Canadian Barista Championships
Being fresh off the boat, so to speak and having landed in Qualicum Beach, it took all of four and a half seconds to realize I was not residing in the epicenter of specialty coffee in Canada. I felt at the very least I needed to say a brief ‘hello’ to the specialty coffee community in my newly adoptive country. The Canadian Barista Championship Western Qualifiers were to be held in Vancouver in February and having some experience in this competition in the UK, I decided it would be most prudent to throw my judging hat firmly into the ring. My headgear was duly accepted, and I dispatched myself without delay to Vancouver, where judges training and calibration was to take place at Timbertrain Coffee Roasters.
The following day was competition day and so after a brief look around Granville Island Market, I checked in to Performance Works, where the proceedings were to be held. The competition involves 3 rounds, completed within a 15-minute timeframe. The barista must produce 4 espresso, 4 espresso with milk and 4 signature beverages. The protagonist is the barista and the supporting actors’ come in the form of a head judge, 2 technical judges and 4 sensory judges. One of the most interesting aspects from a spectators point of view has to be watching the technical judges interaction with the barista. Almost, a choreographed game of cat and mouse unfolds before our eyes, as the technical judges attempt to record pertinent aspects of the barista’s routine, whilst trying not to encumber performance. It is worth noting, rather obviously that it is terribly nerve wracking for the performers, but less obviously, also for the judges. These baristas, often truly excellent, have worked tirelessly for many months on their coffees and routines and the pressure to do them justice is immense. However, we have a safety net built in to the system in the form of head judges. On this day, we were under the watchful eyes of Messrs. Strumpf, Hockin & Robertson and their experience is what ensures that the judging is rule based, consistent and logical. I was tasked with being a sensory judge and due to see 3 competitors perform their routines. The coffees I received were in some cases outstanding and 2 of the competitors I was fortunate enough to judge, Kris Wu and Karine Ng went on to finish 2nd and 3rd in the national competition in Toronto. This highly caffeinating day came to a close as I dashed across Vancouver, B.C ferry bound, trying rather unsuccessfully to avoid the torrential rain, only to arrive at Horseshoe Bay looking like several people had liberally emptied buckets of water over my head.
I’d enjoyed my Vancouver judging sojourn, but now back to Vancouver Island to continue the business of improving our coffee offering and building our little seaside-based enterprise.