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Prairie Regional Barista Championship, Calgary, May 24-25

John Manzo Apr 16, 2008 08:58 AM

For all the baristas, coffee geeks and fellow travelers- qualifying events for the Canadian Barista Championship (which you might have seen Bob Blumer stumble into in an episode of his Glutton for Punishment show on FTV) have now expanded to comprise one each in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, and now Calgary- that's "Eastern," "Central," "Western," and "Prairies." Now competitors cannot just walk into the finals as Blumer did; they have to qualify at one of the regionals. The national championship is in Montreal next fall.

BUT the "prairies" qualifier is right here in Calgary and is open to the public; right now the organizers are most interested in getting competitors (16 max) from AB. SK, MB and the territories; they also need volunteers and judges. I'm thinking about applying to be a judge but there are other volunteer positions available. The event is at Fratello Coffee/Espuccino Imports, 4021 9 St SE in Calgary.

http://www.coffeeteashow.ca/barista_c...

  1. a
    aktivistin May 25, 2008 02:30 PM

    I just heard the news at CFM: Phil placed 5th?!! Can someone who was there give us the low-down? I can't quite believe it...

    7 Replies
    1. re: aktivistin
      John Manzo May 25, 2008 03:09 PM

      Competition was stiff- and the top two placing have had competition experience. There is no shame in coming in 5th. I'll save my comments for the competitors privately, but I'm not surprised by the final ranking.

      Plus, this was 5th out of 13, remember. Not a horribly showing- all 6 finalists did very well.

      6: Ashley Madsen - Kawa Espresso Bar (Calgary)
      5: Phil Robertson - Phil & Sebastian Coffee (Calgary)
      4: Joel May - Fratello Coffee Roasters (Calgary)

      And the three representing the prairies at nationals:

      3: Brendan Toyne - Java Jamboree (Cochrane)
      2: Jimmy Oneschuk - Museo Coffee (Saskatoon)
      1: Chad Moss - Transcend Coffee (Edmonton)

      1. re: John Manzo
        can_i_try_some May 26, 2008 01:43 AM

        Phil did really well - he was very well spoken and you could see that he had a firm grasp of the technical aspects of coffee production. I suspect that the flavours (strawberry reduction, roasted macadamia nuts, and a cinnamon stick) he chose for his signature drink may have been too strong for the Ethiopian Yirgacheffe he used. Then I again, I didn't have the good fortune to taste it. I also wonder about how the technical judges viewed his pucks, which were a little softer and wetter than typical pucks since he chose a smaller dose for his shots. He did explain his reasoning well, but hey, sometimes unconventional doesn't work for everyone. Hopefully, he'll offer us a taste of his creation at P&S!! And even more hopefully, he'll come out again to compete next year! Go PHIL!

        John's right about the competition being stiff though. Although I missed Chad's performance (he was first up and I arrived a little late), I know he came well-armed with Transcend's best. I've tried out several varieties of their coffee and they all blew me away (try their Ethiopian Harrar - Wow!). But the rest of the competitors were very smooth and efficient in producing their drinks. Based on what I saw, Jimmy O would have been my pick to take the competition. He took an almost molecular gastronomic approach to his signature drink, even referencing Ferran Adria of El Bulli as inspiration. My mouth was watering as he described it to the judges.

        Ashley and Brendan from Java Jamboree/Kawa both did really well. I know it was Ashley's first competition but her hands were remarkably steady as she poured her milk. Brendan (I think it was also his first competition) must have really impressed the judges as well - his signature drink seemed really well thought out. And with both of them making appearances behind the espresso bar at Kawa, it looks like it'll be one of the premiere coffee joints in Calgary. If you haven't been there... go! It's a gorgeous spot even looking in from the outside. Now, if I can only catch them when they're open. So far I'm 0/3. :(

        Overall, the competition was a lot of fun and educational to boot! Espucinno/Fratello did a great job hosting the competition and even offered out some of their Cup of Excellence coffees at a discounted price. They even offered out samples from their very respectable in-house barista station, which includes a Clover, a Marzocco, and several grinders loaded with their best beans. Needless to say, I was wired for hours afterwards.

        To any and all coffee enthusiasts: Do try to attend next year! Calgary's coffee scene is one of the best in Canada, if not North America.

