London Coffee Festival 2014: The Competitions

The London Coffee Festival LogoWelcome to the fifth instalment (of six) in my Saturday Supplement series covering the 2014 London Coffee Festival, which took place last month at the Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane. If you’ve stumbled upon this for the first time and want to know what you’ve missed, instalments one to four have been a general round-up, and reports on Cups, Kit and Food. Today it’s the turn of the various competitions.

In my head, I collectively refer to these as the UKBCs, or, to use the full title, the United Kingdom Barista Championships. However, that’s fairly sloppy shorthand on my behalf, since there are a number of competitions, the UKBCs being just one. The others include Latte Art, Coffee in Good Spirits, the Brewers Cup and the Ibrik Competition. I caught a number of these over the course of the weekend, culminating in the finals of the UKBCs on Sunday.

My advice, if you want to watch any of the competitions, is the same as last year: get there early and a bag a seat at the front. It’s either that or watch the action on the overhead monitors since the actual competitor is usually surrounded by a media scrum!

You can see exactly which competitions I saw after the gallery.

  • Kate Beard, looking slightly nervous before going on for 'Coffee with Good Spirits'.
  • And we're off! Kate starts by outlining what she's going to do to the judges.
  • Despite getting a good seat, I had to follow a lot on TV. Here Kate makes espresso.
  • Explaining everything to the judges as you go is very important.
  • Kate puts the espresso, part of her signature drink, into a cocktail shaker.
  • While that's cooling, she starting pouring a kettle into something or other...
  • Okay, I see. A V60 for the Irish Coffee.
  • While the coffee brews, the judges sniff the vital ingredient: bourbon!
  • Must be a strange experience for Kate, being on the other end of the lens.
  • The V60 has finished brewing, so Kate pours it out into the glasses.
  • Look at that concentration.
  • Next comes the bourbon.
  • The glasses are presented to the judges, but we're not finished yet.
  • Kate adds the final (and most important if you ask me) ingredient, cream...
  • This is poured under the watchful eye of the judges.
  • The resuting Irish Coffees are studied intently...
  • ... then sampled enthusiastically.
  • Meanwhile Kate is back to her signature drink, the Coffee-groni.
  • The judge takes notes as Kate pours the coffee, gin and Campari into the glasses.
  • Again, look at that concentration!
  • The resulting drinks are presented to the judges and hand-in-the-air means 'finished!'
  • There's still time for the judges to sample the Coffee-groni...
  • ... and for some last-minute note-taking.
  • Meanwhile Kate is interviewed on the big screen.
  • Kate overload!
  • Finally, I get to try the results. I think the hand's that of Chloe, aka Faerietale Foodie.
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The first competition I caught was Coffee in Good Spirits, the art of mixing coffee and alcohol. My main reason for going was to support my friend Kate Beard (aka A Southern Belle in London) who was competing for the very first time. Competitors had to make two drinks: an Irish Coffee and a signature drink of their own devising. I also had an additional interest in the competition: I supplied the cream Kate used in her Irish Coffee!

I have fairly strong opinions on putting things in my coffee, particularly alcohol, which I am not very fond of to start with! However, over the last year, my opinions have slowly started to change. First of all, at last year’s Coffee Festival, Lisa, from Dear Green Coffee, made me her take on the traditional Italian caffè corretto. This was espresso with a touch of honey and whisky and it was lovely. Then there’s my local, Bar des Arts, who make a really mean espresso martini, which I have started to get a taste for. So, I was keen to see what Kate would rustle up.

Kate, who is from Alabama, dedicated her Irish Coffee to her father, whose birthday it was that week. As well as the cream I bought, she used her father’s favourite bourbon, Woodford Reserve, and, for sugar, she substituted molasses, because, in Kate’s words “they’re both Southern”. Kate’s signature drink was the Coffee-groni: equal measures of Campari, gin and Notes Mahembe espresso. She also used the Notes Mahembe for the Irish Southern Coffee, but made through the V60.

