Things have been a bit up in the air recently which has served as a distraction from beginning my preparation for Copenhagen. I won’t bore you with what the things were, but I’ll ask you a quick question instead.
I saw some pics recently of David Makin (a lovely chap) winning a competition in Australia and was very impressed with the art he managed in his capps. I was bothered by my drop in quality on the day for the irish and think now that my capps are my weakest area.
This is a picture of a rosetta poured recently in the 5 oz cappuccino cups I used in the Irish and will be using in the Worlds. Theres things I like and don’t like about the pour, but I’d love some feedback from any competitors and judges out there.
For competition, what score would you give this cappuccino on visual appearance?
I’ve been busy, but again I apologise for not posting. In my defense though, if I had posted, it would have been pure drivel and I’d rather not waste all your precious time; God knows a lot of us coffee bloggers talk a lot of nonsense you have to trudge through.
So anyway, last time I posted was in Toronto, which yes, was over a month ago. I remember I had some interesting musings from the competition at the time, but am struggling to remember them for you now. I do know it was well organised though, relatively well attended, and the right person won. I was impressed by the nuovo machines, and thought the stars for me were the volunteers like Ian Clarke, Robert Goble, Matthew Lee, Brad Ford, the gentlemen of Transcend Coffee and all the other competitors’ runners. Its easy to forget just how finicky running these things are, and how many people you need to keep it running smoothly. WBC 07, as I’ve said before, has set a template model for how to run it well, presuming you have the ample resources.
The other fun part of Toronto was getting to know some of the coffee crowd there, an interesting bunch, who like most other spots, seem to befriend and visit each other. Sadly I didn’t have any shots on my trip that excited enough to raise my number, although I must admit Amber Fox made me a shot of Kid O in Dark Horse Espresso Bar that was really very decent. People like her, Liz Clayton, Johnathan Aroundalot, Jay, Tracy Allen, Brent Fortune, Scott the great tech judge, and the crew of Manic Coffee, made the trip a lot of fun for me. Thanks, and I’m sorry to bore you all with this, but I have to say thanks especially must go to Les Kuan and Vida Radovanovic, who looked after me so well on the trip. Les gives such an incredible amount of time to these events and deserves a lot of appreciation and respect.
OK, so since then,.. well apart from catching up with things non coffee, putting off getting a driving license, cooking a lot ( see above), I’ve been doing some work for my friend Joe O Hara in the UK. Joe operates mobile coffee bars and crews that provide high quality coffee as an attraction for events, including breakfast with the Rolling Stones, backstage at Glastonbury, Live 8, and two weeks ago 21’000 beauticians at a beauty conference in Manchester-fierce busy.
Its not that they were ditsy customers, but there was an awful lot of difficulty with people thinking they could form their own que point, as opposed to the one three feet away 30 people deep. In addition, there were many cases of ladies forgetting and then changing their order from the pay point to collect point, assured we’d made the mistake despite having a receipt in their hands. Another favourite was the lady who complained about her Hot Chocolate being cold, immediately after we served it to her, arguing it was ‘just drinkable’. I had to struggle to hide the smirk, or my fury. All good fun though.
What makes these jobs particularly enjoyable, is that Joe is fairly particular about what he’s serving, and so hires, (all modesty out the window), only decent baristas and uses a high a very quality roaster, Steve Leighton. Hes fussy about standards and expects us to deliver quickly but withot any compromises. Personally I enoy this demand a lot as I’d hate to lose complete contact with the enviroment a high volume bar offers.
So for this event, it was myself, Joe, and two New Zealanders who work and did work in London’s best coffee spot Flat White, Matt and Jineen (spelling?). I love when I get the chance to work with new baristas in a high volume enviroment, who I suppose you could say come from a different school of brewing with espresso.
We were working off Spaziale s5′s, which although not necessaryily the darling of our current wave, I must say I’ve come to grow very fond of the little workhorses. They can run off very little power, and as long as you make sure your water barrels are full, they never give any trouble. I suspect its not the most stable machine out there, but as the smallest drink we really sold, (we did offer espresso and macchiato, however beauticians seemed to like their milk) was 8 oz to go cappuccinos or lattes, I didn’t lose too much sleep over what I might be losing or conceivably gaining, in each shot.
