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The Future of the World Barista Championship, Professionally Speaking
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MarkPrince
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Posted Mon May 1, 2006, 12:00am
Subject: The Future of the World Barista Championship, Professionally Speaking
 

The Future of the World Barista Championship
Professionally Speaking article by Tim Wendelboe

Tim Wendelboe, the WBC Champion from 2004, gives an indepth view of how he sees the WBC and where the barista championship should be heading down the road. Reprinted from Viva Barista.
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MarkPrince
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Posted Mon May 1, 2006, 5:34pm
Subject: Re: The Future of the World Barista Championship, Professionally Speaking
 

Just some quick thoughts on this.

First, thanks to Matt for letting us reprint this over here, literally the same day he started running it on Viva Barista.

I agree with about 95% of what Tim wrote. One issue in particular: really training and getting good judges.

I've waffled on the sensory skills test. When I passed and heard grumbles about it, my initial reaction was "hrmph, they didn't pass, so they're bitter". But that was some time ago. I have thought for a long time now, maybe more than a year, that the sensory skills test is not suitable for this - instead there should be a "shots defects" test. I've been working on my own for some time. The concept is this:

- come up with fifty easily reproducible (by a quality barista) defective espresso shots.
- they would be grouped in tens. Ten easiest to detect (for eg, a 3 ounce shot), ten easy, ten so so, ten difficult, ten almost impossible to detect.
- catalog, photograph, and explain all fifty defects in the judges' manual.
- at certification, every judge is given a random shot from each of the five categories (so five shots in total). They don't know which one is the easiest or most difficult, just know that they have 1 "easiest", 1 "easy", and so on.
- judges have to correctly guess at least four of the five defects to pass.

I've come up with about 35 defective shot pulls so far, but some are more difficult than others to reproduce, so it's a work in progress. I've told this to several people in the WBC structure, including training committee heads, the incoming pres of the board, other board members, etc. There seems to be a "yeah, that's something to look into" attititude, but not much more. Except for Justin Metcalfe who thinks its definitely something to look into, not just something to look into (grin).

As for other issues, I'm with Tim on most of these things. Too much attention on judges. Too much BS. We have issues on one side where people (like Jay Caragay) are clamoring for more rules, more tighter definitions, which I don't agree with, and we have other sides of the coin (like Tim) who want things loosened up.

Most importantly, these just aren't entertaining for the GENERAL POPULATION.

Yes, at the USBC, the finals have lots of cheers and stuff and decent attendence. But have you ever stopped  to look at who's attending? Is the goal of the WBC (and the national comps below it) being met? It says, as Tim pointed out, the WBC charter says it's mission is to "to promote the growth, excellence & recognition in the Barista profession.". Does it do this just by already preaching to the converts (ie, the people in the stands are competitors, owners, or friends of the competitors), or should it be more about presenting excellence in coffee to the general public. Because right now, it doesn't do that.

I could go on, but I'm late for a meeting ;)

Mark

 
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Posted Wed May 3, 2006, 1:29am
Subject: Re: The Future of the World Barista Championship, Professionally Speaking
 

Very interesting Tim

Some valid points! To be seriously considered, reviewed and hopefully actioned upon.

So much of what you have written I agree with, even though WBC has evolved to this exacting standard! Is this where the future of the barista lies? There are differing rules within many sports and they are often changed/reviewed for the future of these sports as the supporters and followers drive them.  I think EVOLVE is a key word, as the knowledge of coffee has evolved over the last few years, maybe it is time to mix things up!

For those viewing the comp it can be hard to follow and you can more often that not, see little of the Barista or the drinks they are preparing, the open scoring you suggested I can see could work well and build some excitement & allow the audience to follow each barista.

The judge’s certification does need work. Realistic ‘cultural differences’ and taste profiles of each nation need to be addressed with more focus on tasting differing espresso blends and faults.

Above all else more transparency needs to be out there throughout the competition whichever format it takes.

I look forward to hearing more on this, as I am passionate about the WBC and the pursuit of coffee excellence, in whatever form it takes. It’s not all about espresso!

Emma Markland Webster
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Posted Wed May 3, 2006, 6:03pm
Subject: Re: The Future of the World Barista Championship, Professionally Speaking
 

MarkPrince Said:

As for other issues, I'm with Tim on most of these things. Too much attention on judges. Too much BS. We have issues on one side where people (like Jay Caragay) are clamoring for more rules, more tighter definitions, which I don't agree with, and we have other sides of the coin (like Tim) who want things loosened up.

Posted May 1, 2006 link

Jay is more than capable to defend himself, so please excuse me here.  Mark if you look closer at Jay's argument it is not that he wants more rules for the barista to abide by, but more regulation on the judges. His beef with the way judges can over-turn a score in no way affects the way a competitor goes about his or her business or the way a judge judges them.

