Training with the Champions - Barista Training DVD

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks for making espresso.
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#1: Post by HB »

This is a review of the DVD Training with the Champions - Techniques of the World's Best Baristas directed by Matt Milletto of the Bellissimo Coffee InfoGroup. Training with the Champions is a documentary about the world's top baristas and their techniques. It features baristas Kyle Larson, Matt Riddle, Bronwen Serna, Klaus Thomsen, Phuong Tran, and Billy Wilson.

Topics covered in the 45 minute video include:
  • Passion and Dedication
  • Barista Competitions and the Global Barista Community
  • Consumer Education, Social Issues and Sustainability
  • Advanced Preparation Techniques: Grinding, Tamping, Dosing, Distribution, Tips and Techniques
  • Latte Art: Advanced Espresso Extraction and Milk Steaming
  • Coffee Cupping in Your Coffee Bar
Approximately the first half of the DVD is dedicated to introducing the main characters, the barista champions, why they joined the ranks of the world's coffee professionals, and what motivates them today. Some of the interviewees shared their concerns for the farmer and coffee workers' hard work and difficult living conditions. Baristas are the last link in a long chain of coffee workers; it's the barista's goal to make the best of the final step:

Billy Wilson (top), coffee triage (left), Jeff Babcock (right)

The interviews were modern documentary style, jaunting among players to capture their views on a particular coffee-related topic. My favorite quote was the wistful observation of Jeff Babcock, a relative "old man" compared to the young pup baristas. He remarked that those in the business long enough, like him, saw alternating interest and apathy about coffee over the years. "It's great to watch the next generation come into coffee," Jeff said of today's third wave.

The second half of the DVD focused more on technique. In addition to sharing an overview of coffee preparation, the baristas reminded the viewer that it's not all about technique, but what's in the cup. Klaus poignantly noted that abstract debate about why one particular technique works better than another is pointless once your tastebuds say it does:

Matt Riddle focuses on taste evaluation

The tips and techniques section introduces the key steps of espresso preparation: Dose (grind), Distribute, Tamp. Bronwen demonstrated her preferred distribution technique, which she explained has changed from a simple NSEW sweep to a combination Stockfleths Move plus finishing sweeps. It's interesting to note in light of recent discussions of excessive dosing that the video shows her mounding the basket high with coffee.

Stockfleths Move (rotational distribution) demonstrated

Several of the baristas demonstrated milk preparation and pouring:

Latte art shown but "Extreme Pours" covers more how-tos

If you're not satisfied with this latte art vignette, I recommend Extreme Pours for a bounty of eye candy. Training with the Champions bonus features include an introduction to cupping by Cup of Excellence judge Stephen Vick. His hows and whys of cupping were interesting and demystified this key milestone in the coffee's way to the cafe (or not).

Cupping table with Stephen Vick, four cups per coffee

Training with the Champions is entertaining and educational. I enjoyed learning more about the baristas and their craft (Billy Wilson's personality was especially evident and he's also featured in the amusing blooper outtakes). This DVD would make an excellent training tool for new staff members, especially those who struggle to understand why their more experienced colleagues are so "into" coffee. The DVD chapters include a number of helpful pointers, showing how to do things right in terms of micro points (how to distribute) and macro points (how to flow more efficiently from task to task).

The production standards are first rate; the selected topics and presentation are interesting to all those who call themselves baristas - or hope to. However, while I do recommend the title for the new to intermediate barista, I believe this title would be an even more effective learning tool had it also shown what happens when things don't go so well. For example, documenting a strategy for diagnosing common taste flaws or extraction problems.

PS: A video clip is available on Bellissimo's website and youtube has audience reaction to a local screening.
Dan Kehn