This weekend saw the wrap-up of the 10th Nordic Barista Cup. It was held in Oslo’s newest food hall, Mathallen, and focused on Service, Science and Sustainability. The 2013 programme continued on the same line as previous years, with talks spanning from personal reflections on hospitality all the way to hard experimental data. Here is a quick rundown of what happened in Oslo.
In the Barista Cup, the five national teams were judged primarily on service and consistency. They were tasked with running their own brew bars, where they were free to choose between a variety of brewing equipment —everything a modern coffee shop would have. They were scored by all the attendees and 10 “secret shoppers”—customers, for all intents and purposes—on service, knowledge and flavour.
The drinks were divided into three categories: espresso, manual filter and automatic filter, the latter brewed with the Wilfa Svart Presisjon.
This year was a tight race, with Sweden edging out Norway and Denmark in 2nd and 3rd to take the crown.
Sweden won the heart and palate of the secret shoppers with a consistently balanced coffee that stood out. They experimented with flavor profiles to show the range of the coffee. Overall the best brewed coffees, with consistency throughout the whole competition. Service, quality, functionality was perfect. Excellent in conveying their knowledge, valid information about the coffees, as well as the brewing methods.
This was the 9th Nordic Barista Cup since its start in 2003, so here’s a quick recap of the winners: 2003: Norway; 2004: Denmark; 2005: Norway; 2006: Norway; 2007: Sweden; 2008: Not held; 2009: Denmark; 2010: Sweden; 2011: Sweden; 2012: Finland; 2013: Sweden—making Sweden the overall leader with 4 wins, trailed by Norway and Denmark, each with 3 wins.
Held since 2007, Nordic Roaster is a democratic competition in which several roasteries—by now from all over the world—submit their coffees, both espresso and filter, to the discerning palates of the NBC attendees, to be tasted and rated blindly. The format has been tweaked from year to year, but this is it in its latest incarnation.
This year saw a bit of drama, with Tim Wendelboe of Oslo being crowned the winner (TW has won three years in a row, 2008-2010). After a few days, a counting error was discovered, and now winning—by a single point—was the Taiwanese roastery Fika Fika! Up until this year, Nordic Roaster has been dominated by two Oslo roasteries, so it’s exciting to see a new player emerge.
While the competitions are both fun and interesting, the real meat of the Nordic Barista Cup lies in the talks. Here is a quick rundown of what transpired:
Day 1: Service
René Redzepi (talk) and Pontus Dahlstrøm (talk) of world-renowned New Nordic restaurants Noma and Maaemo talk about their service philosophies and how their coffee services, which are at the forefront of the industry, work—and how they can be improved.
Mr Dahlstrøm, an expert sommelier, is no slouch: at Maaemo, they use refractometers, quality grinders, fresh—meticulously chosen—coffee, and are experimenting with exact water temperatures, the increasingly ubiquitous laboratory sieves, and are also looking into the shapes of coffee cups and how they determine the flavours of the coffee. This restaurant takes its coffee seriously.
Tellingly, Pontus’ is a fan of immersion brewed coffee: “The kokekaffe technique, […] is [for me] the closest you get to the cupping experience. For me the best coffee there is.” Read more about the kokekaffe technique here.
Christian Nedergaard (talk) and Alex Bernson (talk) talked about the service in terms of social spaces. Christian Nedergaard of Copenhagen wine bar Ved Stranden 10 starts with people, and making them happy: “We create a space for people to meet, so we embrace dem. Everything is there to facilitate that.” It is a fascinating talk delving into the Proustian notion of involuntary memory, as well as tactility, scent and openness—and how they all come together to make the guest feel at home.
Alex Bernson had an equally fascinating talk dealing with the idea of the social role cafes come to fill in their local communities, how physical constraints have shaped the service of cafes and how they can be rethought or improved—among many other things.
Day 2: Science
The SCAE/NBC Gold Cup Project, presented by Francisca Listov-Saabye and Randy Pope, delved into the difference between conical and flat burrs, and how grind is influenced by this and other factors. There are plenty of insights spread throughout these joined talks, so bear with it, and you’ll be sure to understand your grinder in a new way.
Science and Quality at Origin: Emma Bladyka, the Science Manager at the SCAA—the Specialty Coffee Association of America—goes into detail about the shifts she’s seen in the research and initiatives that are being done in origin countries, becoming more and more specific not only to individual countries, but also regions, focussing on flavour, quality and other factors previously considered too intangible to merit attention.
I feel from reviewing lots of this information that coffee research today is really shifted to a new focus which is improving quality of coffee throughout the supply chain. You could even say that we’re in a new era of coffee research where we’ve moved beyond production into what we’re interested in in specialty coffee: the taste of the coffee, environmental issues, sustainability issues and how all these are related.
It is quite an interesting talk and should leave everyone confident in the continued improvement of coffee quality.
Water Quality: perhaps one of the least talked-about factors of coffee happens to be its largest constituent part. In this talk and accompanying sensory session (that required volunteers and teams to produce a staggering 1800 cups of coffee in a very short time!), Scott Guglielmino of La Marzocco USA—one of the premier producers of professional espresso machines—goes into great details about what water does, not only for the flavour of coffee, but to machines themselves.
Day 3: Sustainability
The last day was focussed on organic farming, from three different perspectives. The talks, by Felipe Croce of Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza, one of the most advanced Brazilian specialty coffee producers in the country, Cynthia Sandberg of Love Apple Farms, and Christer Sjöberg of the Open World Foundation helped illuminate this issue in a way that hasn’t quite been done before. Not only the necessity of it in a global sense, but also the problems inherent in actual on-the-ground implementation and efficacy.
While these shared videos are no substitute for attending the NBC, they are nonetheless all worth the time if you are curious about the current concerns at the cutting edge of coffee.
Congratulations again to Team Sweden, who won a trip to Brazil where they will visit coffee farms and have the learning experience of their lives, and to Fika Fika of Taiwan, the newest Nordic Roaster champion!
Next years’ Nordic Barista Cup will take place in Copenhagen.