Huhtamaki NZ Barista Championship Workshops…

Breaking down the boundaries – baristas & judges train together
More than forty of New Zealand’s aspiring Huhtamaki NZ Barista Championship judges & baristas gathered together one Sunday morning in Auckland. The iconic Atomic Coffee Roasters café was bustling with the energy of the city’s most enthusiastic coffee fans, all happy to catch up with one another. A key strength of the NZ Coffee Roasters Association (NZCRA) is how successfully it facilitates these industry gatherings. Everyone puts aside company allegiance and is there for one reason – the coffee!
The aim of the full day workshop, that later continued to Christchurch then Wellington, was to equip both sides of the presentation table for the Championship ahead. Baristas and judges are both expected to have a deep understanding of the World Barista Championship (WBC) Rules and Regulations and score sheets. The protocols of the competition, such as stirring espresso three times, are not just important for judges in assessment of the taste & tactile balance but also to baristas when developing an espresso coffee that is right for this competition. When the knowledge that both parties require is the same, it just seemed to make sense to train the judges & baristas together at the same time.
Emma Markland Webster, our NZCRA Event Manager and Chair of the World Coffee Events Instructional Design Committee, summonsed her Roasters Association coffee colleagues – Stuart Hargie, Andrew Feldon and me. We were each entrusted with a section that was strictly guided by the coffee maven. Stuart’s Q Grader skills and experience as a two-time WBC finals sensory judge were put to use in a presentation that emphasized taste and taste balance and performance.
Andrew, a WBC certified technical judge and I, a WBC certified sensory judge pulled apart our respective score sheets practically line by line. Baristas and judges conversed with each other about how the coffees would score and, more importantly, discuss why and what was needed to improve on such a score. With Chris White, from NZCRA member company Altura and the World Coffee Events Judges Operations Committee, overseeing it all both judges and baristas felt a lot more confident by the end of the sessions.
We hope the Championship will benefit from this breaking down of the ‘us and them’ approach. The event can only ever be as strong as the participants involved in it and the more time we all spend together, the greater the understanding will be of what is expected of all stakeholders. This, of course, also includes our great team of volunteers and our amazing sponsors, who support the Championship all year round, many of whom were present at the workshops.
Feedback from baristas is that they feel much more comfortable about the competition now that they have completed the workshop. A particular eye opener to them was that they are not the only parties to feel the nerves of the fifteen-minute performance time! Ask any judge, even the very experienced and World certified, and they will all agree – judging is nerve-racking stuff. When judge Stuart Hargie said this to his audience the baristas in particular looked surprised to hear it. In these days of competitors posting their score sheets online and YouTube videos exposing any lapse in strict WBC protocol, judges have to be on top of their game.
Much more important to a judge however is that we give each competitor the respect they deserve. This isn’t just limited to eye contact during performance or positive feedback on the score sheets. It starts much earlier than that. One thing we do is work on our coffee knowledge so that it is greater, or at the very least comparable, to that of the top baristas. Also, making sure we stick to a rigorous routine of single shots in the lead up to competition time (no mean feat for someone from double-shot Wellington!). And tasting a wide range of espresso coffees and blends to help put aside personal preference.
The New Zealand Championship is a tightly scheduled three-day event this year in Wellington. The first two days of national heats are on 23 and 24 March. The last day, Sunday 25 March, will hold the semi-final and final, similar to the World event where finalists have to repeat their performance in a fairly short amount of time. We have forty competitors, twenty-four judges, eighteen volunteers and one remarkable Event Manager all working together to make it happen. I am really looking forward to discovering some extraordinary coffees, learning something new (I always do) and as always spending time with a large number of people who love coffee as much as I do.