And I hope that the 5% percent that you don't agree with has to do with the sig. drinks, because you gave me an awful score on a drink that tasted good, and was easily reproducable in a cafe setting,  but it wasn't creative enough for you.  Do you agree with his sentiment: "Personally I am not a great fan of signature drinks, mainly because I rarely taste something that is fantastic and secondly because I do not think it is relevant to the craft we are practicing behind the espresso machine in our coffee shops every day. How often do you see a professional barista make a signature drink to a customer in a coffee shop?"

 
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Posted Wed May 3, 2006, 7:21pm
Subject: Re: The Future of the World Barista Championship, Professionally Speaking
 

Apologies because I'm starting this with a shot in the dark since I haven't completed reading Tim's article.  From what I've read so far, I think he's got some great points - not all of which I agree with, but that's to be expected.

I thought that I should offer some clarification about what may be a mis-perception about what I've written in the past.  I don't like rules.  Rules can be limiting.  However, in a competition where there are so many "expectations" branded about - "expectations" that judges make calls on and deduct points for, that I'm very much in favor of EXPLICIT rules.  

There doesn't have to be "many," they just need to be explicit and detailed about what you (as a competitor) can and can not lose points over.  For example: the water glasses.  Four or five?  What's the appropriate size?  Or how about the table covering?  Linen or paper?  Does it matter?  Of course it does, but the rules are not explicit about what is expected.  And that's what I want to see defined clearly.

There's a vast world of difference in service between The French Laundry and your local diner.  However, both offer a level of table service where the server (ostensibly) brings you your table settings, water, beverage and meal.  While they meet the same criteria of bringing your food to you, the experiences are wildly different.  The USBC wants to avoid telling baristas "what to do" by giving them vague and conflicting ideas about what service is all about.  This creates unnecessary confusion and results in baristas like Tim arguing that "more rules restricts creativity."  Hogwash, I say.

As a business owner, I have a very specific idea of the level of service we, as a company, are working to provide.  I share that with all of my staff and give them specific guidelines to follow like, friendly greeting, greeting the customer right away, etc, etc.  However, I don't give them a script.  I let their natural personalities develop the experience while providing a structure to follow.  This allows the very disparate personalities to mesh and mingle with the very disparate personalities of our customers.

For competition, I want clear rules stating that this can be done or that can't be done.  Clear and explicit - that's the new buzzword.  No more ambiguities.  No more random interpretations by judges.  The recent overturn by the USBC Committee with regards to cups stated that the judges were basically too inept to accurately assess the "appropriateness" of the cups because they relied solely on visual inspection of the exterior of the cup.  This resulted in one of the judges in question publicly voicing that such was not the case and that the points were accurately and approriately deducted.  It's this kind of willy-nilly ruling that has turned the USBC into a Banana Republic.

All of this could have been avoided if the USBC Committee would have come out with a list of "acceptable" cupware.  But why make things clear when you can leave everyone floundering in the dark wondering?  This conspiracy to maintain vagaries has to end.  If the USBC Committee had a list of approved cupware then this would never have been a problem in the first place.  Uniformity in cupware does not diminish the competitor's ability to set themselves apart from the competition.

Clear and explicit.  It's much better than Fair and Balanced.
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MarkPrince
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Posted Wed May 3, 2006, 7:40pm
Subject: Re: The Future of the World Barista Championship, Professionally Speaking
 

xristrettox Said:

And I hope that the 5% percent that you don't agree with has to do with the sig. drinks, because you gave me an awful score on a drink that tasted good, and was easily reproducable in a cafe setting,  but it wasn't creative enough for you.  Do you agree with his sentiment: "Personally I am not a great fan of signature drinks, mainly because I rarely taste something that is fantastic and secondly because I do not think it is relevant to the craft we are practicing behind the espresso machine in our coffee shops every day. How often do you see a professional barista make a signature drink to a customer in a coffee shop?"

Posted May 3, 2006 link

On the first part, IIRC, I scored you pretty well (I think I gave you a good or better?) on taste, but on creativity, I knocked you right down - you know the reasons why, so I won't rehash, but I wish you'd get over it ;) You did amazing in the USBC, and I think a big part of it was an amazing sig drink.

Just because I'm not a big fan of the sig drinks on some levels doesn't mean I don't score them to a "T" on the scoresheet. It's the same with bright espresso shots. Not a fan at all. But I don't reflect that on my scoring sheet. If the Barista says it's bright and describes the specific acidity in the shot, and I get it, then they get scored well on it.

For the record, yes, I'd prefer sig drinks that can be served in cafes with relatively ease-of-build. That said, the comp doesn't state this, and doesn't make this the primary goal. Sig drinks are supposed to be about being as creative as possible, while still maintaining an "espresso taste" to the drink.

Mark

 
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Posted Wed May 3, 2006, 9:21pm
Subject: Re: The Future of the World Barista Championship, Professionally Speaking
 

I agree with Jay in many ways, having a detailed description of what judges are to look for would definitly aid in their decisions. There are so many little details left to be one big guessing game for competing baristas... It's a little rediculous. If the subjective items were better defined it'd be a whole new world for many of the first time competitors, not to say I had a difficult time with it, but think back to the USBC and remember some of the local competitors who had never even seen a barista competition... It'd be a whole new world for them.

