition. Although there were bright spots, as a whole, the Auckland Baristas disappointed. As another blogger commented, there was a clear line between those who are baristas and those who make a lot of coffee in a cafe. The difference in the way people went about forming their sets were drastic. The top baristas got to know their coffee and what was great about it, and accompanied it with other ingredients that highlighted the coffee. Others just did what they thought would be impressive and taste good. The level of knowledge about the coffee was not that good. Most everyone went overtime and most people clearly had not practiced their 15 minute set up time. There was a higher level of competition at the Prairie Regionals in Calgary last year.
All that being said, as an event, it was flawless! The New Zealand Coffee Roasters Association ran the championships, and Emma, a former NZ barista champion and WBC certified judge, ran a tight ship. Despite not having too many volunteers, the day ran smoothly and things turned out great. There was 6 WBC certified judges present and the judges apparently had a very high standard for the national championship by only allowing the top two from each region, and only selecting one of a possible three wild card spots for the country. So at Nationals will be 7 competitors, and any of them could win! It will surely be a high level of professionalism, skill and knowledge. Also, they will be sending the top three to London, not just the winner.
David and Kayoko are now off to Nationals, which will be held here in Auckland on the 17th of this month. Nice job, Espresso Workshop. We wish you the best of luck as you represent this fine city of ours in the next round of competition, and will undoubtedly be there to cheer you on!