OK, I’m off to pop into town to see if anywhere new in Dublin is serving decent coffee. I know Google is having an in house barista competition, and I think Buzz Fendall, the self titled bald barista,has opened a new cafe so theres a slight chance of another post coming soon. Oh yeah, and I booked flights last night for Jenny and I to come out to New York on the 31st of December till the 5th of January, so hopefully I’ll get to catch up with some the community while there. Right thats all, consider my blog updated. Leave me alone.
oh and my chemex broke,theres no nice coffee in my house and its my birthday tomorrow. you have your hints,….
home address given at request
So I’m leaving the country again, and once again I travel to Canada. I’ll be working at the Canadian Barista Championships and taking part in the various classes held the week of the comp. Its great seeing old friends again as well as tasting new coffees.
I’ll give more info soon, but in the mean time you need to watch this video.
I’d also like to say thanks again for all the kind comments on my last post, I love how people from so many countries have left posts; Greece, Canada, Denmark, Australia, UK and Ireland, Estonia and the Republic of LA. The wonderful international community we’re in I guess.
Today I entered and won Ireland’s first National Barista Competition. I’m extremely happy and feel very lucky to have won considering how tight the competition was. I made it into the final round by way of being only slightly faster than my good friend Jackie Malone, along with two old co-workers;from Bewleys Cafe and Kate O’Shaughnessy, a trainer for Bewleys.
The final round was really nerve racking as Kate and Liv had both scored higher than me in their first rounds. In the first round, I’d made the mistake of going over some of my first decisions which resulted in changing cups at the last second which were correct the first time. I made a point of not making the same mistake in the final but was terrified I went through it too quickly without taking my time. I think I might have done better with my accuracy if I hadn’t rushed the last 2 cups, one set of which I didn’t even taste all three cups, the first two being so foul I was sure the third must, must be better and elected it as the odd one out. This was a cocky move which turned out to be wrong, however as each of the finalists scored 6 out of 8, I eventually won by being that little bit quicker- something not essentially paramount for a cupper but nevertheless a rule in the competition.
Each of the finalists scored 6 out of 8. I I was very fortunate to snatch first and feel strongly that many of the competitors on the day were equally capable and could easily have taken first. Triangular cupping was a common event in the training room of Intelligentsia LA and my scores were never as consistent as I’d have liked. Its always been something I’d like to improve and now, with me representing my country for the first time in coffee on a world stage, I guess I’d better start working on it.
As much as I’ve enjoyed this summer, the appeal of a week in the sun with the better half and no responsibilities was just too good to turn down. So here I am in Seville, in the south of Spain. Its ten to 9 right now and the weather outside is at 97C, although from my air conditioned room in Hotel Sevilla Center, you’d never tell.
I’ll keep the boring travel stories for our families, but I’ll let ye know about any culinary delights I encounter. So far the only coffee I’ve had was at the Hotel breakfast which sadly was quite stale, and unpleasant. Jenny, who now drinks espresso and never takes milk-so proud, thought it was so bad she couldn’t finish her cup. While it was terrible, for some reason I had to suffer two cups in order to feel human. I’m not sure if thats weird or not. Perhaps I need more coffee per day, bad or not, than Jen does. Considering I’ve tasted so much nice filter coffee over this summer,you’d think I’d hold back from allowing this robusta laden stuff. I’ve heard of other people drinking low quality stuff just for the hit, despite our general appreciation focuses on everything but the hit.
We’re just getting ready to head out for dinner, and I’m thinking Paella will go down very well right now with a nice bottle of red. On Monday morning, we’re hoping to head to Jerez, and take a tour of how Sherry is made.
I just wanna apologise too for those of you look at my flickr, I feel quite the hypocrite as normally I’m the guy who bitches about coffee people on flickr putting non coffee stuff up. I guess I’m just as human as everyone else, despite people’s observations.
I’m not sure if theres much more I can give to the already extensive chatter and excitement over James’ win. I always knew he was capable of claiming the title this year but as mentioned in previous posts was slightly doubtful after his first round and also from how the Herbazu was tasting right before it. It wasn’t offensive, it just wasn’t consistent.
It didn’t make sense to me as I clearly remember sitting with James a week before going through the green picking out any defects. I’m sure there are other factors that go to making a coffee inconsistent and its true too that it was one week old and perhaps, though I doubt it, it was a little fresh.
The following morning, we trudged back for James’ second practice time, only this time it would be for the finals. The previous night was a hectic rush around Toky’s Ginza district frantically looking for fresh cream, clean tablecloths, napkins, and rosemary, whilst still trying to grapple with the fact he got in. The piece of paper saying what we though to be cream but then found out said ice cream didn’t help our search, but as in now clear, we managed to find everything we need. (Much thanks must go to our hotels who lent us the napkins and the tablecloth.)
