Just got in from a long day at the judges' certification workshop for the SCAA Southeast Regional Barista Competition (SERBC). Kudos to Michelle Campbell (SCAA), Cindy Chang (Counter Culture Coffee), Jeff Taylor (PT's Coffee Company), and Marcus Boni (Intelligentsia Coffee Roasters) for a well organized and executed workshop.
For those who may not be aware, the SCAA requires all potential regional judges to attend a full-day workshop (USBC judge candidates will have to attend a two-day workshop in April). The morning session reviews rules & regulations and a written test, the afternoon goes through practicals and coaching. The day closes with two mock competitions. After a quick meeting between instructors (Jeff and Marcus), judges are then assigned flights for the next three days (each "flight" is about two hours long and involves 5-6 competitors).
Last year when I walked in somebody handed me a multi-page essay test and said "Take this, you've got 30 minutes." Thankfully Michelle and company have changed things in two positive aspects: First, the morning begins with a review of what you'll be tested on. Jeff led the review and attendees chimed in with questions and comments. Next, the test was multiple choice, woohoo! The winner of the HB SwagFest, Mike Walsh, proved himself once again by posting the highest score -- 94 / 100. I was in the middle of the pack with an 88; I'll be hearing about that one for awhile...
After a nice catered lunch from the good people at Whole Foods, we headed to the main theatre where the three stations are setup. The stage is pretty tight. I suppose there is one benefit to the cramped quarters -- the competitors only have to take one step to reach the judges' table! The audience seating however is ample, and being a theatre, the line of sight from the majority of seats is excellent. Daryl and Ken from Counter Culture Coffee were responsible for setting up the three La Marzocco espresso machines and Robur grinders. Lots of volunteers pitched in and the stage took its final form in time for several hours of practicals.
David Haddock led the technical judges through the scoring and what to look for in a top performance. We're lucky to have several judges who are former competitors. I'm sure they will do an excellent job catching details that even close observers will miss. A lot goes on in the span of a few minutes and competitors are very attuned to what the judges are looking for.
Jeff and Marcus led the sensory judges through a series of espresso / cappuccino critiques (some quite good, some intentionally bad) to better "calibrate" the panel's scores. Then we did a few runs through the scoring sheets where the instructors would challenge a given score or simply ask for an explanation. Definitions of what was "average" and "acceptable" were hard to nail down. Lots of good back-and-forth. In the end, we reached consensus about the strengths and failings of a given beverage. It was a good exercise.
The two mock competitors were reigning SCAA regional champion Ryan Jensen and Murky Coffee owner Nick Cho. Ryan had a lot of fun with the experience and tormented us with a whipped up speciality drink. Nick followed and suffered greatly in preparation time; he also proposed an adhoc speciality drink that one could only politely describe as "special".
Michelle gave out assignments before sending everyone on their way. I'm on tap for tomorrow second round and Saturday first round. I'm trying to convince my brother-in-law the professional photographer (www.michaelback.com
) to snap pictures on Sunday. If he does, I'll be sure to post some on Monday.