THE FINALS!

Here we are! It’s crazy to believe that we made it to this point after three long days of preliminary competition. There are probably 1000 people packed into this small, tight room. First things first: the judges are:

WBC Final Round Judges
Head Judge: Justin Metcalf, Australia
Technical Judge: Arthur Wynne, Australia
Technical Judge: Marcus Boni, USA
Sensory Judge: Lizz Hudson, USA
Sensory Judge: Emma Markland Webster, New Zealand
Sensory Judge: Arturo Hernandez, Mexico
Sensory Judge: Brent Fortune, USA

FINALIST #1

NATIONAL CHAMPION OF AUSTRALIA

DAVID MAKIN

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The first time I met David was in Switzerland at the 2006 WBC. He was the Australian champion back then for the first time, and the story of the week ended up being the sad tale of Davids coffee: He sent his custom roasted espresso blend by air ahead of him, and it arrived at the hotel no problem. But by the time David arrived and asked after his coffee, it was nowhere to be found. “Thanks for the wonderful coffee, sir!” the receptionist at the hotel’s front desk told him. “We’ve enjoyed it very much at the breakfast bar!” That’s right — the hotel’s guests had been treated to David’s espresso for the past few days. Luckily, David had some of his coffee left from the batch back in Australia, so he had it express mailed to Berne. He placed high in the competition, but didn’t make the finals.

Now he’s back two years later and he seems more pro than ever. No a drop of sweat is visible on his brow as he begins his competition, and he smiles and waves at the many, many Aussies in the audience cheering him on.

First off, he tells the judges abut his espresso blend, which combines St. Helena from El Salvador and Daterra Reserve Vintage from Brazil. But, he says, before he begins his espresso preparation, he’s going to do some preparation of his signature drink. He crushes some roasted almonds in front of the judges, puts then into a saucepan, adds some cream to it, which, he says, will work to take on some of the almond flavors. In another saucepan, he puts some black cherries to create a black cherry reduction. He tells the judges he really likes richness that the stone fruit will add to the cup. He thanks the judges and moves back to the espresso machine to begin his espressos. He later says he uses 19.1 or 19.2 grams. His shots come out thick and red, gurgling into the Terra cups he’s using like chocolate. He says he is reminded of a good-quality Reisling when he tastes this espresso.

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After serving the judges, he returns to the machine to begin his cappuccinos. For these drinks, he switches to a second grinder, which contains the two coffees he had in the espresso blend, but adds one more: a Salvadoran Pacamara, which he says will add a tobacco flavor and result in a crisp, dry finish. He adds different latte art to each cup: triple tulip, classic rosetta, a lovely heart, and another tulip. They are lovely, though a bit shaky (c’mon, now, the guy’s GOT to be nervous). Still, with just small shakes, he executes some gorgeous latte art.

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At this time, I notice Michelle speaking with one of the many photographers surrounding David’s station. Michelle is adamant about protecting the baristas and only allowing relevant press on stage. This guy was pressing in too close to David’s area, so Michelle asked him to stop. He refused to listen to her, so she got Nick, who took the guy — actually had to drag him — to the side of the stage and made him leave. This is just an example of the lengths the WBC and Michelle go to make sure the baristas are as comfortable and free to work as they want as possible. Thank you for that.

OK, back to David: he returns to the judges table and strains the black cherry reduction into a round pot. He tells the judges that he wanted to work with some really natural ingredients for the sake of his coffee’s character. He proceeds to layer the back cherry reduction into the bottom of each of four glasses. He then takes the almond cream and puts a bit in the glasses on top of the cherry. “I wanted to maintain the integrity of the coffee,” he tells the judges, on why he chose the ingredients he did. He then takes the four glasses from the judges’ table and returns to the espresso machine, where he pulls his shots directly on top of the black cherry and almond cream. Good god, these are some beautiful looking shots. Before service, he notices a drip on one of the cups, and wipes it clean.