So as I said before, the shots on this day were sublime, both the Herbazu and the Gethumbwini. That Kenya is just ridiculous; no matter how off or on the shot is, it just screams blackberry. His latte art was solid as ever and the milk seemed to be performing well thank God. So it was around this time that I started to feel he could really grab it.
While I did express surprise that he got in, I think this was just because his signature drink didn’t work out as planned and he had to remake his second cappuccino shots. I forget how strong he is technically, how good his drinks can taste, particularly his capps, (who this year I think were his strongest drink, with the espresso a close second) and I think this year in particular, with the standards so high, the competition showed very clearly how as an onlooker its very difficult to guess the outcome. Its entirely in the cup, and that is where James always does very well. If he tells me a certain shot is beautiful, I feel very confident that I’ll respond the same way. As I look to nest year’s Irish Barista Competition and whether I’ll be able to enter or not, I think finding the tastiest coffees will be one my first tasks. The problem with that though, is that you preferably want fresh crop and so I’ll need to wait a bit before I can nail taht one down.
You know what happened next. I liked very much how James performance this year showed innovation on a less theatrical level to previous years; two single estates, two shots of each for the sig drink, a sig drink designed purely to taste wonderful as opposed to visually impressive, pouring his capps at the table and his general non scripted relaxed patter on stage. He had very tough competition and full credit must go to them for their incredibly polished and charming performances.
James now starts a big year in his life, not only because of the competition, but also as hes setting up a new company in London. The following months will be interesting.
To finish up, I am wishing very much that I was in LA for this;
but sadly I will be here at that time.
Seville is known as the frying pan of Spain, so expect pictures to emerge soon of a slightly red me. As annoying as it is to miss the opening party in LA, Seville is supposed to be on of the most beautiful cities n the world, and if you know me well, then you know where I’d rather be.
So by now you no doubt know the result.
I thought Carl’s performance was particularly impressive and deserves a lot of credit for his innovation and paced set. Heather’s set was polished to the enth degree and as regards James, I’m not really sure what to say other than I’m just so proud of him.
I think many people were capable of claiming the title , but at the same time, feel that James is truly worthy.
It is now 2.13 am here in Tokyo, and we need to be at the airport in a few hours, so apologies for not providing much more than this.
Its not that we’re not prepared, its more that we didn’t realise Tokyo was not the same as every other big city. It seems fresh cream is not a common item in every grocery store. About an hour ago, Jen, James and myself were pacing around central Tokyo, checking every convenience store and food hall we could find in search of cream and a certain, not too unusual herb. Thankfully, we did eventually find it, but sweet Jesus, that was tight, especially as the shops were due to close a half hour or so later.
To further add to the stress, we were yet to find a local milk we were happy with, so on returning to the hotel, some tasting had to happen. We had already tasted quite a few drinks that day, especially milk drinks so we weren’t particularly looking forward to this. I say we, it seems James, really means it when he says he’s not a big milk fan, and so the tasting was down to me. Now I realise this might seem last minute work, but we didn’t think the milks we orginally sampled would or could be so bad.
Anyway, so today as you well know was the first day of the World Barista Championship. For a complete list and full video of all the competitors, please look to http://www.zachzachary.com. Zachary and Katie have been relentless in their coverage, glued to their laptops and cameras or running around catching quick interviews all day and they deserve an awful lot of credit for sticking to their word so much in what they’d achieve here in Tokyo. They’re also lovely people, so lovely in fact that they can wear semi-matching outfits and still come across charming- something so many hideous people attempt and fail to pull off.
Credit too, must go to Nick Cho, the Master of Cermonies for all 23 competitors today and as far as I know is set to do it all again tomorrow. I’d never met him before or seen him do MC, but he’s really good at hosting the competition and I particularly like how he addresses each barista as ‘barista champion’ on stage.
The event, to me seems very well organised. As James’ coach, I was backstage quite a lot, and got to see a lot of the logistics that go into making the whole thing tick. It really is astonishing and apart from one or two small hick ups that were really out of the organisers’ control, they seemed to have pulled it off perfectly.
I watched quite a few of the competitors but sadly couldn’t see them all. The tightest performers, from the not too valid audience perspective, were Norway, Denmark, New Zealand, and Mexico. I heard others were great too. I saw no one who seemed unprepared or embarrassingly out of their debt. The standard is getting higher and higher, making the notion of me competing next year both more challenging and kind of terrifying.
