Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Necessary Step

* After pulling almost four years worth of espressos as a barista and training under different mentors, it all came down to just one crucial brewing cycle and 2 important espressos. Those first two espressos I pulled at the Grand Barista Cup last August 25 definitely packed more suspense than spending an evening of small talk with Dr. Hannibal Lecter. It was all or nothing. It determined our quality as a barista. Well, at least for that competition.

Quick Geek Talk
* The coffee beans used for the competition was a 90:10, meaning that 90% of the beans in the blend is Arabica and 10% is Robusta. At the cafe we use a 50:50 for practice. Most baristas aren't used to working with coffee blends with an Arabica content that high. You see, having a higher percentage of Arabicas increases the probability of exposing the rather negative qualities of the espresso if not prepared properly, this is because Arabicas are naturally acidic. If the Robusta content is higher, it's boldness and heavy bodied qualities can mask the Arabica's delicate flavor and subtle nuances. In other words, the 90:10 blend is really a hell-raiser for baristas.

* We were given 5 minutes of prep time before the performance proper. Within that time we're allowed to test the coffee and have a feel of working with it. Grinding, dosing, and tamping are crucial in pulling a perfect shot of espresso. Using different techniques or combinations of techniques of these processes can alter the taste of the beverage ranging from horrendous to perfect.

* Neil was contestant number 2. So he gave me advice on the beans. The grinder setting was calibrated to a fine grind meaning the coffee grounds have a good tendency to be perfectly compact inside the filter basket when water passes through. The danger of a fine grind is over-extraction. That is, you'll see tiny drops of espresso dripping like droplets of rain in the demitasse, automatic bad shot!

* Dosing is another crucial part. Dosing is pulling a lever at the side of the grinder that dispenses a certain amount of coffee from a chamber to your filter basket. The barista can overdose and then level off the ground using his or her fingers. Sometimes dosing needs to be exact with just minimal spillage.

* Tamping is a nightmare. There's a hard tamp, soft tamp, and several other amounts of force to use on tamping. It's basically packing the coffee grounds into the filter basket with, of course, a tamper. The tamper is kinda like a barista's sword. It comes in different weights, sizes, designs, and shapes. The tamper provided at the contest was Joefel's, an expensive heavy duty type that weighs like a small baby. Minimal force is required. So most of the baristas borrowed Chester's (of Bo's Coffee) middleweight champion of the world tamper which requires a barista's sorta normal weight in packing the coffee.

* Having said all that, I think I didn't get the espresso right at the competition. I was too conservative in all three processes. I under-dosed, I did a pseudo-leveling, and I tamped very lightly fearing over-extraction. And I was too time-conscious, I was afraid I would go into overtime. I finished my run in 3:20 minutes.

* Watching all the baristas perform was very educational for us: for Neil, Ramhil, and I. We learned a lot of new stuff that we haven't heard of before. And I thought this is why we join these competitions, not just to compete and win, but to learn and share knowledge (and barista tools, haha!) with our colleagues. 

* The barista circle is a small world. We found out that day that the head judge, Ernie Mesina, was the one who trained the baristas at the Dumaguete branch. Very interesting indeed. We would also like to thank our coach, Lanz, for being generous to us and helping us develop our skills. 

* So to all the baristas we met these past two competitions, more power to you guys and God bless on the semis on September 9! We will be there cheering you on!


* Check out the complete gig schedule for September for Cafe Antonio Sessions on our fan page on Facebook, just search for: Cafe Antonio Sessions.

* UNO Stack-O Tournament is on September 13! You can get your registration form at the cafe. The event is sponsored by the UPLB Espaleklek, and my nephew, Jethro.

* Watch out for new dishes and drinks this September!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Something to Chew On

* Just two weeks after the Philippine Barista Cup at the World Food Expo, we found ourselves staring competition right in the face once again in the form of the Grand Barista Cup held at the Allegro Beverage Corp. showroom in Makati last Wednesday, August 25.