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He takes the cups to the judges table in a sweet little wooden tray. He tells them that this is a warm drink, and that there is no need for them to stir it. He instructs them to take three reasonably sized sips of the drink. He thanks them for their time, shoots a grin to the crowd and says “I call time for Australia.” The Aussies go nuts with their cheering in the stands. BRAVO DAVID!

FINALIST #2

NATIONAL CHAMPION OF DENMARK

SOREN STILLER MARKUSSEN

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Soren is the hometown boy, and his friends and family are here in droves. He’s been crowned the unofficial king of barista style by the crowd and his co-competitors alike. Soren is very nervous at the start, stumbling over a few of his words, but he recovers beautifully, and it’s forgotten. His performance is built entirely on Danish tradition and history, he tells the judges. He evokes the common image of the viking holding a woman in one hand and a beer in the other. He says his intent is to recreate the dark beer taste for which Denmark is famous.

Soren presents each judge with a small piece of roasted dark bread and invites them to taste it in order to get a sense of the flavors they will experience during his performance. However, because competitors cannot require the judges to consume anything besides the three drinks, he invites them to at least smell the bread and “feel the aroma.”

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Soren tells the judges that he will now do some signature drink preparation, and he takes a mixture of soaked bread he has had steeping for a day in a small clay jar, which will, he says replicate that beer taste. There is a Danish word for this, and I don’t know how to spell it (I can hardly pronounce it) but I’ll find that out and post it later.

Soren has been working with the Coffee Collective here in Copenhagen on his competition preparation, and he is delighted to be using their coffees.

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He prepares his cappuccinos for his first course and tells the judges he is excited to be using beautiful Danish milk: “If you have seen a cow dancing while it feeds on grass, you will understand why the milk is so nice,” he says, earning a chuckle from the audience. He pours very, very strong latte art atop each cup, and as he serves the judges, he tells them they will taste berries and caramel in the cup.

Now he tells the judges about the espresso he is using, a blend that includes Daterra, Guatemala from Edwin Martinez’s Finca Vista Hermosa and a natural Yirgacheffe. He explains that the taste is sweet with a creamy mouthfeel, very light acidity, caramel sugars, marzipan, and a hit of strawberries. I want some!

Now he moves back into the preparation of his signature drink. He strains the bread mixture that he has had in the saucepan into a canister, and mushes the bread, saying his intent is to make a new incarnation of an old tradition. He explains again that the pumpernickle bread has been steeped in water for one day to bring the malty flavor forward which is similar to dark beer.
He pulls his signature drink espresso shots into small stainless pitchers. He tells the judges that the caramelized sugars and fruity aroma of the espresso perfectly matches the maltiness in the cup. He serves the drinks, asking the judges to please swirl the glass, drink a little, then swirl it again, then drink some more. “This is my experience from Denmark, I hope you enjoy it, thank you!”

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And the crowd from Denmark explodes! The applause is deafening! Terrific show, Soren!

FINALIST #3

NATIONAL CHAMPION OF CANADA

MICHAEL YUNG

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Mike is SO nice, so humble, so gracious, and honest. I’ve been so excited to see him take the stage, especially after seeing him compete on the first day and do such a marvelous job. He is mellow and uber professional as he begins his competition, starting by turning the gas on a siphon brewer he has set up to the left of the judges’ table. The siphon is a kew element in Mike’s signature drink preparation.But something’s going wrong — the gas is missing. He doesn’t miss a beat, and goes on to tell his judges about the very special water he has brought for the judges. He tells them that it is charcoal filtered and remineralized. “My hope is that this cleaner fresher tasting water will help cleanse your palates.”

Now Mike returns to the siphon to try to light it again, and no luck. This is a big blow, and the audience is shocked. But Mike is a consummate professional, and he recovers immediately, telling the judges he will simply make two extra shots of espresso to take the place of the siphon coffee. Really nice recovery, Mike.

