I Heart Competition; 1-10

Picture of Chris Baca. Nicked from Liz Clayton 😉

Watching the recent Western Regional (US) Barista Championships, I was blown away by the enthusiasm of a one Mr. Chris Baca. I’ve met this guy only once but he seemed like a pretty cool guy and right now he’s kinda my hero. Baca walked up the Judges with a huge smile on his face, introduced himself and declared “I LOOOVVVE barista competitions!”

I pretty much high-fived my laptop. He couldn’t have put it any better. He then went on to drag two competition newbies on stage and made 6 of every course so they too could understand why we all love Barista competitions. Chris went on to finnish 3rd in the WRBC and later placed 2nd in the US finals in late April.

I’ve decided therefore to make a list of some of the moments that have gained noteriety and legendary status amongst Baristas. Most of these stories are probably exagerated, some probably aren’t even true, some are great moments and some we wish had never happened but these ladies and gentlemen are my all time favourite competition moments, and the reason why I too love Barista Competitions.

1. The Goat Trophy;

Barista Trophies are usually a representation of the sponsor (i.e a portafilter or a tamper) but in 2006 Klaus Thomsen of Denmark won the World Barista Championship in Bern, Switzerland, in 2006 and was awarded what is quite possibly the most bizarre trophy I’ve ever seen. A Goat. Legend has it that the organisers had forgotten to get a trophy for the winner and in a mad rush picked up the first trophy they could get their hands on. The trophy has since gone on to be auctioned every year at the Nordic BaristaCup where it pretty much fetches EUR1,000 on an annual basis.

Klaus with his Goat

2. Morrissey delivers the espresso;

So many people have talked about this moment. Its ridiculous to suggest that it single handedly delivered him the WBC title but when Stephen Morrissey turned to deliver his espresso course to the judges he did so with one saucer in one hand, and three in the other. True, you can see this in any busy cafe in the world but Morrissey had broken the formality of a WBC final with a cheeky wink to all the hardcore-multi-saucer-yielding baristas all over the world and set himself up for a famous victory in Copenhagen 2008.

3. Big names missing the cut

This is the amazing thing about barista competitions, it isn’t always the best baristas that make the cut. Luck (and bad luck) plays a huge role in events and sometimes the big names fail to get through. Its not that I like to see that happen but more something that adds to the excitement. If everything was a formality the show would be very boring. When Kyle Glanville (2008) and Carl Sara (2009) failed to make finals it caused a huge shock, but added to the drama of two really great barista competitions. No doubt this year, and years to come, will see favouries fail to make the grade but its all pat of the show and we all compete knowing nothing is guarenteed to anyone.

4. Piccolo features in Black Gold

The Film “Black Gold” is perhaps the most well known coffee documentary ever made and it chose to unfortunately pick-on one of the greatest competition baristas of all time, Sammy Piccolo. Just before he was about to take to the stage in Bern, the film makers caught Sammy at his most uptight and intense (we all are at that moment) and turned one of the coffee industry greatest ambassadors into something of an intense stampeding lunatic through the power of selective editing. I met Sammy in Atlanta last year and he is as gracious as he is funny, something Hollywood unfortunately missed.

The Mighty Mighty Sammy P

5. Mr. Coconuts;

OK, this one I may need some help with. As far as I know (and I’m open to correction on this one) a Lithuanian competitor once introduced himself as “Mr. Coconuts” and proceeded to serve his signature drink in a hollowed-out coconut shell. The ingenius part of this routine was the moment where he presented the coconuts on cylindrical stands in front of the judges. When they lifted the coconuts from their pedastals, he took away the stands and therefore ensured they drank all of its contents or suffer the consequences of trying to put down the shells on a flat table. Brilliant.

6. Gwilym goes 17 seconds over and still romps home

After his first round appearence at WBC in Atlanta, I asked a down in the mouth Gwilym how he got on. “Shit” he said. “I didn’t get to talk about the coffee. Davies went on to make the finals and again I missed his performance. Backstage after the finals I asked him again how he got on. “Shit!” he said with a huge smile on his face, “but I got to talk about the coffee”. Despite going 17 seconds over, Davies had done what he’d traveled half-way around the world to do, talk about his coffee, and went on to to claim his place as one of the most worthy and popular of all WBC Champions.

7. The Sunflower Show

Another rumour perhaps? A competitor gets his wife to dress up as a sun flower and sway side-to-side beside him as he presents his coffee. Amazing.

8. Hoffmann drops his caps;

A heavy favourite going into the 2006 UKBC  finals, James Hoffman brought his cappuccinos to the judges table and laid it on the edge. As he reached forward to present the first judge with their cappuccino the tray now holding only 3 coffees became unbalanced and proceeded to tip back ontop of Hoffmann in front of a shocked audience. Legend has it that Hoffmann was so far ahead that if he had served the half empty cups he would have won the competition. Instead he decided to go back and remake them, went over time and was disqualified. The following year he returned and won the WBC outright.

9. Paul Bassett breaks the mould;

2003 saw the first ever WBC Champ from outside Scandinavia in the form of Mr. Paul Bassett. The Scandos’ had such a strong hold on the tournament that in the first eight years of the competition only Bassett managed to take the trophy away from them. The most recent WBC in Atlanta saw the Scandinavians fail to procuce even one finalist despite having some of the best baristas and roasters in the World. Its my personal belief that it will be a long time before we see another final without a Scandinavian.

10. Israeli Footballers dream (kinda) comes true

Ok, I can see where this guy was coming from and I wrote about it here. This competitor came out on stage playing keep-em-ups with a football, dressed in a football kit and began to tell the judges that he always wanted to be a footballer. Having failed in this bid he decided instead to turn to coffee and at long last got to represent his country, albeit off the football pitch. He then volleyed the ball into the crowd and went off to pull some shots. I’d love to see photos of this one.

(p.s.  If you have any edits or additions to make just let me know and I’ll add/delete as appropriate. Next week I’ll add another 10 so let me know if you have any suggestions, especially ones with photos!!)


3 thoughts on “I Heart Competition; 1-10

  1. tcvarney says:

    Right, as Senor Coconut’s biggest fan, i need to make a few additions…

    1. His signature drink was called ‘Personal Mocha’
    2. His espresso description contained the phrase ‘buckets of flowers and nuts’
    3. The line that encapsulates his performance, was ‘it becames my passions’ – this line has been spotted on t-shirts around the world.
    4. He went on to coach ‘Barbie Girl’ the following year in Atlanta.
    5. He never actually named himself ‘Senor Coconut’, but insinuated coconuts, with his hypnotic & rhythmic percussive coconut music – looped coco-beats for the full 15 minutes.

  2. EJ says:

    Great post Colin.

  3. Sarah Allen says:

    I saw the sunflower routine in Trieste! I vouch for this! The guy had his wife dress in a green unitard with a sunflower headdress, and throughout his 15 minutes, she “bloomed.” Hence, the rule was born for no additional people on stage (and a good thing, too, because a certain overzealous barista coach I knew at the time was considering having his competitor appear with a solo violinist on stage).

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