Victorian Barista Competition

What an awesome experience.

Erin and I competed in this year’s regional Victorian Coffee Competition.

Yes, there are coffee making competitions, and in the industry they are taken very seriously! It's the equivalent of the Olympics... without the lycra. 

Erin competed in the Brewers Cup, a competition dedicated to brewing the best filter coffee. There are a few points allocated to presentation, some for technique, a lot allocated to how the coffee tastes, and also how accurate you are at describing that taste. Erin decided to use one of our favourite filter coffees, Chania Estate Washed Process from Kenya. Erin and I had to work closely to develop a roast profile that helped her get the most out over her brewing recipe. 

I on the other hand competed in the Barista Competition. Here everything is evaluated, from the espressos I served down to how I dressed. I worked with a coffee produced by the Sumbili family in Rwanda. Historically many roasters in Melbourne avoid Rwandan coffees because of a defect caused by bug infestation dubbed 'potato' (due to its potato like flavour). I wanted to remind the judges and spectators that Rwandan coffee has come a long way, and that cases of 'potato defect' are now much rarer. As well as encouraging the thriving Melbourne coffee industry to get behind a country that relies almost solely on their coffee exports to survive. 

Competing was a great way to develop professionally and challenge ourselves. A lot of the time you can forget the bigger picture when your only focus is to survive Saturday morning rush! That is what I enjoyed the most about competing in this years Victorian Barista Competition. I had a specific goals to work towards, key targets I had to meet, and clear parameters set that would guarantee a good score. I knew that my espresso needed to have specific attributes (stretchy crema), and I knew my cappuccinos needed to be glossy, with just the right amount of foam.

We can get lazy when we work behind the bar, but there is no room for complacency at competition level. Every word, every movement is being critiqued. Your drinks are assessed by some of the most attuned palates in the industry. There is no room for mistakes.

It’s nerve wracking! Boy is it!
But that is exactly the challenge Erin and I were striving to overcome.


So what did I learn from competing this year?

1. Know your coffee.

You should know where your coffee comes from. The judges will award you points for knowing the fine details about who, where, what and how your coffee came to be. If you can find the blood type of the producer, bonus points.

Try running triangulations or a cupping and see if you can pick out your coffee blind. This is a technique I will be using next year. Help the judges to understand exactly why that coffee tastes so good and why they should be excited.

This can be a double edged sword however. Judges do need a moment to take note of what you  have said, so try not to talk their ear off.

2. Flow.

Like I said, they are watching your every move.
If you tap the porta filter once for one espresso, and twice for the other, they will note it.

Next year, I will spend even more time working behind the machine, refining my movements making sure I do everything exactly the same, every time. I should be able to present my espressos in my sleep.

3. Explain everything.

The judges will not assume anything. If you don’t tell them. They can’t mark you for it.
For instance. I had little silver cups next to my settings for the judges to put their used spoons into. I failed to explain their use, so the judges returned the spoons back to the napkin after stirring the different courses. Not a big deal, but I did receive a slightly lowered score because I seemingly had items on the table, with no intended use.

All in all, both Erin and myself had an amazing experience competing. If you're a barista who is keen to stretch themselves professionally, work with amazing people and coffees, and you have a competitive nature I really encourage you to consider entering next year. If you have any questions feel free to pop into our roastery and say hi, I'd love to share a coffee with you and have a chat!