The Coffee Masters is a new brand of coffee competition which began in 2014 aimed at the third wave coffee era. This was integrated into both the London Coffee Festival, and subsequently, the New York Coffee Festival. It is a loud, fast paced, and multidiscipline competition that pits baristas and career coffee people against one another in a battle-like style, and all in front of a bemused audience. This sounded a lot more interesting and a somewhat different challenge to other competitions in the industry.
The lead up to a competition like this is all about practice; practice tasting, practice pouring, practice origin recognition, keeping up your bar skills, thinking about blending, not to mention doing all of the above under the pressure of a live audience and in competition time. As I found out the hard way, you put in the practice to feel somewhat comfortable, only to not even make it out of the first round!
What was required?
DISCIPLINE ONE: CUPPING
The aim here is to taste six coffees, not knowing their origin. You have three minutes in which to taste. Then, you are blindfolded while they jumble the order. Blindfold off, now you have two minutes to re-sort the coffees into their original order.
My score: 2/6 (my head to head competitor got 6!)
DISCIPLINE TWO: THE BREW
Selecting one of the six coffees you have just tasted and make a brew. You can choose from Aeropress, V60, or Chemex. I chose Chemex as I make them nearly everyday, and it was I am most familiar with. While brewing, the judges question you, ask you where you think the coffee is from, what kind of process and finally, after tasting, ask you to guess what you think the TDS (total dissolved solid) reading might be. I believed to be a washed coffee from Africa, potentially Ethiopia, due to the inconsistent size of the beans.
DISCIPLINE THREE: THE SIGNATURE DRINK
Make a drink, any drink, which contains coffee somewhere in the ingredients list. I chose to create a Manhattan. Why? I was headed to New York, for one, and they are one of my favourite traditional cocktails.
The recipe for my Manhattan: Stirring down over ice: -
- 50ml of Whisky 77 by Breuckelen Distilling (Brooklyn, NY)
- 15ml of Dolin Rouge Vermouth, infused with Ethiopian Aricha (ground beans for 12hr)
- 5ml of Filtered Espresso, Ethiopian Gutiti, 40g shot filtered through an Aeropress
- 5 drops of Cascara Bitters made at CCR by our soda technician Nandini
- Finished off with 1 spray of Lime Mist
Everything turned out as it should, and the drinks remained very true to the style, yet had a nice strong but smooth coffee tone.
Unfortunately, after everyone had completed Round 1, my 45 points were not enough to get me through to the next stage, a mere 1.66 points between elimination and a place in the quarterfinals! SJD, from Blue Bottle NYC, and my head-to-head competitor scored 46, and was just .66 points away from proceeding. Such is competition life! A massive thank you to the Caravan Coffee Roasters team for the backing and the knowledge transferred in the lead up to the event.
By Simon Lewthwaite