        PS. John - any idea why there were no competitors from Caffe Artigiano? Because they're a Vancouver based company, does that mean that they'd have to compete at the Western Regionals? And are you still buzzing from the caffeine? ;)

        1. re: can_i_try_some
          John Manzo May 26, 2008 09:39 AM

          I got a pound of the Brazilian that Joel used for this competition espresso, and can say with no hesitation that it is not only the best coffee I have had from Fratello, but the best single-origin espresso (yes better than P&S golocha) that I have ever had, ever. In fact it might be the best espresso I have ever had, period. My shot made on my home machine (my avatar, an Elektra Leva) was competition perfect, even mottled colour and a crema that "heals" immediately when flecked with a spoon. This is an incredible coffee but sadly it's just hard to find outlets for Fratello's best stuff. You can't just go to Beano or Good Earth and buy some. This is why I wish Fratello had a proper flagship caffe in a space that wasn't an industrial park, but I digress...

          Artigiano WOULD have had a competitor if Zane were not moving back to Halifax. Their presence was only in Joaquin acting as judge. Zane won last week's latte art contest (held at Cappuccino King on the 17th) and one can only wonder what might have happened if he'd competed in the actual championship. As it looks now he's going back to his old cafe in Halifax and competing in the easterns in Montreal this summer.

          I judged 5 of the 6 finalists in the prelims (all except Joel) and can say that there were two sig drinks that were really delicious: Brendan's and Jimmy's. The others ranged from "interesting" to "inoffensive" to "horrible." One thing that I learned that all future competitors need to take with them: The barista championship is not a time for experimentation. You need a bean that is predicable and stable- the three winners used either a blend that they knew intimately and used every day (49th Epic for both Jimmy and Brendan) or in the case of Chad, a blend that he'd roasted himself. And you need a sig drink that, for lack of a better word, tastes good. This was our only real place to get subjective in the judging and while nobody could win on only that basis (espresso, cappo and sig are 1-2-3 in order of scoring importance), that's also where the greatest variance among competitors was. I'd never go out before having a lot of people whose palates I trusted tasted the thing and would take their feedback seriously.

          1. re: John Manzo
            a
            aktivistin May 26, 2008 09:50 AM

            Thank you, John and can i, for the detailed information. It's intriguing and enlightening to read about the technical aspects of coffee comparison/competition, especially from those who know and love it. I'm feeling a bit stupid now for my knee-jerk reaction upon hearing the results--glad to find out the opinions and rationales behind the placings.

            1. re: aktivistin
              John Manzo May 26, 2008 10:00 AM

              You bet- I hate to have named names in that entry but in the case of the winners have to give credit where it's due. I don't want to get gossipy in a public forum, and I say again that not just all the finalists but all the baristas period (including the 6-months pregnant one from Bumpy's who gamely completed 2 of 4 sig drinks before running out of time, smiling and charming all the way, or the home roaster from Whitecourt who doesn't even have a cafe and who used his little home espresso grinder) were SO IMPRESSIVE!!!

      2. re: aktivistin
        peter.v May 26, 2008 04:29 PM

        Article from the CBC is up here: http://www.cbc.ca/consumer/foodbytes/...

        1. re: peter.v
          a
          Albertagirl May 31, 2008 10:48 PM

          I was fortunate to have Brendan make me a cappo on Friday, and it was the best I've tasted in a long time. I spoke with Les, and he says that starting Monday, they will be open Mon-Fri 6--9, and Sat and Sun 9--6, to respond to the poster that wasn't having any luck finding them open. Really beautiful space, and friendly staff!

      3. Hoj May 24, 2008 09:09 PM

        GO PHIL GO !!!

        1 Reply
        1. re: Hoj
          higgika May 25, 2008 11:17 AM

          YEAH PHIL!

        2. John Manzo May 24, 2008 06:39 PM

          There were 13 competitors. Here are the six finalists; they compete tomorrow, and the top 3 qualify for nationals in Montreal next fall:

          Chad Moss - Transcend Coffee (Edmonton)
          Jimmy Oneschuk - Museo Coffee (Saskatoon)
          Joel May - Fratello Coffee Roasters (Calgary)
          Phil Robertson - Phil & Sebastian Coffee (Calgary)
          Ashley Madseu - Kawa Espresso Bar (Calgary)
          Brendan Toyne - Java Jamboree (Cochrane)

          Judging was a superb experience! I judged 7 competitors, and being a judge is so much more interesting than just being an audience member (I know, because for the first 6 I was in the audience).

