Thanks to a recommendation from Mr Stephen Morrissey, I was recently invited by machine manufacturer Nuova Simonelli to come to Milan and witness what is undoubtedly the worlds largest and most prestigious coffee machine exhibition. The Monster that is, HOST. All I understood beforehand was that it would be a big show and I would be making coffee on their stand. That didn’t quite do it justice though.
The exhibition centre itself is made up of 18 separate halls, each capable of holding an exhibition by itself. It’s hard to understand the scale of the place but suffice it to say I never made it round the whole centre. The Nuova Simonelli Stand itself was about 350sqm and had around 50 machines on display. The bar we worked on came with WBC Spec Aurelia, a Victoria Arduino Adonis and a number of Mythos and MDLA grinders. It also had a sink, sinks are great for Baristas.
Over the course of the week we were joined on bar by a host of coffee luminaries which for me was the highlight of the week. Amongst others, we enjoyed the company of Gwilym Davies 2009 World Barista Champion, Anthony Calvez French Barista Champion, Yara Castanho Brazilian Barista Champion, Per and Pernila of Da Matteo Sweden, David Makin 2nd Place World Barista Championships 2008, Paul Bassett WBC champion 2003, Sorren Stiller WBC Finalist 2008 and founder the excellent Growers Cup, James Hoffman WBC champion 2008 (I think, he may have just drank coffee).
To have all these amazingly talented people to work with over the course of the week was an unbelievable experience. I took notes.
I’ve worked on many many exhibition bars over the last few months with the good people at ristretto so I’m well used to the conference drill. Ten hour shifts, fast pace, hard work but a lot of fun. What struck me about this event though was the sheer volume of espressos (as opposed to milk drinks) that we were serving. I’d say 90% of the drinks we served were espressos which was refreshing in a sense but also puts a lot more pressure on you as a barista. Good milk in espresso can cover up a whole world of pain but when it’s just espresso your completely exposed so you have to be on your game.
It also goes some way to explaining why so many bad machines run out of steam pressure during service. In Italy where the vast majority of them are made, they just don’t steam milk that often (or draw water).
The show itself is quite amazing in that everywhere you look there’s another machine manufacturer that you never heard of. To put it into context I was told that roughly 15,000 machines are sold in the US every year. In Italy alone they sell 35,000. It made me wonder if somewhere out there lay a gem of a machine or grinder but nobody was paying any attention to it.
We were joined nearby by Marco who had a steady stream of Guinness flowing to help the week go by and I spent the week bouncing over there for filters and pints (well, demi’s) which was great fun in itself. Paul Stack from Marco also had the honour of presenting a hastily thrown together latte art throw-down on the booth on the second last day. Out of eight contestants I lost out in the final to Mr David Makin although I was helped in no small part by some ominous Hibernocentric judging along the way!
Once the exhibition had finished we all boarded a bus for the long drive to Tolentino and Nuova Simonelli’s factory where we were charged with presenting two talks over two days on “Coffee Trends” and “Barista Techniques”. It was daunting enough to have to sit alongside two WBC champions but having to deliver a talk to a room full of experts was something that I enjoyed but was quite wary of.
The last year in Coffee has thought me that around the world people have very different opinions on how coffee should be brewed and so I was very conscious of this throughout the talks. The other thing was that most of these people had far more experience than I had in the industry. All I could do was give my own opinion and experience and take it from there.
Stephen is a dab hand at throwing together the visuals for these presentations and between the three of us (Gwilym kindly agreed to help us out) I think we managed to put together something that everyone enjoyed and learned from, us included.
On the second day, inspired by our encounters with various Baristas from all around the world, we decided to set up 3 stations and demonstrate 3 distinct styles of espresso. On the first stand Stephen showed how the Italians brew espresso. He was dosing in the 12g/14g zone and pulling 2oz shots, although I have it on good authority that he drew the line at not flushing or wiping. Some things are sacred.
Gwilym on Station 2 was tasked with making coffee the way he usually does, in the 17/19g zone and pulling around 1.5oz shots. He did everything he usually does on bar and explained his reasoning behind all his actions.
On the 3rd Station I was tasked with creating more of an Antipodean style approach. My desire to run this bar was prompted by an encounter with Paul Bassett 2003 WBC Champ earlier that week. I was dosing around 22/24g and pulling about 0.5oz shots.
It was really interesting top see how different people reacted to different brewing methods and surprisingly enough the Italians present seemed to be huge fans of the up-dosing, although a camera and a big screen played a huge part in swaying them towards what is undoubtedly the most aesthetically pleasing of the three. I even went as far as tapping baskets and banging portafilters, it’s actually kinda fun when its someone elses equipment.
The week was filled with more activities such as pizza making, press interviews, factory tours and seafood gorging but I’ll spare you the details of that. Lets just say it was by far and away my second favourite week in coffee.
I really can’t thank Cosimo, Lauro and all the great people at Suova Nimonelli for looking an incredible week. It was a lot of hard work but I’ve never had so much fun at “work”. I think it said a lot about the team that every evening they were last to leave, long after every other stand was deserted. Great people.
As I write this I am sitting in Heathrow Airport, mixture of excitement and confusion. Behind me I leave the shell of my first shop, half way there and hoping to open on the 5th December on Dublin’s Middle Abbey Street. it’s caused so much stress and excitement in the last few weeks that it feels strange to be abandoning it for a week. The reason I’m doing this will become apparent in time (via this blog) but at the moment I’m waiting to board a flight to Tokyo Japan in what is going to be a huge week in my coffee education.
p.s. Steve’s put together a short little montage of the trip on 64mins in Tamper Tantrum episode 6