SCAA Barista Competition - SERBC 2005

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#1: Post by HB »

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... :roll:

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 ( to snap pictures on Sunday. If he does, I'll be sure to post some on Monday.
Dan Kehn

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#2: Post by barry »

HB wrote:Next, the test was multiple choice, woohoo!
i hope this wasn't the same test they gave us in seattle... the one with the incorrect answers and ambiguous questions. :?

i hope they fixed all those problems.

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HB (original poster)

#3: Post by HB (original poster) »

barry wrote:i hope they fixed all those problems.
I don't know if they did, but anyone who was qualified to evaluate espresso and paid attention to the presentation would have no problem passing. Nobody among our group failed. I was a huge improvement over essay questions! We did find one factual inconsistency between their stated rules and the test, which they have now corrected.

PS: I missed the one asking what year that the SERBC was first held. Pretty embarrassing considering that I was there. :oops:
Dan Kehn

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#4: Post by barry »

HB wrote:PS: I missed the one asking what year that the SERBC was first held. Pretty embarrassing considering that I was there. :oops:
y'know, that was one question which pissed me off. it had absolutely nothing to do with judging. i'm lucky to remember where last year's convention was, let alone how many competitions there have been.

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HB (original poster)

#5: Post by HB (original poster) »

I wasn't judging the first round, so I took some notes about today's events.

The day began with some introductory comments from Brett Smith, president of Counter Culture Coffee. Peter Guiliano then took the stage as master of ceremonies. Both expressed their appreciation to sponsors, the SCAA staff, and the numerous volunteers. Then Peter introduced the first barista. Below are some random notes; I apologize in advance for mistakes or inaccuracies. If you see something that needs to be corrected, please contact me via private message.


Kirsten O'Hara / Bean Traders

Kirsten was warmly greeted by the crowd and a small contingent of supporters on the right stage seats. Her setup was dominated by cheery bright yellow colors including tinted water wineglasses. Her music was gentle acoustic guitar ballad. She opened by serving chocolate covered ginger pieces, brown sugar, and small shakers of cinnamon for cappuccinos; she explained these were to compliment her signature drink that would include an infusion of ginger, cardamon, and cinnamon.

Peter asked each barista before they started if they preferred a silent MC or to be interviewed. I didn't keep track, but it seemed the majority chose to banter with Peter. He would ask general questions. For example, "What do you like about the espresso blend you're using?" Kirsten remarked that hers was a seven bean blend, medium roast, with carmel overtones and slight spice. It isn't an "in your face" blend and it works well straight and in milk too.

Some of Peter's comments elicited explanations of what the barista was doing. For example, Kirsten explained why she dumped her first shots, saying that she thought they poured too slow. Her espressos were served in straight-sided taller demitasses with delicate handles. Following espressos, she served cappuccinos in the "monk's heads" style (white center with brown crema ring).

Kirsten used large bell-shaped pitchers for her cappuccinos and divided among the four cups. I noticed she swirled the pitcher by holding it flat on the table. Her specialty drink included frothed milk steeped in ginger overnight. The top was drizzled with honey forming the shape of a rose. An accompaniment of candied ginger added sweetness and enhanced the natural spices in the blend. Her final time was 16:32.

Christopher Perry / Muddy Waters

Chris evoked some chuckles from the crowd when he glared at Peter after Peter wrongly said "she" (Peter's back was turned at the time). Christopher is a returning regional and USBC competitor. He used Counter Culture Coffee's blend, which Chris describes as relatively sweet, especially with whole milk.

Peter asked several competitors about their drink preferences. Chris is a thick cappuccino fan. Like the competitor before him, Chris dumped the first shots because they poured too slowly. He suggested the table height could be the cause (they were 30" instead of the usual 36").

I noticed that Chris employed gentle tapping of the portafilter during dosing. Once the basket was full, he tamped, gave a firm tap on the portafilter with the tamper, tamped again, followed by a spin to knock off grinds from the sides. Like Kirsten, he also swirled the pitcher with the bottom firmly on the table. He pointed out that his thunking of the straight-sided pitcher was to "break the big bubbles'"

Chris mentioned during the MC banter that he isn't a big latte art fan. His signature drinks were served in slightly flared demitasse cups with colorful painted swirls. He called his creation "cafe sombroso" (phonetic) or "delicious coffee." It uses ground coriander as a tribute to Spanish cooking. He ground spices and sugar with a mortar and pestle. Added spices directly into coffee and then topped with frothed milk. His final time was slightly over 15 minutes (clock reset before noted).

Aubrey Morris / Pheasant Creek Coffee

Aubrey began with an overview of her presentation, including her signature drink, "macchiato piquant." Her setup was a predominantly orange, brown and red motif, including her choice of bottled water. The music was a trio of guitar with stacatto flair. Her cappuccinos were served in brown Milano-style ("tulip") cups. Peter asked about her espresso blend; she described it as "an intensely sweet espresso with lovely carmel notes." Peter interjected comments about the sponsors from time-to-time; he drew attention to Aubrey's pink anodized aluminum Reg Barber tamper. Very styling.

Her signature drinks were the only ones I noted based on four double ristrettos. To help speed her preparation, Aubrey had two grinders, one provided by the hosts and another she brought specifically to dial in for the tighter grind. The double-ristretto has accents flavors of cinnamon, cocoa bean, a touch of cayenne pepper, then topped with steamed milk. She explained that applying such a potent spice was tricky. Her experimentation led to dabbing with a pointed chopstick to spice the espresso (dipped in water, then spices, then the espresso). Her overall time was 15:39.