          4 Replies
          1. re: John Manzo
            m
            mcmuffin May 24, 2008 06:47 PM

            Hey John,

            Can you explain the judging more, because I'm confused as to why the judges wouldn't judge all the contestants?

            Thanks!

            1. re: mcmuffin
              peter.v May 24, 2008 07:27 PM

              I'll let John talk about most of the judging, but I'll put in a few words.

              Judges are supposed to finish their drinks (but this in practice is rare). However, it is pretty tough to handle the quantity of caffeine that you're ingesting even after 7 competitors. As the competitors must produce espresso, a cappuccino and a signature drink, all with espresso, you're looking at a flight of 39 espressos for all 13 competitors. Having done controlled espresso evaluation before, I know after 20, your palate is devastated even if you're spitting out most of the drink.

              Judges do calibrate to ensure fairly consistent scoring. As well, the scoring is not as subjective as you might think. It's more based on balance and impressions. Scores are also given to professionalism, explanation of the drinks, appearance of the drinks and creativity in the creation of the signature drink.

              Hope that helps out! The competition was pretty interesting. Lots of people in the audience. The finals go from 10:30 tomorrow morning at the Espuccino/Fratello warehouse. The public is of course invited to come down, but if you can't and you're still interested in seeing some action, there is a live stream online at: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/prairie...

              Hope to see some more folks out tomorrow and congrats to everyone who competed!

              1. re: peter.v
                m
                mcmuffin May 24, 2008 08:18 PM

                Cool - thanks Peter. That does help and makes a lot of sense!

                1. re: peter.v
                  peter.v May 24, 2008 09:57 PM

                  Haha, reading my response again it's not entirely coherent. I must have had a little too much caffeine today!

                  To clarify judging even more for people, the score sheets are the same as those used for the World Barista Championships. These can be found here: http://www.worldbaristachampionship.c...

                  It is interesting to see where the points come from.

            2. John Manzo May 22, 2008 06:58 PM

              Just a reminder that this is taking place this weekend at Espuccino (4031 9 St SE), full schedule at link of original post, and yours truly will be a judge on Saturday- what that will entail is to be discovered at my training tomorrow.

              2 Replies
              1. re: John Manzo
                higgika May 23, 2008 08:47 AM

                Thanks for the reminder. I checked out the schedule and it looks great. I am definitely going to stop by. I have been laid up with a cold all week and haven't even made it out to try Kawa yet. Perhaps I will stop there on the way. I would bring you one but . . . you will probably have your hands full!

                1. re: higgika
                  John Manzo May 23, 2008 09:41 AM

                  If you have the cold/chest thing I had, be prepared for at least 3 solid days of laryngitis- never experienced anything close to this in my life!

                  I'm thinking that I'd rather be a "technical" judge than a "sensory" judge but I'm not sure that's up to me or if there are enough to divide them like that.

              2. Hoj Apr 16, 2008 09:49 AM

                Should be a great time for all coffee lovers! Great o see how coffee in the "Prairies" has grown now that there is significant interest and definitely skill to warrant a Barista Comp. It'll be very interesting to see who competes and represents!

                Also, just for additional information, there is a Barista Jam tentatively planned for May 17/18 which should be alot of fun too!

                3 Replies
                1. re: Hoj
                  John Manzo Apr 16, 2008 11:46 AM

                  So, Jeremy, are you competing?

                  Hopefully Jimmy O from Sask makes an appearance....

                  Actually I can see some folks from Good Earth having a leg up simply because the competition machine is an NS Aurelia- Ben from 11th St, the barista manager, is very good....

                  1. re: John Manzo
                    Hoj Apr 16, 2008 05:20 PM

                    Haha, unfortunately, I don't believe I will be competing this year. There are many more suitable candidates! I'll definitely try to make it out to the event though, should be a great time for the coffee community to meet up and put faces to names.

                    I know Ben from my GE days. He's working at 11st now hey? How's the coffee? I believe the 11st location has the Aurelia right?

                    1. re: Hoj
                      John Manzo Apr 16, 2008 06:16 PM

                      Yep, I've seen Aurelias at 11 St and the new one in the Lougheed bldg, not at Eau Claire or U of C, and no idea about the rest of the stores.

                      I've only had espresso at the U of C location of late, I did buy some of those Bolivian CoE beans but for home. I just know that Ben looks like he knows what he's doing.

                      I stepped inside Kawa today and Les let me make two shots with their Synesso! And we messed around with their Clover- not all that intuitive...

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