* 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.