On the other hand... Tim brings up a damn goood point about losing rules as well... And I think it becomes a question of priorities. What's more important? The presentation, or the espresso being presented. Obviously both are essential, but I think that if the presentation is compromising the espresso then we have an issue. Above all else, we need to be about the coffee... not about the buzz.

Bottom line, something does need to change. Change is necessary to provoke the interest in specialty coffee and making coffee as we all strive to... as true artisians. Personally, I am very interested in seeing flare added to barista competitions... maybe not the WBC, but imagine the possibility of a competition where baristas are always innovating new tricks... maybe the rules are flexible in reference to the presentation... but when the drinks get to the table it's a whole different story... one where there is a high expectation of quality and a comon sense of such quality is shared by barista and judges alike. The flare may add the excitement necessary to get a barista competition televised, draw a crowd, and keep people watching the competition through the entire process.

My final thought is this, to make a change for the best, a heavy emphasis needs to be put on training judges the right way... Part of what bothered me the most about the latest scoring decision (Beyond the fact that it was made 3 weeks after the competition and has no effect what so ever on the finals!) is that the judge misscored the cups based on hear-say of another judge. One judge saw the wrong cups, warned other judges, and withouth further investigation, the judge scored accordingly... not good! Not cool!

 
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Posted Thu May 4, 2006, 4:48am
Subject: Re: The Future of the World Barista Championship, Professionally Speaking
 

TheGhost Said:

... the judge misscored the cups based on hear-say of another judge. One judge saw the wrong cups, warned other judges, and withouth further investigation, the judge scored accordingly... not good! Not cool!

Posted May 3, 2006 link


Let me clarify a little because I think there's been a little misunderstanding of what's transpired.

During the competition, the competitor was correctly marked with "inappropriate" cups by THREE SENSORY JUDGES, one of whom has come online recently with an explicit description of why he marked the cups "inappropriate."  Of the four sensory judges, only one held the dissenting view that the cups were "appropriate."  

After a competitor finishes, the judges gather in what they call "calibration" where they compare notes and bring their scores in line with each other or challenge the rulings made by other judges.  Evidently, the Head Judge challenged the discrepancy on the cappuccino cups resulting in the fourth judge changing his ruling and creating a unanimous decision that the cups were "inappropriate."

During the overturn by the USBC Committee, the committee members were presented with information by the competitor ONLY.  The competitor said that he had brought two sets of cups to the competition and asked a judge (none of which were his judges for said round) which of the two cups he should use.  They selected one and now claim that the two cups look similar enough that they were misconstrued by the sensory judges (who had no prior knowledge of the existence of two sets of cups) resulting in an incorrect score.

The USBC Committee went on this competitor's word alone. THEY DID NOT CONSULT THE HEAD JUDGE OR THE SENSORY JUDGES OF THAT FLIGHT.  They did not investigate properly the methodology used to determine that the cups were "inappropriate." This is a gross misuse of the public trust.

In a typical competition, the sensory judges will routinely drag their spoon across the bottom of the cup to determine the interior shape and mark accordingly.  According to the judge who has come forward publicly, this indeed was done and he has confirmed that the USBC Committee overturned their ruling without consulting them or their methodology.  From what I have also heard, even the Head Judge of the round (who is also a USBC Committee member) was not consulted on this matter.

The sensory judges did exactly what they were supposed to do.  They accurately determined that the cups were "inappropriate" and ruled accordingly.  However, due to the personal agendas of certain individuals, rules were circumvented, rulings were overturned and this has made the USBC into a complete and total sham.

The USBC is a Banana Republic and needs a complete and total overhaul.
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Posted Thu May 4, 2006, 1:25pm
Subject: Re: The Future of the World Barista Championship, Professionally Speaking
 

It is nice to see this article.

From the info we got about WBC and my personal discussion with one of them, forget about CBC, I do doubt about the effect and validity of WBC, as well as the effect of developing the specialty coffee in the market.

I have not read all of the article.  But, one thing is really right, that is the over-ruled.  We are all just started to know the details of espresso drinks, and I do not believe that any one can really judge.

In this case, it can be better to leave more space for people to make their coffee.

For example, when I check the quality of the espresso made by our baristas, I do not see how they make it, only to taste the espresso.  I judge the espresso only from its taste, not any other reason.

I do not have any idea what should e done to improve it, but I believe that it should be changed for sure.

There are many things to be re-read and re-built, IMHO.

 
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Posted Fri May 5, 2006, 12:10am
Subject: Re: The Future of the World Barista Championship, Professionally Speaking
 

Probably the best judgers can be of two professionals and three of normal coffee drinkers.  It guarantees the taste of coffee as the most important factor.

 
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