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Onward: he begins to tell the judges about the coffee in his espresso blend: he has a Brazil Daterra for sweetness; a Brazil Cafe Sombre (sp?) for depth, flavor and body; and a washed organic Ethiopia. I’m nervous to see that Mike’s microphone cord is not hanging down his back as it should, but rather over the front of his shirt, in the way of his elbow. But again, Mike doesn’t let it bother him.
Mikes first drinks are his cappuccinos, which flow from the spouts in great big burbles that look simply perfect. He takes them to the judges table with his milk pitchers and proceeds to pour table side for the judges. He tells them that this is a very special experience for him because he remembers the first time he had a cappuccino, when he was on a family vacation to Italy eight years ago, and it changed his life– and ours, thanks, Mike!

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As he serves the cappuccinos, he tells the judges that they will taste cocoa and caramel that is accentuated perfectly by the sweet, creamy finish of the steamed milk. But damn! He spills some milk on the tray! It’s no big deal, but it appears to unnerve him a little.

He tells the judges he will now prepare an espresso shot for the signature drinks. Then he proceeds to prepare all of the other espressos he needs for the drink. It’s a terrific concept: he wants to recreate a shot of espresso that is made up of more than espresso. He has dried black mission figs with a touch of aged balsalmic reduction for the base of the espresso; the actual shot of espresso for the body of the espresso (which he says will have a slight floral and honey sweetness) and an espresso cream chantilly for the “crema.” It’s brilliant.
“In choosing the ingredients, I wanted to accentuate my interpretation of what an espresso is, both visually and sensually,”h e says. He says to the judges that he wants them to stor the drink very thoroughly before they enjoy the drink. “I hope you had some fun, as I did,” he finishes. And it’s a fantastic finish. Mike, you did a simply wonderful job.

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FINALIST #4

NATIONAL CHAMPION OF SWEDEN

DANIEL REMHEDEN

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Daniel was the Swedish champion way back in 2004 in Trieste, so he is a true veteran and professional. Since then, he discovered the coffee that Anne and Charles are roasting and serving in their new Swedish roastery, Koppi, and he has been working with them for a long time now on both his coffees (roasted by them) and his competition preparation. It’s a smart move: the last Swedish Barista Champion to make it to the WBC finals was Anne Lunell herself, back in 2006 in Switzerland.

Daniel is softspoken and delightfully engaging. He’s very knowledgeable about his coffees, telling the judges this special El Salvadoran (Aresha –sp?–) bean was roasted just eight days ago and will shine through in florals, jasmine and strawberry in the cup.

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“This time of year is difficult for finding good coffee,” he tells the judges, because harvest doesn’t begin for a few months. So he, Anne and Charles had the lot they wanted split into small package and sent to different addresses to make sure it arrived in time for competition! A week ago, they had reached their deadline day: if it doesn’t arrive today, they told themselves, they would make a new plan. But it did arrive, all over the city!
The Swedes are known for their milk prowess, thanks to the existence and development of the Beige Project, which is run by the Swedish Milk Board , and travels around Sweden teaching not only milk skills but espresso skills to hundreds of baristas every year. Daniel’s cappuccinos are proof of the success of this effort. The crowd cheers like crazy when they come out.
Daniel — who really seems much more animated and excited than he did in the preliminary round yesterday — begins the introduction of his signature drink by squeezing halves of pomegranate over a juicer, producing a dark red syrupy liquid which he pours into the base of each of four cups. He tells the judges the drink is called the Caterina, which is a bar drink typically made with lots of lime, cane sugar and cane spirits. Daniel chooses to use pomegranate instead of lime because he feels it brings the flavors of his espresso out more accurately. He tells the judges that his intent was to use very simple, natural ingredients to best showcase the espresso.
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Correction: before he puts the pomegranate juice in the cups, he has first put cane sugar in the bottom of each cup. Now he proceeds to making his espresso. He then tops the concoction with tons and tons of ice. This is a bold move — ice typically melts into the espresso and can water it down, but Daniel is a champion and he has accounted for this. He stirs it all together briskly, then tops the glasses with even more ice. Eachglass now has a lovely, icey top with a creamy looking reddish brown base.

