Photograph from the official NBC flickr stream

What originally started as a lighthearted contest between the barista teams of Denmark and Norway, has since 2003 gradually grown into one of the most forward thinking workshops in the world of coffee.

What separates the Nordic Barista Cup from larger industry conventions is first and foremost a matter of size: only 150 tickets are made available each year, and they have long since sold out. The NBC is kept deliberately small to aid the exchange of ideas and knowledge between the attendees.

Advocating a holistic understanding of the different factors that influence coffee as produce, beverage and industry, the lectures and workshops held over the last few years have been at the cutting edge of coffee knowledge. Equally important to the philosophy of the event is the sharing of that knowledge: the Nordic Barista Cup slogan is “Be together, act together, learn together.” Many of the lectures given in 2010 are available for download on the official NBC website.

The event itself is loosely split into three parts. The competition between the national barista teams of the Nordic countries, the Nordic Roaster event, and the lectures and cuppings.

Every year, a number of national coffee competitions are held in each of the Nordic countries: the Barista Championship, Coffee in Good Spirits, the Latte Art Championship and the newcomer focused on brewing black coffee, called The Brewers Cup.

The National Barista Team is normally made up of a selection of the winners and runners-up from these competitions. At the NBC, these teams compete against one another in a series of competitions that touch on different aspects of the coffee industry, with an overarching theme. The competitions are meant as learning experiences as much as they are competitions, in tune with the philosophy of the event.

Photograph taken by Tim Varney

Last years’ theme for the NBC was Colombia. Each of the national teams got to work with a Colombian barista, again offering a great opportunity to exchange knowledge. Their first competition was a cupping of different varietals (of coffee plants) from Columbia, following a talk and cupping on the same topic given by Robert Thoresen.

Other competitions involved a blind sensory skill test and a challenge that revolved around teaching: each team was tasked with teaching a chef’s apprentice the basics required to perform a simplified version of a barista championship routine, but in a very short time. Both the teams and the chef/baristas performed admirably.

The first prize is a field trip to that years’ focus country for the entire winning barista team. While there, they get to visit coffee farmers, their farms and other parts of the local coffee industry. For people on the hospitality side of the industry, few things, perhaps none, can match the experience of visiting an origin country.

The lectures and cuppings span a huge range of topics, from the technical to the sensory; from individual farms to roasting philosophies. The 2010 Nordic Barista Cup divided its three days, assigning each of them different themes: Botanics and Origin; Roasting and Tasting; Preparation and Sales. Each day saw four different lectures by four different speakers who had flown in from all over the world, some of them scientists or academics.

Photograph taken from the official NBC flickr stream

Nordic Roaster is a democratic competition held every year since 2008, where Nordic roasteries submit a coffee of their own choosing to be brewed and served to the attendees of the NBC at the same time. After having tasted all the competing coffees, the attendees then vote for the coffee they preferred. The winner by popular vote is crowned Nordic Roaster of that year. Aside from a traveling trophy, the only prize is glory.

The format of the Nordic Roaster competition is currently being revised and expanded to include a portion whereby all competing roasteries will be tasked with roasting the same coffee. Logistical complications has made this difficult so far, but the 2011 Nordic Roaster might bring something new to the table.

Tim Wendelboe of Oslo has won the title Nordic Roaster three years in a row, each time with a different coffee roasted by a different roaster. Will they take it this year as well?

Charity is an important part of the NBC, and there are many fundraising events held during and in conjunction with the NBC.

All competing barista teams are required to hold a charity event in their home country. An example: this year, the Icelandic team held a Latte Art Throwdown in Reykjavik.

Photo from the official NBC website.In addition, an emergent tradition has been to auction off a statuette depicting one of Kaldi’s dancing goats — an element from one of coffee’s mythologized origin stories. Since 2006, the same sculpture has been auctioned off and resold anually, every cent going to charity.

Throughout, but particularly on the last day of the competition, a bazaar is held where a lot of the equipment used for the event is sold to the highest bidder, all the equipment being donated by sponsors.

The 2011 Nordic Barista Cup will be held in Copenhagen, Denmark, from the 25th to the 27th of August. This years’ focus country is Indonesia, and particularly Sumatra, and island in western Indonesia famous for its earthy, low acidity coffee.

This year, the NBC charity project is to construct a school for coffee farmers in the Sidikalang district of northern Sumatra. Read more about the project here.

For an overview of the past charity projects, have a look at the official NBC website.

Photographs courtesy of Tim Varney as well as the official NBC website and flickr stream.