As a first-time performance, I thought Kate was excellent, with good, clear explanations of what she was doing (competitors are required to give a running commentary to the judges). She admitted afterwards that she was a bundle of nerves and forgot to mention half the things she’d planned to say, but from where I was sitting in the audience, she came across as very assured.

I got to try both of Kate’s drinks after the competition and I was very impressed. The Irish Coffee was particularly rich, the cream (even though I say so myself) really making the drink. I wasn’t expecting to like the Coffee-groni, but that too was excellent, a real triumph given my feelings on mixing alcohol and coffee!

Kate finished a very creditable fourth in her first ever competition, just missing out on third place, while the winner was David Jameson of Union Hand-roasted.

Ibrik Competition

  • First up at the Ibrik competition, I caught the end of Gwilym Davies' performance.
  • This, by the way, is the view from the back when you don't have a zoom lens...
  • Gwilym at work on the Ibrik.
  • Gwilym dispenses his coffee to the judges.
  • However, it was Vadym Granovskiy, here making final preparations,  that I'd come to see.
  • Vadym's kit all laid out and ready to go.
  • And we're off! Vadym explains what he's going to do to the judges.
  • The explanation continues as Vadym starts grinding.
  • Grinding almost done...
  • Now to add the ground coffee to the Ibrik...
  • ... and then the water...
  • The Ibrik goes into this strange copper contraption at the end of the bar...
  • I had to resort to the TV monitor to find out what's going on... It's full of hot sand!
  • I tell you, you can't move at these events for people with cameras and Smartphones...
  • Vadym prepares his signature drink by putting the coffee through a Chemex...
  • ... from where it filters through onto ice.
  • While that's filtering, Valdym pours out coffee for the judges.
  • I really admired his two-handed pouring technique. Look at that coffee!
  • Meanwhile, the coffee in the Chemex has almost all filtered through.
  • Vadym presents the first set of coffee to the judges. I loved his little trays.
  • While the judges sample the coffee. Vadym pours the filtered coffee through a tea-strainer.
  • I'm sure that the tea-strainer has a secret ingredient in it...
  • ... maybe that's what the orange was for...
  • Vadym presents the final set of drinks to the judges.
  • The moment of truth...
  • Vadym has one last chance to get his message across.
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The Ibrik is a traditional method of making coffee that is associated in my head with Turkey, but which is in widespread use throughout the Middle-east and Eastern Europe. I was particularly interested in this competition since I had met one of the entrants, Vadim Granovskiy, a few days before at a London Coffee Stops Awards event organised by Chris Ward. I was fascinated by his presentation at the event and was keen to see how he performed in the competition. As it turned out, he won!

I managed to catch Vadim’s entire performance as well as that of Gwilym Davies, who finished third. Regular readers will be pleased to learn, that I both recognised Gwilym and didn’t fall over him!

Honestly, I would like to tell you more about the Ibrik and the performances, but really, I am compete neophyte and so really can’t shed too much light on the proceedings. I was, however, fascinated by the spectacle of the whole process and would like to learn more. For those who know even less than me, I can tell you that the Ibrik is traditional a copper pot with a long handle and a pouring lip. The ground coffee and water are mixed in the pot and heated over a flame (or, these days, a hot plate; although in Vadim’s case, it was a copper pot full of what I believe was hot sand!).

Ibriks come in either right-handed or left-handed versions, depending on which side of the pot the pouring lip is. Vadim had two of each so that he could pour out two cups simultaneously, one from each hand!

If you want to know more about Vadim or the Ibrik, see what happened when I attended one of his masterclasses after the 2015 London Coffee Festival.

