The UK Barista Championship (or UKBC as it’s usually known) competition is in full swing, with the three regional heats underway. On Wednesday and Thursday this week, Timberyard’s new Soho location hosted the London heat, Origin’s Dan Fellows coming out on top, followed by colleague Will Pitts and Lina Piprek of Knot Coffee. On Wednesday, the focus switches to Glasgow, where Dear Green Coffee hosts the next heat. Things wrap up on 9th March with the Bristol heat, hosted by Beyond the Bean. By then we’ll then know who’ll be competing to the semi-finals on Saturday, 9th April, the finals occurring the following day, Sunday, 10th April. Both the semi-finals and finals will be at the London Coffee Festival.
Competing in the UKBCs has become ever more challenging in terms of the investment of both time and money. At the end of last year I wrote about the Beyond the Bean Barista Bursary, an impressive package of financial support and training designed to help someone either get started on the road to competition or to reach the next level. We had entries from around the UK and in January, I went to Bristol to judge the three shortlisted entries…
You can see who we received this year’s bursary after the gallery.
The three shortlisted entries represent the breadth of the UK coffee industry and they would all have made worthy winners. Each is at a different stage of their career and each comes from a different part of the industry. Two had never competed before, while the other finished sixth in last year’s competition. Overall, I and my fellow judges, James Shepherd of Beyond the Bean and Mat North of Full Court Press, were impressed by all three candidates and could see how each of them would have benefited from the bursary.
I’ll start with Alan Stokes from Glasgow. Alan is an area manager with a well-known high street chain and is looking to expand his coffee knowledge. Alan’s no stranger to competitions, having successfully competed in internally within company, but he’s keen to test and showcase his skills on a wider stage. As a trainer of store managers in his area, with a responsibility for helping raise internal standards, he was also keen to bring new knowledge and techniques to the company.
Next is Tracy Parker, owner of Leykers Coffee Central in Trowbridge, who has been in the business for 17 years, when she started out with a Brasilia Gradisca espresso machine, a book and a dream. Tracy has seen the coffee industry change and evolve over the years and now works with local roaster, Dusty Ape. In many ways the epitome of the small, independent coffee shop that keeps towns and cities caffeinated up and down the country, Tracy wanted to take her coffee skills to the next level and to bring back the lessons she learnt to the baristas at Leykers.
Finally, there’s Diana Johnson, who’s worked in the speciality coffee industry for the last 10 years, from barista to head of coffee. She’s recently branched out, joining London’s Workshop Coffee as a trainee roaster. Of the three candidates, Diana’s the only one who’s competed before, finishing sixth in last year’s UKBC. Despite working in the speciality industry, Diana’s competitions have been entirely self-funded, demonstrated how difficult it is to compete at the highest level even if you’re in the industry. For Diana, the bursary would be the ideal way to reach the next level, hopefully allowing her to be crowned champion this year.
It was a difficult decision for the judges, since we saw merit in all three candidates. The idea of injecting UKBC coffee-knowledge into a high street chain was tempting, while backing a small, independent owner/barista was, in many ways, why the bursary was set up. However, our decision was unanimous and we were delighted to award the bursary to Diana. We were struck by the dedication and drive of all three candidates, but in the end, the chance to help Diana take her skills to the next level was too good to pass up.
Although she works in London, Diana spent many years in Glasgow, working for the likes of Avenue Coffee where she helped to set up the new Great Western Road branch. It therefore made sense for her to compete in the Glasgow heat, hosted by Dear Green Coffee on Wednesday, 24th February. Sadly I won’t be there to cheer her on since I’ll still be in America, but if you’re in the area, do pop down and say hello.
October 2016: The Beyond the Bean Barista Bursary is back for another year!
December 2016: Beyond the Bean Barista Bursary has won the 2016 Best Saturday Supplement Award.
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