The 28th of April was a noteworthy day for the Icelandic barista community. As a final project for her Masters degree in Applied Studies in Culture and Communication, Hrönn Snæbjörnsdóttir, barista and student at the University of Iceland, organized a whole-day conference open to everybody, titled “Hinir ólíku vegir til kaffibollans” (roughly translated as The different paths to the coffee cup). Many of attendees were in the industry but the ratio of common coffee drinkers was surprisingly high.
The schedule included lectures from Pálmar Þór Hlöðversson, 2008 and 2009 barista champion; Sonja Grant, international judge and co-owner of Kaffismiðja Íslands; Tumi Ferrer, 2011 barista champion; Jónína Tryggvadóttir, 2005 barista champion and WBC-finalist (Marketing and International Business); Erna Elínbjörg Skúladóttir, barista and ceramic designer; and Unnsteinn Jóhannson, barista and kaospilot student held a panel discussion and after the conference the guests were able to enjoy various brewing methods of the same coffee as well as engaging in conversations with baristas, café-owners, buyers and genuine coffee lovers.
Pálmar broke the ice with a talk titled “Einn kaffi takk!”. He went through all the important things that made good service, emphasised hospitality and empathy and encouraged baristas to apply a mentality of giving each and every customer the best service they were able to give. Pálmar talked about the types of service a barista could give and compared them to characteristics of two Icelandic birds: the arctic tern and the white-tailed eagle. The behavior of the arctic tern is infamous: when a you enter its territory, the bird starts attacking from above, even pecking you on the head – a nervous bird and easily noticeable. The eagle on the other hand hovers over you with dignity, knows better than to irritate you.
Sonja talked about the history of coffee in Iceland, the founding of the Icelandic SCAE chapter, Kaffibarþjónafélag Íslands, and barista competitions. Sonja’s emphasis was on solidarity; how important it was for such a small community to share information and experience, learn from each other and bring back knowledge from abroad. Her lecture was filled with photos from competitions, the oldest from 2000, the year when the first WBC was held in Monte Carlo and the Icelandic Erla Kristinsdóttir came second to the Norwegian Robert Thoresen, now owner of Mokka, Java and Kaffa in Oslo.
After a short coffee break there was a panel discussion where Unnsteinn, Erna and Jónína gave talks on how they intertwined the barista profession to their respective expertise. Their stories were excellent examples of how one never truly abandons the barista profession because there is simply too much passions.
Erna Elínbjörg talked about her time in Quindio, Columbia, and what she learned at Agrado, a famous experimental coffee farm and cupping lab in the region. What she learned eventually resulted in coffee themed ceramic cups that she designed, a token of respect to the work of the coffee farmer.
Unnsteinn told the story of how he became passionate about coffee, starting in New Zealand where he was an exchange student, but then as a barista for Te&Kaffi and also as a competitor and member of the National Barista Team. He got an amazing opportunity, through his Kaospilot studying, to go to Bogotá, Columbia, at the same time the WBC was held there.
Jónína’s talk was themed around networking and the opportunities it gave you. She has stayed in London, Copenhagen and Nicaragua and she made friends everywhere – a network that has linked her to various places in the chain of coffee process. She views competing as a way to completely dedicate oneself to one subject, a golden chance to refine one’s skills and pushing boundaries.
The last talk was on the basics of coffee brewing, given by myself. It started with a quote from an anonymous author, God is in the details, a reminder of the necessity of precision. Some of the details mentioned were a good grinder (arguably of most importance), good water, scale, timer and good coffee (of course). Without the details, the end product is boring, forgettable, not worth your time.
After the conference, the guests enjoyed specialty coffee brewed on v60 as well as Aeropress, giving the attendees a chance to start conversations with the baristas on everything coffee related, One of the primary goals of Hrönn, the very pleased organiser after a successful event.
Hopefully this will not end here, plans are already in discussion for what could be done next year. The inception of an event is always the most difficult part, something that becomes easier, more fruitful, the more experience is behind it. An event like this is of great value both for the coffee professional as for the amateur.