* I'm sorry again for the late blog entry. We've been very busy last week and the practice and training for the competition took the wind out of us. Exhausted is the word. Sadly, we didn't qualify for the semis. But we gained a lot of experience, knowledge, and friends in the process.

* Well I'll right a better entry tomorrow night. My eyes are very tired and I really need to take a break. This is a blog for the sake of posting something tonight. Haha. Wait for the story tomorrow. Thanks blog readers!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Passion Shared is Passion Achieved

* Just two weeks ago, Neil, Ramhil, and I were having the time of our lives at the Philippine Barista Cup held at the SMX Convention Center. Next week we'll be going at it again, this time at the elimination round of the Grand Barista Championship (August 25). We definitely enjoyed the experience and we're hungry for more. But this time we have someone to teach us.

* Remember Lanz? The barista champion we mentioned in last week's blog entry? He's the one coaching us. We practiced last Friday and this Friday we have another session. Now this guy is hardcore. Just when we thought we were already coffee geeks, this guy is a hundred levels ahead of us. His dream is to raise awareness of coffee in the Philippines and help revive the coffee industry. He teaches and coaches student and professional baristas and prepares them for competitions. Talk about passion for coffee. That's also a dream of ours for Los Banos and Laguna but when you have a guy like Lanz to push you and encourage you, it makes the difficult task seem possible and worth living for. We really hope to do our best next week and represent the province of Laguna well. We know there's still a long way to go but this is a good start.

* We had Cafe Antonio Sessions IV: Dave Matthews Band Tribute Night last Saturday. Gelo and I were thankful it's over, covering DMB songs is so difficult. But Eric, Lenard, and Ian had a great set. Many people came and it inspired us more to develop the whole Cafe Antonio Sessions concept. Please "like" our Cafe Antonio Sessions page on Facebook. We'll be posting gig skeds there and stuff. If you want to watch the performance last Saturday you can view it on our wall on Facebook.

* Last Sunday, the CAnton gang went to Chocolate Fire in Makati to visit Marlon--the barista we knew from PBC. Unfortunately, he wasn't there that night. We highly recommend the place and the food. Add them up on Facebook, type "Chocolate Fire."

* If you visit the cafe right now you'll notice some changes right away. The menu is now on the counter. FoMs, waffles, pastries, lunch combos, etc. are posted on the board. We also have a menu standee outside. We have snacks sets (alternatives to our bowl of chips): mallows n stix, nachos (with meaty or salsa dip), and cheesy tuna bites. You'll also notice we have increased the prices of our pastas and sandwiches because we've made improvements on our food.

* Hopefully you guys will have a better experience at the cafe. Every week we strive to bring something new to the table. Get ready for September, we have a lot of activities in store for you. We'll host our first ever Uno Stack-O Tournament sponsored by Espaleklek.

* Thank you for the support, the ideas, the inspiration, and all the help. Always pray for us and hopefully we make it to the semis of the Grand Barista Championship! 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What Really Happened at the Barista Cup

* Everybody's been asking us all week how the barista contest went last Thursday. Here's what happened:

* Before we left for the World Food Expo at the SMX Convention Center, we spent almost thirty minutes figuring out how all eight of us could fit inside the DMax. There was Retz, Ate Marisse, Al Labadan II (of Alf Likes This), Dan (of Dreamsy Potograph), Jeg, Neil, Ramhil, and I. "Kandong-kandong nalang ba?" "Dalawa sa harap plus yung driver?" "Pwede ba sa SLEX may nakasakay sa likod ng pickup?" These were the pressing questions we faced at that time. Al phoned a couple of friends to confirm the legality of letting the others ride at the back. They said it was okay. Jeg, being the tallest, sat at the back together with Dan. 

