(Long Post, perhaps something for a long journey, or to bring to bed)
Today saw the first barista jam held on this island. Organised by Se Gorman and Hugh Gilmartin, it pulled in a crowd of around 24 coffee heads to South Belfast. I was there to run a class on developing sensory skills and my ever supportive girlfriend Jen came along to help out too. For those who thought Jen was the one who steadied me, and kept me away from absolute geekdom,…I’d be worried, as she’s really getting very into this whole coffee thing.
We drove up the day before, and went out to dinner with Se and his girlfriend Viola (spelling?) to a great fish place in Dundrum on the coast. It was the first time I tried oysters, and while yeah they were good, though a little slimey, I was happy when my cram claws and langoustines arrived, with their considerably more meaty textures. I’d would like to say too that Se Gorman is possibly one of the luckiest guys I know, if only for the fact that he wakes up to this view every morning.
The following morning, after a quick pit stop in Se’s Cafe, we made our way to Belfast, arriving at Hugh’s training centre, the location for the day around 9.45. It wasn’t long before everyone had turned up, and after a few introductions and a welcome to all in attendance, we got started.
The group was split in to 4 teams, with a rotational system working after each class. I think I was quite lucky with my workshop as unlike the other three, I had a room all to myself. After a brief chat about the importance in developing a palate and how it can be easily done behind the bar, I had the baristas attempt to identify 6 different aromas from phials. To make it easier, we told them what was on the table and just asked them to match each up with which ever colour phial. It was interesting how different people excelled at this and others didn’t. I saw no proof to the theory that women find this easier, however on a whole everyone found this rather easy. Personally I didn’t find the potatoe too pungent, and the coffee blossom was hard to pick out in a room full of ground coffee, but there was more than a few people who got them all right.
The next task with me was more difficult. The class had to differentiate 6 different filter offerings, and as most baristas over here wouldn’t be that familiar with filter coffee, I told them what was on the table, just not which was which. We has an instant, a 3 month old aerated stale coffee, an old brown java, an ethiopian mocha sidamo, a colombian,(not sure where from) and a blend of the ethiopian and a costa rica tres rios. What made this particularly difficult, was that somehow, the instant wasn’t that bad. I was hoping it would be foul beyond belief, but for whatever reason it didn’t stand out like I hoped. You could still tell clearly from the nose on it, and the particularly cheap nasty finish, but when it was hot, it was difficult for the baristas to pick it out straight away, in fact many didn’t at all.
I really enjoyed giving my class, one because I knew all the answers and got to feel clever all day, and two because it you don’t often get a chance to play with these sort of things in training sessions, and it was nice to spend time with everyone as new groups came through throughout the day.
Se Gorman had people doing barista poker; a game where depending on what cards they were dealt, it would stipulate an order that needed to be made in 5 minutes, while being observed wbc style by Se, an experienced and successful competitor himself. This wasn’t easy, as a barista could get an order for three espresso and two macchiato, or three mochas and two lattes, which obviously took more time.
Meanwhile, Philip Mills of Johnsons Coffee introduced the gangs to roasting using a new Probat sample roaster Hugh just got. After giving the guys info on the basics of roasting, he got them to design their own blend and roast it themselves, the blend would then be tasted against the other teams to decide a winner later on. The baristas were also given quizzes on some of the info Phil was throwing at them. Scores from this quiz, and the other classes going on were added up and revealed between each class, on a plasma screen showing the barista superstar table!
The other class the baristas got to do was an introduction to cupping with Hugh. On the table were wildly different coffees, from a robusta to a Brazil Cup of Excellence, which although a far removal from the baristas daily duties, I think they must have really found eye opening. This took a similar format to my class as the gang was asked to try identify the coffees, after being told what was on the table, just not what order. I dabbled at tasting a few later on, and despite them being quite cold, I was interested that the COE Brazil still stood out. I’m sorry I don’t know more about the other classes, but I was sorta doing mine at the time, so kinda busy.
Karl Purdy went on to gather the highest score of the day and recieved a crate of Hugh’s favourite wine, (didn’t catch the name sorry), with James Shepard coming second and David whose surname I don’t know coming third. Other prizes were handed out to people who showed exceptional skill and enthusiasm and I was happy, if a little reluctant to donate some coffee Klaus had given me the week before in Copenhagen. All in all though, I thought the day went really well, and honestly feel people had a good time. I’d like to think something similar can be organised down south soon, but as I’ll be leaving the country soon, I doubt I’ll be here to see it. Well done Se and Hugh for putting the whole thing together, and for getting me involved, it was a great, great weekend.
More pics here.