UKBC Finals

  • I got a front-row seat so I could check out Joe's set-up prior to his performance.
  • Joe's chemistry set in close up.
  • And here's the man himself, Flat Caps Coffee's Joe Meagher, ready to go.
  • A lot of the action took place behind the espresso machine...
  • ... so, despite getting a front-row seat, I followed most of Joe's performance on by TV!
  • Here Joe chats with the judges as they sample his espresso.
  • There was a lot grinding going on!
  • Kate Beard back in her natural environment: behind the camera lens!
  • Kate springs into action!
  • There was also a lot of intense judging going on...
  • Joe pours the milk for the cappucinos.
  • This lady has the best job in the whole festival: she gets to take the coffee away once the judges have fnished with it... And then drink it!
  • Here comes the exciting part: Joe's signature drink...
  • Can't you just hear the mixture going 'wheee!' as it swirls down the tubes?
  • The judges put Joe's drink to the test.
  • And then, in the blink of an eye, it's over and Joe's being interviewed.
I got a front-row seat so I could check out Joe's set-up prior to his performance.1 Joe's chemistry set in close up.2 And here's the man himself, Flat Caps Coffee's Joe Meagher, ready to go.3 A lot of the action took place behind the espresso machine...4 ... so, despite getting a front-row seat, I followed most of Joe's performance on by TV!5 Here Joe chats with the judges as they sample his espresso.6 There was a lot grinding going on!7 Kate Beard back in her natural environment: behind the camera lens!8 Kate springs into action!9 There was also a lot of intense judging going on...10 Joe pours the milk for the cappucinos.11 This lady has the best job in the whole festival: she gets to take the coffee away once the judges have fnished with it... And then drink it!12 Here comes the exciting part: Joe's signature drink...13 Can't you just hear the mixture going 'wheee!' as it swirls down the tubes?14 The judges put Joe's drink to the test.15 And then, in the blink of an eye, it's over and Joe's being interviewed.16
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The last of the competitions that I caught was finals of the UK Barista Championships. I fulfilled a long-standing promise to go along and support Joe Meagher of Flat Caps Coffee on Sunday afternoon. I got there early and ensured I got a front row seat so I could get a good look at the action. Joe had set up what I can only describe as a chemistry set for his signature drink,

All the competitors had to make espresso, cappuccino and a signature drink, making four of each for the four judges, all to a tight time-limit. For the different drinks, Joe used the same bean, loayza from Bolivia, roasted by Has Bean, but with different processing methods (this is how the fruit of the coffee plant is treated in order to extract the green bean). For the espresso and his signature drink, he used a washed coffee, while for the cappuccino he used a naturally-processed coffee.

Joe’s signature drink was a cold coffee connection. He started off making a honey soda, cascara reduction and malto dextrin solution on stage, pouring them through a graham condenser (which, in my head, will always be a see-through helter-skelter) to stabilise their temperature. He then put 15g of this mixture in each glass, poured in espresso through a tea-strainer holding grated chocolate and then sprayed each glass with cold-brew he had previously made with the naturally-processed coffee.

I didn’t get a chance to sample it, but Joe assures me that it was very, very nice! I really enjoyed the spectacle of the whole process, particularly the reduction/solution mix whizzing down the helter-skelter graham condenser! It was all very well done and I thought Joe was very assured and polished. He eventually finished fifth, with Maxwell Colonna Dashwood, of Colonna & Small’s, finishing in first place. If you want to see who finished where in all of the competitions, check out the UK SCAE news page.


If you want to learn more about the London Coffee Festival, you can read what some of my fellow-bloggers made of it:

15 HANBURY STREET • THE OLD TRUMAN BREWERY • LONDON • E1 6QR
http://www.londoncoffeefestival.com/
Thursday 10:00 – 17:00 (Industry only)
Friday 10:00 – 17:00 (Industry only)
17:00 – 20:00 (Evening Session)
20:00 – 22:00 (Launch Party)
Saturday 10:00 – 13:00 (Brunch Session)
13:00 – 16:00 (Lunch Session)
16:00 – 19:00 (Teatime Session)
Sunday 10:00 – 13:00 (Brunch Session)
13:00 – 16:00 (Lunch Session)
16:00 – 19:00 (Teatime Session)

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