x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UAE Barista Championship: battling it out with some top brews

The competition is being held this week. What does it take to compete and how do such events benefit coffee drinkers in the region? 

Matt Toogood, the current UAE Barista Champion and the director of RAW Coffee Company. Razan Alzayani / The National
Matt Toogood, the current UAE Barista Champion and the director of RAW Coffee Company. Razan Alzayani / The National

Today, 22 UAE-based baristas will be putting months of hard work to the test as they take part in an intensive four-day competition in Dubai that will see the winner crowned as the 2012 UAE Barista Champion.

The competition, which is in its fourth year, is part of the International Coffee & Tea Festival held at Meydan Grandstand and Convention Centre from today until Friday.

The competition

Each barista is given a 15-minute window to prepare four espressos, four cappuccinos and four original espresso-based signature drinks. During this performance - which they can choose to set to music - they must talk about their chosen beans and blend, explaining the origin, how it was processed, the flavour characteristics of it, the roasting profile and why they chose it.

The signature beverages must contain at least one espresso shot, be served in liquid form and be assembled during the competition time. Ryan Godhino, the national co-ordinator for the organiser, International Conferences & Exhibition, says the challenge is for competitors to "wow" the judges through their choice of ingredients, equipment and technique.

Bar the coffee machine itself, each barista supplies their own equipment - beans, cups and saucers, water glasses, spoons - and sets up an individual work station complete with tablecloth before they start.

The judges and their criteria

During their 15-minute performance, the baristas are assessed by four sensory judges, two technical judges and one head judge. This year's panel features World Coffee Events (WCE) certified judges who have officiated at the World Barista Championships; Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) board members; and local coffee professionals who have completed a specific workshop and certification programme.

Sensory judges score the baristas on the appearance of the coffees, the consistency of the foam, the taste and "tactile" balance (the degree to which the espresso is full-bodied, round and smooth), the distribution of flavours and the use of accessories. They also mark the competitors on their customer service skills, professionalism and the presentation of the drinks.

What it takes to win

When Matt Toogood, the current UAE Barista Champion and the director of RAW Coffee Company, decided to enter the 2011 competition, he did so with his eye on the prize. Toogood took the competition so seriously, he dedicated four months to prepare for it. During this time the competition took over his life: he set up a coffee station in the spare room of his house, ran through his routine at least 500 times and had a friend and ex-barista world champion serve as his mental coach.

"The day before I went to compete, my coffee was 20 times better than it was four months before, in terms of the way I could prepare it and my understanding of how I got to that point."

The prize

The winner of this year's competition will be sponsored to represent the UAE at the 2013 World Barista Championships, which will be held in Australia from May 23 to 26.

Toogood, who competed in the 2012 World Championships in Vienna and placed a respectable 38th, says this was an entirely different, nerve-racking experience.

"A friend of mine who competed in the worlds and came second hand-picked his coffee cherries under the full moon and fermented them in a way that had never been done before. As you can imagine, the coffee they produce is absolutely out of this world."

• For more information about the UAE Barista Championships, visit www.coffeeteafeast.com.

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