James is on at 9 am in the morning, first of the day. I will momentarily be on stage. His coffees seemed to have made the journey unscathed and were tasting pretty wonderful in practice today. The polishing is all done and all the equipment is safe, and accounted for. We just decided what music is best after deliberating for months. I’m wondering now if his shoes need polishing, but hey, with the new rules now,…
You should also check out the barista magazine blog where Ken is posting his clever insights quite often through each day.
Check flickr for more, and think kind thoughts towards James in the morning, though most of you are probably asleep at that time. Nevermind.
I have been sitting in LAX since 5 pm and it is now 8.45. My flight doesn’t depart till ten. Its delayed, so I’ll miss my connection in London to Dublin and will have to get the next flight, resulting in me not getting home till around 9 pm tomorrow night. Despite that, I’m oddly not in a bad mood.
I’ve been going through all my photos from the last few weeks; those from the road trip down the west coast and the more recent shots taken over the last few weeks that I’ve been working for Intelligentsia here in LA. With the opening of the cafe and roastery moments away(interpret moments as you wish), its not easy leaving.
I’d say the best thing I took from working here was the chance to cup every day, sometimes twice. If you know me, then you know this is realy all I wanna do these days. Not to suggest that I’ve mastered espresso, or that I ever will, but I just find it boring now and again. I’m not sure if I’m having trouble nailing that God Shot, or whether I just don’t like espresso. I think the most I ever enjoy a coffee is on a cupping table.
Take today for an example; The best coffee I tasted on this trip so far was a Kenya Mamuto from George Howell in the Clover Lab. I’ve never gotten so much berry before in such an articulate, exciting cup. But over the last few days, a lot of new crops have been coming into the works, and sweet jesus they’re tasty. If you can get your hands on the new tres santos micro lots, then do, oh and you should also try their Papa New Guinea, which is just so wonderfully not a typical Indonesian. But today was probably the best table I’ve done so far. There was a number of pre ship samples in the flight as well as a few production roasts of a few new fresh crops. Its always tough to properly access with a table of sample roasts up against production roasts but I scored everything 86+. But the best coffee by far, scoring and 95 from me, and an 97 from Doug, was a sample roast of their new Yirgacheffe which has just landed at Chicago.
What made this different for me, was that it was super chuggable, and not just the weird exciting cup I usually go for. It was like marmalade and chocolate but it was so clean, and so articulate in its nuances that I just couldn’t stop slurping. I loved that todays cupping, the last of my trip was the most enjoyable so far. I’m not a great cupper but I want to be. I know where my skill level is at and I love that I can set myself a clear challenge of improving such a particular skill set over the next few years, and presumably for the rest of my life.
I’ll try to more of a recap in a day or two when I recover, or perhaps on the flight to Tokyo, although I suspect I’ll have my head buried in the new harry potter book during that.
I’d like to say a quick but sincere thanks to all the crew at Intelligentsia LA for making me feel so welcome and teaching me so much over the last while. I’ll stay in touch.
Oh, and I just vomited an awful lot of pics up onto flickr, some you may or may not find interesting.
So today is the 4th of July, and I worry I’m not being patriotic enough as I realise I’m wearing all green, as opposed to any stars or stripes. But I’m not too bothered, its another gloriously hot day in LA and I’m sipping a tasty cappuccino made off the gs3 in our Kitchen.
I suspect in time people will start to better understand why some people hold Intelligentsia in such high regard. Its probably fair to say some of their biggest merits aren’t really known, definitely not within the general public, but also not really in the coffee community either. That said, the baristas in training for the new cafe here in Silverlake are being thoroughly trained in all aspects of the company various buying practices and along with some useful accessories will be able to explain to customers just why the company is so good, and perhaps more importantly, just what specialty coffee is and where its heading.
I have around 2 more weeks working here with the LA Intelly crew before I head back home to Dublin. I will spend a few days there before flying over to London and begin helping James polish off his routine for the WBC. Jenny, my infinitely better half, should be tagging along and will also form part of Team Hoffmann for Tokyo. (We won’t actually be called Team Hoffmann by the way) Getting to go to Tokyo is fierce exciting, especially as I was quite sore to miss Bern last year. It’ll be interesting to see how big the western contingent is over there, seeing as its so bloody, but wonderfully far away.
As to what I’m doing after Tokyo, the details are hazy, but there are plans.
I’ll try to give some more insights into what Intelligentsia are doing here in LA , but for the moment I recommend you check out the intelli.la blog for the latest news and grumbles from the camp.
In other, more personal news. The beard is gone. No pictures currently exist. I am half the man I was. I don’t like it.