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The art of coffee-making

Kevin Pilley finds out what it takes to make the perfect cup of coffee in the run-up to the World Barista Championships.

Dale Harris, the World Barista Champion 2017. Photo: Jake Olson

Dale Harris, the World Barista Champion 2017. Photo: Jake Olson

Why can’t you get a world-class cup of quality frothy coffee in Malta? When are we going to produce a grand master of milk chemistry? And produce a world champion barista?

The world’s best coffee-makers will be pulling their shots at the World Barista Championships at Amsterdam’s RAI Convention Centre (June 20-23). But no Maltese café or coffee house is represented.

This year, competitors from Australia, New Zealand, Kenya, Uganda, Costa Rica, Brazil, Guatamala, Greece, Italy, France and Belarus will be practising their dark arts and expressing their espresso-making skills against the UK representative, Canada-born Joshua Tarlo from Hackney Downs. He won the UK Barista title at the Truman Brewery, Brick Lane, in April.

Participants in the World Barista Championship 2017, which took place in Seoul. Photo: Jake OlsenParticipants in the World Barista Championship 2017, which took place in Seoul. Photo: Jake Olsen

Born in Collingwood, Ontario, Tarlo worked and studied to be a barista in Melbourne.

“Collingwood had a small café which was the centre of an incredible community. Working there completely shaped me by giving me this love of the power of something so simple as a cup of coffee to bring people together,” he says.

Tarlo, 30 and son of a chef, now works as a ‘Q grader’ for Origin Coffee Roasters in Cornwall. He has been officially certified by the Coffee Quality Institute.

“My palette has been calibrated to a global standard. I suppose I’m a master sommelier but for coffee. It’s the most respected educational programme in coffee.”

The UK’s top barista is busy honing his micro-foam and creative lattes in Wheal Vrose Business Park, Helston and in Charlotte Road, Shoreditch.

He is still developing his foamy entries for the championship. His winning coffee in the UK competition was a Colombian from La Negrita.

“It’s a tartaric fermentation geisha varietal. I used two different coffee cherries,” he explains.

He has his favourite on-stage vapour machine electronic music already sorted.

“The UK is the premier league of coffee with some of the best roasters and baristas in the world calling it home. The level of quality here drove me to push myself to never stop learning and refining my skills. I’ve had the pleasure of roasting coffee for some of the top baristas in the country.

“I wanted to reconnect with my barista roots and get myself back behind the espresso machine. I’m excited to represent the UK at worlds a place my family is from and where I spent summer after summer visiting as a kid. My mum is from Bristol and dad from north London.

The UK is the premier league of coffee with some of the best roasters and baristas in the world calling it home

Tarlo hopes to lift the world title, which last year was won by the UK’s Dale Harris in Seoul, South Korea. The latter put his success down to persistence as well as pomegranate, Ethiopian honey and caramelised orange, as well as a Simonelli espresso machine and the University of Nottingham.

Harris is the director of Wholesale for UK coffee roaster, Hasbean Coffee.

“I came to coffee after fashion retail. I’ve worked with Steve Leighton’s Hasbean’s since 2010. Seoul was my first time representing the UK on the world stage.”

Harris followed in the footsteps of British world barista champions Gwilym Davies who won in Atlanta in 2009 and James Hoffman who won in 2007 in Tokyo. Ireland’s Stephen Morrissey won in Copenhagen in  2008.

The World Barista Championship is the pre-eminent international coffee-making competition. It focuses on promoting excellence in coffee, advancing the barista profession and engaging a worldwide audience with an annual championship event that serves as the culmination of local and regional events around the globe. Each year, 50 competitors prepare four espressos, four milk drinks and four original signature drinks in a 15-minute performance set to music.

Photo: Jeff HanPhoto: Jeff Han

Using liquid nitrogen, nitrogen flushing, cooling or freezing of coffee, coffee roasted on stage, as well as special grinding techniques and the latest tampers, the contestants are evaluated by four judges on their stage performance and presence, the texture, acidity, sweetness and bitterness and the aftertaste of their espressos, milky beverages and signature cups.

Harris used El Salvadorian SL28, a fully-washed coffee and micro-lot grown by Ernesto Menéndez at his farm Finca Las Brumas in the Santa Ana region. Dale used the recipe of 20g in the baskets and 44g extraction yield.

“I owe everyone at the office a lot. Competing for so many years in a row can be draining and sometimes demoralising. One of the challenges of barista competition is that, regardless of how your performance scores, there are other people competing. And, more often than not, there are people better than you at making coffee. It takes a little time to understand that winning is not the most important thing about competing – delivering on your vision and performing the best you can for 15 minutes is an achievement in and of itself.”

After the initial sip, the sensory judges revisit the milk beverage or at least one additional sip “from an undisturbed location on the rim of the cup”. They score the accuracy of flavour descriptions.  It is not acceptable for milk beverages to be topped with any additional spices and/or powders. All coffees must be served at a temperature that is immediately consumable.

It is all about creativity on the night and the management of workflow and time. The beverage should have a harmonious balance of the sweetness of the milk and its espresso base.  Chipped or cloudy dishware is a disaster. The competitor must look clean, be cleanly dressed and wear a clean apron. The rules clearly state that inappropriate apparel such as sandals will mean no world crown. Marks are taken off for apron stains.

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