The last year has been a big one. Winning the 2009 Irish Barista Championships has enabled me, both personally and professionally, to see and do things that I never would have thought were possible. Its enabled me to visit a host of different countries, meet some great people and has given me a foundation to open 3FE, something I could only dream of doing less than 3 years ago. Its been incredibly tough but I’ve had a ridiculous amount of fun doing it, and now just when things were starting to get settled its time to start all over again.
In truth I havent really stepped out of competition mode since Atlanta. As soon as I got back I started talking competition with Steve and we started working towards competing again. We pulled every part of the competition apart and really nit-picked on where I went wrong. We decided that I had to grow as a barista and in order to do that I had to go ask a lot of questions from a lot of people. So I did.
The backbone of my last year was working free-lance jobs with Joe O’Hara at Ristretto. It was tough work but getting to work with a group of dedicated and professional baristas was something that really made me up the ante. I can remember I was mid flow, 300 shots into 1000, on a 13 hour shift in Barcelona when I really only began to understand how much work I needed to put into my espresso. I was lagging behind the others and I needed to smarten up but it was a lesson I needed to learn. The other guys were so much more consistent than I was and it forced me to readdress what I thought was acceptable in a bar situation. The standards that you implement day in day out then become your standard, not the ones that you like more than the others.
Going to Cologne to see the SCAE show was another massive trip for me. All of a sudden I was thrown in amongst a group of people who knew their coffees better than anyone and I was being asked my opinion. Having your opinion quizzed by Messrs Morrissey, Kaminsky, Helgebostad, Stack, Davies, Helfen and Storm (amongst others) was a little humbling but really forced me to look at what I knew about my profession, and more importantly, what I didn’t know. Manning the über boiler Stand also put me in the spotlights a bit and all of a sudden I had renowned coffee folk critiquing the coffee I was preparing. Daunting but again rewarding.
That trip indirectly led me on to Norway where I spent a week at Kaffemisjonen. This has really given me an insight into what it means to be a professional Barista. My admiration for the work that Rasmus, Jan, Oda et al do is pretty obvious but I think it’s the manner in which they do it that impresses me most. This also got me out of my comfort zone and really tested me to improve further.
Japan also had a massive effect on me and gave me the opportunity to work with some amazing baristas and see a really beautiful country. Visiting the roastery of Maruyama Coffee was perhaps a once in a lifetime experience and again opened my eyes to a whole new world in coffee.
All of these trips were enjoyable but often a lot more difficult than I would have envisaged. One thing that has become abundantly clear in the last year is that whenever I’m returning home I know its been worthwhile when I’m coming back with more questions than I have answers. There’s something enormously rewarding about coming home thinking you know less than you did before. It’s important to feel dumber.
In the meantime Tamper Tantrum has been a conduit through which myself and Steve could work towards this years competition. We decided that we needed to meet at least once a month in order to progress on from where we had left off. Tamper Tantrum has enabled us not only to meet a lot of cool people but also to educate ourselves and bash ideas off each other on a regular basis.
On top of all this I’ve also managed to open my first cafe in the unusual form of 3FE. We’ve already had a host of special guests over and day by day the shop continues to grow. Although the feedback has been immense I still feel we are only at about 30% of where I want this to go but we will get there through hard work and patience.
Right now I’m typing this from a Hotel in Copenhagen where I’m one day into a three-day intensive training regime with Fritz Storm. Already I feel like there is a massive amount of work in front of me but that’s something I’m no stranger to and with 5 weeks to go I intend to leap in head first.