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Reports From the Road
The City of Bern and Coffee Culture
Author: Mark Prince
Posted: May 17, 2006
Article rating: 6.9
feedback: (5) comments | read | write

Before I get into anything, I'd like to acknowledge and thank Rocket Coffee Roasters for being the premier sponsor of all my WBC, World of Coffee, and Italian Coffee articles and podcasts that are about to follow. Without their support and the support of the other sponsors of this content (see bottom of the page), my being part of the barista movement as a judge, and my bringing you this content simply wouldn't be possible.

Rocket Coffee Roasters

Dateline: Bern, 12:20pm

So, I guess my hardest thing figuring out is whether Bern is spelled with an e at the end or not. I'm guessing, based on all my walking around, that it's Bern, no "e".

Actually, the hardest thing was the flight. Basically a 24 hour jump for me - leaving Vancouver at 8:20 am, and arriving in Zurich at 8:35 am the next day - there was a lengthy stopover in Toronto. But the good news is that there's a train station right at the Zurich airport, and I caught the super-fast InterCity non stop straight into downtown Bern.

My hotel for the next few nights is located right in the middle of the (very) old city, and is, well in a word, quaint. I don't have internet access, so I'm going to have to rely on finding various "hot spots" around town. One thing I noticed right off the bat - there's not very many unsecured wifi places here - I get spoiled by Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, etc with everyone just leaving their wifi routers wide open.

So, what's all this preamble for? Well, I'm in Bern, Switzerland, reporting from the World Barista Championship and World Coffee Expo! And after that, I'll be touring Italy with buddy Nick Cho and maybe one or two other people, and I'll be giving you reports from all of that.

Dateline: Bern, 1:45pmSo, there isn't much to report on the subject of coffee, yet, but I'll do my best.

First off the bat, when I was walking from the train station to my Hotel, I ran into, unbelievably, Sammy Piccolo and Andrea, his wife, right in the middle of old Bern. How weird is that. They walked me to my hotel as Sammy told me about all his secret plans and training ideas to get ready for his world domination in espresso.

Starbucks in Bern

I did notice that there's a bloody Starbucks right in the middle of the old city. Too weird. Also noted that, while many other places, cafes, restaurants, you name it, were all packed with mid-day lunchers, the Starbies had plenty of tables free. Too funny. But at least I know where I can get a mochachino.

Coffee so far in Bern isn't too good. I sampled the wares at three cafes during my walk around town, and uniformly, it was, well, average-mediocre. I got crema on everything I bought, but it was that kind of blond, dull crema you get from stale coffee. Not once did I see a grind to order.

Still, there's something cool about sitting in the middle of a very old town (average building aqe is 300-400 years) and sipping an espresso while crucifying my French (I don't speak German, the main language of Bern, but fortunately, everyone here speaks French or English as well).

Well, more later - time to check into my hotel and get down to the expo, but have some flickr love, why don'tcha.


Dateline: Bern, 6:55pm

So, judges' certs. Looks good. A lot of people from around the world vying to be a judge in Japan and beyond.

Fritz Storm, Justin Metcalf, and Jose Arolea deserve a huge round of applause for doing what appears to be a great judges' cert this year.

Justin and I are friends, so when I arrived and saw him running around, cleaning cups, running back and forth, I asked if I could help with anything at all. Little did I know that he would ask me to do the hands on training at one of the stations that the certifying judges were go through. And better (or not) yet - it was a technical station! LOL! I guess I need to put all my airplane reading (boning up) of the 2006 WBC regs and rules to the test.

I tried my best, and I think I found my rhythm after about two or three groups. I was working with an excellent Barista from Iceland (I can't remember her name though - I suck :( ), and she was doing some really good drink builds, and also by design, some really bad ones. My station was doing cappuccinos, and we'd get examples of what looked good, what looked so-so, and what looked bad.

During the technical judging, no round is harder than the capp round for the judges. So much going on. Watch those cloths. Watch the dose. Where did that stray coffee go. Time the shots. Watch the pour. Watch the steaming. Check the base of the cappuccino (ie, look at the shot pull in the cup). Check the steaming pitcher. Watch the cloths. Watch the dose. It goes on and on.

I tried to make the session fun, both for the Barista but also for the candidates. I fell into a rhythm where I would talk them through the first build, what to watch for, here's mistakes - here's good stuff. Then in the second round, I shut up and let them observe, and we calibrated afterwards.

I have to say, some of the candidates were so good, they caught things I was missing. And one judge candidate raised a new issue for me - hygiene and how it relates to cup handling.

Let me back up and explain a bit. See, I'm left handed. I pour da latte art (lol, Mark said he pours latte art! It is to laugh...) with my left hand. But when you pour left handed and hold the cup by the handle, the latte art ends up being upside down for most (er, right handed) people.

So I have long been in the habit of holding the bowl of the cup in my right hand, with the handle sticking out (or "north), as I pour my nonexisistantlatte art.

Our barista at station Cappuccino Technical was also pouring this way - holding the bowl of the cup instead of the handle. And one of the judges noted to me afterwards "how sanitary is that - it looks like her hands may touch the top of the milk foam if she pours too much... should we mark that down?). And the thing is, there is no place on the judging sheet to do so, unless you interpret "Clean and hygienic use of cloths, etc..." at the bottom of the scoresheet to mean anything else involving hygiene. I left it as such and said maybe this is something to discuss in the final calibration meeting.

OMG. Time out.

George Clooney... does Nespresso commercials in Europe. Like big time. He actually speaks in English for these German and French language commercials. Scary. Nespresso is frikkin' huge, massive over here. All that evil Nestle empire, at work.

Okay, where was I (turning off the Swiss tv station...)

Click for larger image
Bern Electric
Bern in the evening is electric, with literally thousands of people out having dinner outdoors, late into the night.

The day ended with something pretty cool. I ended up going out to see the "Champions" soccer game (Arsenal vs. Barcelona) with former WBC champion Tim Wendelboe and a lot of friends, including people from Portugal, the US (it was Jeff Taylor!), and many Scandinavians. I promised not to take any photos, so no visual evidence of that.

But it brings me to a point about this thing called the World Barista Championship.

Today, in the hands on portion of the certification, during the chats afterwards, and during the evening watching some amazing soccer, I realised why I like the WBC so much. It's not really about excellence in Barista skillz for me. Let's face facts - I'm in an event with 40 of the world's best Baristas competing, and rubbing shoulders with many more equally as skilled. The excellence is there, par for the course.

No, what's really cool is meeting all these amazing people from around the world, and feeling like a part of a community. I get to see all these different cultures and viewpoints, not only on espresso but on, well, almost everything that life throws you. And I also discovered that we share as many similarities as we do diversities. Heck, the Portuguese guy and me were showing snaps of our respective girlfriends, only to find out that both his and mine are Polish!

The coming together of this community and the sharing of our similarities and diversities is what I love most about this event. And in the following days, I hope to share more of that with you.

Once again, I'd like to thank Rocket Coffee Roasters as our primary sponsor for all the content posted during this trip to the WBC, the World of Coffee, and the forthcoming reports from the Italian road.

We'd also like to thank Zaccardis and Coffee and Kitchen for helping out too, and you'll also find mention of these companies on the CoffeeGeek Podcast

Zaccardis Coffee and Kitchen

And we also thank Parkside Roasters for their support.

Parkside Coffee - Bronze Sponsor
Article rating: 6.9
Author: Mark Prince
Posted: May 17, 2006
feedback: (5) comments | read | write
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