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!

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