Thursday, January 9, 2014

Big East Barista Competition

Big news in the coffee world coming up!  The Big Eastern Barista Competition is happening next weekend, January 17-19th.   This is a part of coffee culture that is awesome, and many times, is either unknown, or laughed at when someone hears about it for the first time.  However, this year is HUGE for New England, especially PROVIDENCE, as we have 2 competitors using New Harvest Coffee, and a few other familiar Providence faces competing this year!

So what is a Barista Competition?

   Described on the USBC website, "The United States Barista Championship (USBC) is a platform for baristas to enhance their espresso beverage making skills through an exciting and challenging competition. In 15 minutes, the barista must prepare and serve espressos, cappuccinos, and a personally designed signature beverage for four sensory judges; all while being assessed on their preparation abilities by two technical judges. The USBC is more than a competition; it’s a place to develop community and meet other coffee lovers from across the US. Throughout the year, baristas from all across the country compete in six regional competitions to qualify for this national event and the winner of the USBC will go on to represent the United States in the World Barista Championship (WBC)"

It is not just pulling some espresso shots-  it is crafting exceptional drinks, consistently, while keeping your station clean and preparing your espresso by strict SCAA standards, while being watched by technical judges on your every move, while talking to the sensory judges, who will be tasting and judging your drinks, about anything and everything about your coffee, while being timed, and filmed, and having an audience watch you...  and be charismatic and not look flustered...

 WHEW!  It is intense.

My favorite performance is from last year by  Matthew Perger, Australia's Barista Champion.  To get an idea of how in depth these competitions go, check out his performance via youtube:        


 (judges watching intently at his every move!)

As you can see, this takes skill, passion, and PRACTICE!

I had the fantastic opportunity this past week to help our East Coast competitors get some competition insight.  The event was hosted by the espresso machine company Nuova Simonelli , who also sponsors the USBC and WBC events, and by InterAmerican coffee.  Todd Mackey (of InterAmerican/ Coffee Solutions) and Luigi Barber (of Nuova Simonelli) had this idea to get the competitors together for a day of intense preparation.  Gerra Harrigan (InterAmerican) put the event together and asked for the help of some industry professionals:

Katie Carguilo, our USBC Champion last year, who works for Counter Culture Coffee.  Her performance was groundbreaking, and you can read about it here

Dan Streetman, who is the VP of Wholesale & Green Coffee Buyer at Irving Farm Coffee Roasters, and has an impressive resume of being a past chair of the Barista Guild of America and a USBC Head Judge. 

Kari Guddek, from Wicked Joe Coffee and Bard Coffee from Portland, Maine, who also has involement in the SCAA and is a USBC Head Judge. 

Too boot, this event was held at Thee Red Fez in downtown Providence!!  (Giant THANK YOU!)


Competitors got time on the same machine and grinder that will be used at competition, and 15 minutes to have their espresso tasted and discussed by the people listed above, who also gave competitors a play by play of the score sheet that they will be judged on.

Then, competitors "cupped" their espresso-  we brewed the coffee and tasted it together to talk about flavors, balance, body, acidity- which might taste differently brewed as coffee than as espresso.  This helped competitors taste a side of their espresso they might not be familiar with- knowing your coffee in and out is necessary for competition!

This is not from the event, but is what a "cupping" looks like

Competitors then got a public speaking class to help with the presentation side...  then there was a great dinner and THEN the first Providence Coffee Society throwdown of the year!!

Our usual Throwdown, with a twist!  Competitors had to make competition style cappuccinos, using a technique called "Milk Sharing," where you steam one pitcher to make the two drinks-  it can be tricky!  Competitors were then judged on contrast, symmetry, and foam texture of the two drinks by Todd Mackey, Dan Streetman, and Rob Stephen (InterAmerican Coffee) 

It was a great day PACKED with great tips and lots of coffee tasting- a fantastic opportunity for the competitors.  I was very happy to be a part of it!

(will one of these be coming back to Rhode Island!?)

Mark your calendars! Although the event takes place in Durham, North Carolina, they are live streaming the competition!!

(especially our PVD crew- past and present!)

for more throwdown events, "like" us on

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