Ryan Goodrow / Murky Coffee

Ryan spread out a rust color tablecloth and white linen. Sorry if my commentary is light, his audio was a little harder to hear and he spoke in a low voice. His first drinks were cappuccinos. During his chatting with Peter, Ryan commented that he's tried to convert his skim milk loving customers to whole milk, joking that "It's a tough world out there." His music selection was slow jazz guitar for background.

I noticed his interesting tamp technique. To knock down loose grounds, he struck two glancing touches of the back of the tamper to the portafilter. He appeared to distribute using a technique similar to the Stockfleths move (rounded leveling). As part of his explanation of the extraction process, he pointed out the small "boosters" that raised the cups closer to the grouphead and reduce the espressos' fall. His speciality drink was served with sparkling water and orange syrup served in high thin water drop-shaped glasses. His final time was over 15 minutes, but public clock was reset before I noted the precise overage.

Debra Moore / Open Eye Cafe

Sorry, I had to step away from Debra's performance to prepare for the second round judging.
Dan Kehn

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HB (original poster)

#6: Post by HB (original poster) »

This afternoon was round two. I was among seven SERBC judges: one head judge, two technical judges, and four sensory judges. You can imagine how crowded it seems around the competitor, especially considering there is only nine inches at the narrowest point between the judge's table and the next station. Yesterday Michelle Campbell joked that judges' introduction cards should include name, affiliation, and butt size to determine who stands where.

Nick Cho kicked off the introductions in an uncharacteristically low-key manner. Isn't this they same guy whose podcast #12 begins with some pretty rough language, then launches into a two hour barista competition tutorial? He is certainly a man of contrasts. Let's see if his darker side emerges tomorrow... :shock:

It's fun being on the side of the table being served. I'd be an absolute wreck as a competitor. Marking your scores and adding side notes for post-competition debriefing plus listening to the barista demands your full attention. Fifteen minutes zips by and then you're all huddled back in the wings of the theatre under less illumination than an average linen closet, furiously scribbling your last notes and confirming score consistency with the head judge. You would think that after tasting 18 coffee drinks in two hours that I would be able to stare through concrete, but actually I feel pretty good.

Unlike this morning when I was a spectator, there was no time for jotting down notes about the competitors' performances. All focus was on getting the scores down as fairly and consistently as possible. This is my second year at the SERBC and I'm more relaxed than last year. Our instructors and head judges Jeff, Scott, and Marcus have been good mentors; to be honest, that's the biggest motivation for signing up -- a chance to learn from the pros and hopefully be served some of the best espresso in the South East. The USBC is in Charlotte in April. Heck, I think it's worth volunteering just for the two-day workshop. Sure, there's a goodly amount of rules & regulation discussions, but the practicals are a blast. I also volunteered to be the "bad barista" to Ryan Jensen's "good barista" who intentionally pulls swill shots for judges to critique. In the end, Ryan Jensen did both, and yes, his bad shots were indeed horrible.
Dan Kehn

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Team HB

#7: Post by another_jim »

Thanks for the report Dan, hope your judging stint went/goes well.

All those southern good manners did a number on the competitors' times; maybe Peter needs to talk faster :P

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HB (original poster)

#8: Post by HB (original poster) »

The finals start in an hour. I'll writeup the six finalists late tonight or tomorrow:
  • Lena Abed / Open Eye Cafe
  • Lemuel Butler / Daily Grind Espresso Cafe
  • Mandy Catron / Murky Coffee
  • Ryan Goodrow / Murky Coffee
  • Elizabeth Gray / Muddy Waters Coffeehouse
  • Claudia Raymo-Quirk / Cup-A-Joe
Dan Kehn

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HB (original poster)

#9: Post by HB (original poster) »

  1. Lemuel Butler (610.5) / Daily Grind
  2. Lena Abed (606.5) / Open Eye Cafe
  3. Ryan Goodrow (569.5) / Murky Coffee
  4. Mandy Catron (537.0) / Murky Coffee
  5. Beth Gray (532.0) / Muddy Waters
  6. Claudia Raymo-Quirk (427.5) / Cup-A-Joe
2005 SCAA South Eastern Regional Champions
Dan Kehn

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HB (original poster)

#10: Post by HB (original poster) »

  1. Beth Gray (557.5) / Muddy Waters
  2. Claudia Rayno-Quirk (553.5) / Cup-A-Joe
  3. Ryan Goodrow (500.0) / Murky Coffee
  4. Lemuel Butler (494.5) / Daily Grind
  5. Mandy Catron (492.5) / Murky Coffee
  6. Lena Abed (479.5) / Open Eye Cafe
  7. Cedric Station (477.0) / Cafe Ritazza
  8. Scott Lenger (474.5) / Shade Tree Coffee
  9. David Chapman (453.5) / Bean Traders Coffee
  10. Aubrey Morris (451.0) / Pheasant Creek Coffee
  11. Christopher Perry (436.0) / Muddy Waters
  12. Russell Grimmett (430.5) / Cup-A-Joe
  13. Rebecca Moore (422.0) / Open Eye Cafe
  14. Joshua Senn (419.0) / The Dripolater
  15. Kirsten O'Hara (384.0) / Bean Traders
  16. Ryan Johnson (368.0) / Panera Bread
  17. Matthew McDaniel (360.0) / Octane Coffee
  18. Alison Parks (327.5) / Mr. Toad's Coffeehouse
  19. Heather Read-Immler (312.0) / Bean Traders
  20. Stephanie Britt (293.0) / Mr. Toad's
Disqualified for exceeding 17 minutes:
  • Rachael Mezynski (*491.5) / Bean Traders
  • Taylor Griffin (*451.0) / Chelsee's Coffee Shop
* Score without any time overage penalties
Dan Kehn