* We arrived very early at the SMX Convention Center, before 8:30 am. We asked around where the baristas would gather and we were led from one gate to another. Looking too excited and obviously lost, I called our supplier, Ate Wilma, and asked her where the meeting place was. Al, being the outgoing marketing person that he is, went inside the convention center without hesitation and instantly got our ID passes. He got the "coach" ID. Nice one Al! 

* After that, we had breakfast at Krispy Kreme. That's because Krispy Kreme Doughnuts has the unique ability to inspire, motivate, and nourish our sugar-dependent blood streams and our overall outlook in life. I got a paper cap from the condiments station and wore it to SMX. It's my way of saying, "Hey, I had an original glazed doughnut, I have a good outlook in life!" 

* The booths were not yet fully open. Meaning there's no free food yet. So we went to the Philippine Barista and Coffee Academy booth and asked when the call time is. They told us that we should be ready by 12 noon. We had lunch at the food court at MOA. I wasn't really hungry because I was nervous. I felt like there was a manang cooking sinigang in my chest. And the sampaloc sensation was really kicking in. 

* We went back to SMX just in time to check on the stage. There was a flairtending competition. It was very entertaining so we watched for a while. But there were many contestants. Thinking that the contest would take an eternity to finish, we decided to take a nap on the lounge area. And yes, we all fell asleep. Neil and I were on duty the night before, we only had three hours of sleep before the competition. 

* We went back to the contest area and the flairtending still wasn't done. Neil needed coffee and told us that we go around the expo and look for free coffee. We didn't find any or we just forgot where the free coffee was. So we went to this booth called El Kapitan. I bought an espresso. The owner saw our IDs and asked us about the contest. He was behind the espresso machine together with another barista, a rather familiar looking one. To our surprise, they asked us to try their espresso machine. This was a rare opportunity so I made a couple of cappuccinos, crappy ones. The familiar looking barista gave us tips and advice and let us watch a video of a student barista he coached the day before. His name is Lanz. He's a barista champion, we remember him from last year's Philippine Barista Cup-Student Division. He was a lot of help to us, he gave us advice about the kind of coffee we were gonna use in the contest, the right extraction rate, steaming time, and other barista stuff. We thanked him and we headed to the department store to grab last minute supplies.

* Familiar faces from the barista orientation started arriving one by one. It was a good feeling knowing that our fellow contestants were already with us at SMX. We were gathered at the PBCA booth and the staff entertained our questions. The flairtending competition was taking way too long. The organizers called us outside SMX for a briefing that would shock us all. Instead of the standard 15 mins competition time for each barista, it was reduced to only 5 mins due to the lack of time! So instead of preparing 4 espressos and 4 cappuccinos in 15 mins, we were supposed to do 2 of each in just 5 mins. It was hard for us to adjust because we practiced for a 15 minute performance. The judges told us that we should tell something about ourselves while making coffee. It's like an audition. Only 6 out of the 20 baristas from Luzon will make it to the finals the following day together with the champions from Cebu and Davao.

* Neil was contestant number 2, I was number 10, and Ramhil was number 12. 

* After the briefing we scurried to the backstage and started drawing our game plan and prepared our equipment. The participant baristas were all helping one another, lending drinking water and tools to each other and wishing each other God bless and good luck. The contestant from Chocolate Fire, Marlon, was kind enough to share his milk pitcher with us after seeing that we only had small pitchers that's good for only one cup. His pitcher can make 2 cups. And there's this barista from Caffino named Lerry, together with her Aunt Malou, who gave me my own background song for the contest. They prepared a 15 minute mix CD but since it was reduced to 5 minutes, they were able to give me a 5 minute track. Cool! Everybody watched and waited for the flairtending to end. The last few bartenders were very good.