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Lastly, he adds a few pomegranate seeds to the top of the ice on each cup, pokes double straws through, and places them on the tray to take to the judges. As he serves, he tells the judges, “Don’t be surprised if it reminds you of a strawberry milkshake. Stir the drink a little before you drink it, and sip away.”

Wonderful job, Daniel. Go Sweden!

FINALIST #5

NATIONAL CHAMPION OF IRELAND

STEPHEN MORRISSEY

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Yesterday in the preliminary round, Stephen had some shakes that caused him to fumble with his signature drink ingredients, and even with some mistakes that other competitors would never have been able to recover from, and yet he STILL made it to the finals. That says a LOT about Stephen’s espresso, which comes from Square Mile Coffee, the new venture between James and Anette in London. This is the espresso Ken and I had yesterday that was some of the best — honestly if not the best — I’ve ever had. Anyway, the shakes are gone, the energy is even higher than it was yesterday, and Stephen is an absolute, 100 percent joy to watch.

He’s a crowd favorite before he even hits the start button, and his music begins to mount and we all know we’re in for an incredible treat. He rolls full speed into his espressos, approaching the judges gently but efficiently to tell them that we’ll begin with espressos but that he’s not going to tell them what’s in the blend because he wants their initial experience of it to be unfettered by any prior descriptors. “I want you to enjoy it for yourself,” he says.

At the U.S. Barista Chamionship, I saw a new trend among the baristas where they dose into the first portafilter, tamp, and then place the PF down on the table in front of the machine to wait while they dose and tamp into the second PF. Some barista competitors have found that it’s worth losing the point for “Immediate insertion” on the technical scoresheet for the benefit of the PFs being inserted at the same time so the shots pull almost simulaneously — therefore no shots sit and lose their body. Stephen employs this technique — he’s actually brought long wooden coasters on which to rest the PFs, to make sure the PF spouts stay completely clean (and it’s also helpful for the judges to know that this is an intentional move).

He wipes a lone drip from the rim of one of the cups, skips the tray, loads his arm up with all four saucers of espressos — to the delight of the crowd — and walks swiftly to the judges’ table where he places them down in front of each judge.

On his cappuccinos, Stephen’s latte art is exquisite. People have been saying over the week that this is not a latte art competition, and it’s true, but it’s such a delight to see latte art like this, art that leaves no doubt of the barista’s milk texturing capabilities.

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As he serves the cappuccinos, he tells the judges abut the cffees: a sun-dried Bournon which lends a dried cherry and also apricot taste to the coffee; a Rwandan, which results in a custard like finish; and a Guatemala, for brown sugar sweetness.

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Now Stephen carries fur little dishes over the the judges table, careful not to smudge with fingerprints (he achieves this by carrying them in towels). He returns to his station and begins to melt chocolate in water in a small saucepan, stirring it with a spatula. When it’s reached his preferred consistency, Stephen pours it into a metal bowl he has resting on top of another metal bowl (the lower bowl contains ice). Then he whisks.

He returns to the judges table and tels them that he wanted to create a signature drink that was tasty and approachable and comforting but that wuld also give you the clarity and balance you get in a great espresso. He has created, he tells them, a chocolate chantilly but breaking two cardinal rules of pastry chefs: to never mix choclat and water, and to never place it on ice.

