Regular readers may well be aware of my dislike of barista competitions. Now, I will say at the outset that this dislike only really extends to my watching them: events such as the Barista Championships and Brewers Cup are vital, helping both the careers of those who have competed and the wider industry in terms of spreading knowledge and innovation. I value them immensely and have, in the past, supported initiatives such as the Beyond the Bean Barista Bursary. I just don’t enjoy watching them.
Until last weekend, there was one exception to this: the Cup Tasters Competition. Then I went to La Marzocco’s Out of the Box event at Tonbridge, which not only redefined my conception of what a coffee event could be, it introduced me to Crush the Rush, a new barista competition from La Marzocco. This first saw the light of day in the USA last year, but as far as I know, this was the first time it’s been seen on this side of the Atlantic. It’s a pretty simple concept: two teams race each other to produce eight different espresso-based drinks, testing their barista skills on a busy bar. But is it interesting to watch?
This time last week I headed off to Tonbridge, to attend La Marzocco’s Out of the Box event. I’ve been to a few of these before, but I’ve very much seen them as industry events, a party thrown by coffee people (at La Marzocco) for coffee people, the attendees being baristas, roasters, the odd coffee blogger and occasional coffee enthusiasts not in the industry. As such, it never occurred to me to write about them. Last Saturday, all that changed.
Out of the Box was held in Tonbridge Castle, a move which had plenty of us scratching our heads ahead of time (previous ones have always been indoors) and not knowing what to expect (although if I’d read the description, I might have known better!). What’s more, although not widely advertised beyond the industry, it was open to the public, so drew a very different crowd.
The result was a surprising and wonderful mini-coffee festival, including a new barista competition, Crush the Rush. Indeed, if you’ve never been to a coffee festival and were wondering what one was like, you could do worse than go to the next Out of the Box; it’s free and will give you a good feel for one. But what was it like?