Around two months ago I paid a visit to London to watch the heats of the UKBC and meet up with Steve Leighton for yet another brain-dump on our competition strategy. By this stage I had already been to Copenhagen for a weeks training with Fritz Storm and was well and truly in competition mode.
I’ve never been really able to watch competition, and true to form as James Phillips of “Dose” took to the stage I in turn became quite nauseous and worried…so I turned away. Something else was at play I felt and the following day I had a brief chat with a former competition barista about the pressures involved in retaining a title when everyone is expecting a lot from you. That expectation was something I was going to have to address.
To say I entered IBC 2010 as the favourite is not a statement based on arrogance or ego but one that I had formed from daily visits from industry people who kept reminding me so. On top of the expectation though was a feeling that I needed to repay the huge faith people had laid in me, especially Steve himself who has sacrificed so much for me this year in anticipation of this event.
He has not only been instrumental in the launching of 3FE but has also spent the past year shipping me coffee to sample, ensuring I had a steady stream of work (Thanks Joe!) and ensuring that my education as a Barista didn’t slow down after the crash course that was 2009.
So when my first round slot arrived on Wednesday all this pressure culminated into a performance that I was bitterly disappointed with. I left the stage to cheers and congratulations but I knew myself that it just wasn’t good enough.
I think at the root of the problem was that I wasn’t allowing myself to enjoy it. I let the pressure get to me, like I never had before, and in doing so had only increased the likelihood of what I feared the most. So I stopped.
I stopped worrying about the expectation, stopped fretting about mistakes and stopped behaving like someone with the weight of the world on their shoulders. The funny thing about competitions is that essentially you end up worrying most about the thing that you do day in and day out. I decided to just get up, make some coffee, and hopefully enjoy myself up there just like I did in Atlanta and in the RDS at IBC2009.
In the end this change in tack proved to be enough in retaining the crown of Irish Barista Champion. The sense of relief I felt as they called out my name was immense, if only for the fact that I hadn’t let Steve down for all his efforts in the past year. Last year it was euphoria, tears and screams but this year, although just as rewarding, was more a collective sigh of relief by everyone involved.
Everyone that helped me had put in such a huge effort that I felt anything short of winning would be a discredit to all their endeavours. Coupled with that was the huge pressure I put myself under to plan and achieve something that I almost accidently happened upon this time last year.
3FE is located in the front of the IBC venue (The Twisted Pepper) and as a consequence I got to see first hand all the hard work and dedication that the organisers Jackie, Damian, Joe and Julie put in. Theres also a huge team behind them involved in the running of the competition and everybody really did an amazing job and rarely receive any thanks or praise for their efforts.
My signature drink was concocted with the help of one my customers and a friend-of-a-friend, Darren Free. He donated a lot of time and energy in helping me and I’m very grateful for all his efforts. Hopefully I haven’t dissuaded him from more experiments in the lead-up to London.
My run-throughs were scrutinised continuously by team 3FE (Jordan, Ger and Pete) as well as my brother Ian who worked tirelessly to help me prepare despite knowing little to nothing about competition.
I must also thank Paddy Sands, as well as Michael and Stephen, at Food Solutions for helping me get to grips with the competition machine (Astoria Plus4You). There help was instrumental in helping me get the most out of my coffee and being able to use the machine to its best ability.
The competition was blessed with presence of two of the UKs finest in John Gordon and Gwilym Davies who worked the 3FE bar, did some MCing and were invaluable to me over the 3 days. I can’t thank them enough for making the week such an enjoyable experience for all the competitors, the watchers and the 3FE customers.
London’s calling, we’ve got lots to work on and I’m gonna enjoy it.
-Title inspired by that wordsmith of wit, Paul Stack