He tells the judges that he’s excited by the creaminess the drink achieves when there is no milk and cream in the drink. The chocolate carried the taste of cherry from Vahlrona. Then, he takes the cover from the round canister he has placed on the judges table (the same one that tipped when he went to open it in the premlim round — he earns hearty applause for opening it without a hitch this time! He reveals the contents of the canister: small squares of panacotta topped by blueberry jelly. He says, “What Im trying to get here are flavors that really work well with chocolate. This is not a liquid, not a dessert. The first thing I’ll do is use a blow torch” — and in typical Stephen humor he smiles, saying, “Don’t be scared…”

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He melts the panacotta and jelly in each dish with the blowtorch and then asks each judge to lean forward and smell the aroma. Stephen then pulls his espresso shots, returns to the judges table to pour them over the chocolate and panacotta and jelly, asks the judges to stir vigorously, and drink. It looks SO good. Crwd goes wild. Stephen has done a SPECTACULAR job. Bravo, bravo!!

FINALIST #6

NATIONAL CHAMPION OF THE NETHERLANDS

LIESBETH SLEIJSTER

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Liesbeth is the sole woman in the finals round, but shes up for the job. She was surprised to hear her name called as a finalist yesterday, not that she lacks confidence in her coffee and presentation, but because she was distracted by a faulty microphone yesterday. It may seem like a small detail, but believe me, when those competitors are up there on stage with so many things to worry about, the smallest detail makes a huge difference. So she got a laugh from the audience today when she asked for an extra sound check before she began her performance.

Honestly, Liesbeth’s performance is almost exactly the same as what she turned in yesterday — it begins just as smoothly, with her explaining to the judges how she was at a loss for hw to prepare for the WBC primarily because she had no idea what coffee she wanted to use. “And then I met Jack,” she says. Jack is a farmer in Brazil who invited Liesbeth and her roaster, Yanuka (sp?) to visit him and his farms to try the coffee. It’s obvious from Liesbeth’s delivery what an enormous impact this experience had on her. She says the coffee she came away with is a red and yellow Bourbon, which results in a soft, filming intensity in the mouth, with caramel tones. She says her favorite part about the coffee is the “long, elegant aftertaste.”

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To introduce her judges to the simple strength of the coffee, Liesbeth has prepared a cupping for them. She carries a large bowl with 5 cupping spoons to the table and invites them to cup the coffee. Each f the four judges (and the head judge) takes a long slurp.

She then mves into the preparation of her cappuccinos. She tells the judges that in her daily life she wants “to bring coffee to the people,” so she will be pouring latte art. She says, “Latte art opens doors.” She says she likes the fact that when you begin pouring latte art, “there is no going back.”

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As she serves the cappuccinos, she tells the judges that they may notice bubbles, and this is because her coffee is really fresh, roasted just seven days ago. She also tells them she is using fresh whole Dutch milk. The cappuccinos appear a bit light on top from where I’m sitting. I love that she serves the cups from a tray that also holds a sturdy little coffee tree!
When she begins on her signature drink, she says that while in Brazil, she and Jack talked about how surprising coffee can be, how it can feel both warm and cold at the same time. So she wanted to try to replicate this. She shows the judges a pitcher containing fennel and licorice, which she deep freezes in sugar water in large contraption on her station table. She tells the judges that she has come to love the way the ice that will be produced cuts the coffee with a grainy texture, how it melts a little in the espresso, and then the flavor begins to develop.

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She pulls the pitcher from the deep freezer and proceeds to scoop a tiny it on each of four spoons . She asks the judges to take the scoop into their mouths and linger on the sweet, spicy, citric, salty flavor before taking a sip of their single espresso, also in front of them. She’s so cool and calm and happy when she finishes, watching the judges as they drink with a big smile on her face. It’s incredible to imagine the strength she employed to give this final competition performance of the day. Bravo, Liesbeth, bravo!

WBC Final Round Judges
Head Judge: Justin Metcalf, Australia
Technical Judge: Arthur Wynne, Australia
Technical Judge: Marcus Boni, USA
Sensory Judge: Lizz Hudson, USA
Sensory Judge: Emma Markland Webster, New Zealand
Sensory Judge: Arturo Hernandez, Mexico
Sensory Judge: Brent Fortune, USA

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