* Neil was up next. He had a good run, finishing the performance in 4:58 mins. He even had enough time to make coffee art on two of his cappuccinos. Ramhil and I cleared his stuff after the performance and washed the cups and saucers for my turn. Watching the other baristas perform was both an advantage and disadvantage. It was an advantage because you'll know what to do and what "not" to do; a disadvantage because you'll know how much better they are than you! I was thinking backstage if I was going to focus on my speech or my coffee-making. I thought, coffee-making will be natural to me, it's what I'm going to say that will matter. So that's what happened, I got so nervous I completely blacked out on my barista skills, all my three years of training has been reduced to the skills of that of a monkey. It's a good thing the crowd laughed along with me during my moments of folly. But after that I really didn't know what I said. It was like a dream that ended in a snap. My time was 4:12 mins.

* After my turn, we prepared for Ramhil's time to shine. He was so nervous he didn't even talk after introducing himself. He looked very serious and focused. He finished in 4:14 mins. After the performance he ran towards me backstage and said, "ayoko naaaah!!!" haha! But we're proud of him because he was able to perform in front of a lot of people and 5 judges!

* Oh how relaxing it was when the three of us got to sit down and just chill and enjoy the moment. We don't get to see a lot of fellow baristas everyday so it was very encouraging for the three of us to see a lot of people of the same profession. It was very uplifting indeed.

* After the last contestant we all shared stories backstage before we were called again for the announcement of the top six. We were happy that Marlon from Chocolate Fire got into the finals. Neil said that his kindness to the other baristas was repaid with a chance to win it all at the finals the following day. Congrats sir! We all got a gift pack with an alcoholic beverage in it. I gave mine to Lerry because I don't drink. The three of us asked for a t-shirt instead, that was so much cooler. Then I bought Krispy Kreme again for my cafe family. Because a box of Krispy Kreme is the ultimate symbol of togetherness. My Kuya Herbert picked us up at MOA in his car.

* The following day, Lanz texted me the results of the finals. The barista from Cebu won followed by Zaldy of The Coffee Beanery (he's like a legend of barista contests), and the barista from Davao was third place. Congrats guys!

* This week we found out from Ate Wilma that I almost got in the finals. I was 2 points behind the the 6th finalist. She called me Mr. 2 Points. The three of us had a technicality, we didn't use the proper espresso cups. It has a handle but it wasn't the correct handle. Oh well, we live and we learn.

* We'll be training again this month for the Grand Barista Championship. I hope we could do better there. Lanz said he would train us. 

* All of this is just amazing. We learned that the barista life isn't confined behind the bar, it can be anywhere we want it to be. Thank you for the lessons coffee people of our country. 

Friday, August 6, 2010

Taking Care of a Simple Relationship

Juniper Face the Corner


Yield Avenue

* Sorry for the late blog everybody! We've been busy all week preparing for the Philippine Barista Cup held last night at the SMX Convention Center at SM Mall of Asia. If I tell you about it right now I have nothing to blog about next week! In a nutshell, it was a very good learning experience for Neil, Ramhil, and I. Even though we all blacked out during the contest.  The other baristas and the organizers were very helpful and very supportive. Can't wait for next year! Dan Sta. Romana and Al Labadan will try to upload the videos and pictures on Facebook this week (add us up: CafeAntonio Los Banos)

* Last Saturday, Cafe Antonio Sessions just had it's 3rd gig! The young project has been getting a lot of attention thanks to the support and participation of "first time" guest bands Satori and Yield Avenue. They performed a number of alternative rock covers plus a handful of originals. Juniper Face the Corner was also there to showcase their own brand of acoustic punk. August 14 (Saturday) is Dave Matthew's Band night! Eric Lenard (aka Soundhole) and JFTC will perform renditions of DMB classics and new songs. So be there to watch! 

* We're liking how things are going right now at the cafe. The Sessions are doing great and the barista cup got us all pumped up and inspired to do better at our profession. As for me, it's who and what I want to be, a barista and a musician. If we keep this up, hopefully the coffee-music relationship I was talking about a couple of blogs back would finally work out. Hopefully. Thanks for praying with us. All for His glory is our story.