The Nordic Competitors in the 2012 World Barista Championship

The Nordic Competitors in the 2012 World Barista Championship

By Chris Kolbu

On the 12-15th of June this year, the World of Coffee expo was held in Vienna. Held in conjunction with this event was the World Barista Championship, a now classic competition where baristas from all over the world showcase fantastic coffees, great skills and plenty of new ideas.

There were five competitors from the Nordic countries: Per Nordell, Sweden, who runs Åre Coffee Roastery with his wife; Torfi Þór Torfason, Denmark, who works at The Coffee Collective; Rasmus Helgebostad, Norway, who works at Stockfleths; Finnbogi Fannar Kjeld, Iceland, who works at Kaffitár; and Joona Suominen, Finland, who works at Café Art.

We caught up with them to ask them a few questions about their competition presentations, and hear what challenges they encountered and what they learned preparing for and competing in the world championship.

Tell us a little bit about the coffee you used and how it turned out in the competition.

Finnbogi, Iceland: I used a blend of SL-28 and SL-34 from the Gatina washing station in the Nyeri region, Kenya. Roasted by Ragnheiður, the head roaster at Kaffitár. I kept it in open bags for 9 days before the presentation to let it settle. What I did on the day I wouldn’t call an adjustment, more a reaction. My grinder hadn’t arrived on the day of the presentation so I made the move from a Robur to a Mahlkoenig Twin Hopper. In the end it all went well thanks to some excellent help from the Mahlkoenig staff.

The coffee on the competition day was a lot more laid back and subtle than it had been in practice. The acidity was very prominent, mainly a blackcurrant acidity but also a more subtle citrus acidity. What I enjoyed the most about the coffee were it’s nuances, the delicate sweetness and it’s orange peel bitterness. I have never tasted a coffee with a bitterness I’ve found as enjoyable.

Rasmus, Norway: I had two coffees – a super fresh El Salvador from La Divina Providencia, harvested this year. I also had the coffee I used for the national championships in 2010: a Guatemalan coffee that has been stored frozen since. I chose the El Salvador because I wanted a seasonal espresso.

Per, Sweden: Finca Aragon from Antigua Guatemala, the producer is Luis Pedro Zelaya. We bought just 60 kilos that we flew in. Verve coffee bought the same coffee we learned when we met Colby Barr at WBC. We roasted the coffee on June 1st according to what worked in our water – we have very good water here. We shipped our coffee by truck since we didn’t want to fly with it, so we roasted the coffee only 2 hours before the truck left. The acidity is citric and super clean. Lots of sweet almond and apricot. Big body that is very smooth and velvety.

Torfi, Denmark: I used a coffee called Kieni that comes from the Mugaga co-operative in the Nyeri region in Kenya. The coffee was 13 days past roast and it tasted great! It had notes of dark berries, black currants and black berries, a fresh acidity that reminds me of eating fresh black currants. It had a nice ripe fruit sweetness that worked very well with the acidity, a clean silky smooth mouthfeel and a long lasting aftertaste with a hint of sweet bitterness. The water I was using was very similar to the water at the WBC so I only had to do the normal dialing-in you have to do every day.

Joona, Finland: I had a blend consisting of Semi-pulped (or honey pulped as the producer says, I really don’t know the difference) Bourbon from El Salvadorian El Topacio and a washed Bourbon and Kent from Tanzanian Blackburn Estate.

I think it was 8 days post rost during my competition. I think I should have let it degas longer. I made the original blend with my home machine and didn’t bother my head with waters and pressures too much. I had a chance to practice at Prufrock for two days with pretty much the competition machine and the water and realized that some changes had to be made. I adjusted the ratio between the two coffees favoring the Blackburn.

I had a “to go” (18,5g/30g) recipe as a starting point for my espresso. I think I had to increase the dosage a little bit to keep the flow rate right. Taste-wise there was notes of almond on the nose, Upfront cranberry/grapefruit-like acidity from the blackburn, marzipan-like flavors from El Salvador and all this was followed by bitter chocolate.

How did you prepare for the WBC after winning the national championship? Did you change much around?

Joona, Finland:
I skipped rope a lot. That’s how I prepare for just about everything in my life. I also bought new cups (Terra keramiks, bling bling!), glassware and other small things. I didn’t do much changes to my FBC-heat, just fine tuning and getting more comfortable. Come to think of it I did change the coffee though. Originally I had a blend of El Salvador and a natural Ethiopian but we ran out of that Ethiopian.

Torfi, Denmark: I changed everything! I streamlined my oral presentation and made it more focused. Earlier, I spent too much time talking about things that weren’t necessary for my presentation. I tried making more of the sig drink on stage but that didn’t work well enough; I tried making the drink simpler and serve it in a tall shot glass but I still wasn’t happy with it. So I went back to the original concept. It just worked so well and tasted so good.

Per, Sweden: We changed almost the entire presentation. Luckily, we managed to get a hold of the same coffee. I spent all my time working on my presentation for almost all of May and leading up to the WBC. We had planned a vacation in May we ended up cancelling to focus on training.

Rasmus, Norway: It was an entirely different presentation. I had help from Charles Babinski (formerly of Intelligentsia, LA and runner-up in this years’ USBC) and Morten Vestenaa (2009 Danish champion). At the national championship, I used the Guatamalan coffee (2010 harvest, freeze stored). My signature beverage was completely different as well, and much “safer”. Ironically, with the judges I had in the WBC, my presentation for the nationals probably would have done better than what I ended up doing.

Finnbogi, Iceland: Although during my preparation for the national championship I always worked towards winning the championship, I hadn’t truly anticipated it. So when it was time to prepare for the WBC I felt I had to rethink both my preparation and the presentation. Almost everything changed but the coffee.

I didn’t have a coach for the national championship. Me and another contestant, Hildur Ploder, teamed up and got as many people from the coffee scene in Iceland as we could to come and watch rehearsals and give us pointers. The idea was to get all kinds of different ideas and try to form our own perspective from that. I wanted to keep to that philosophy but make it a little more focused for the WBC so I formed a small group of people around me to help me prepare, with (Nordic Coffee Culture’s own) Tumi Ferrer as a head coach of sorts. Presentation wise it went from a very minimalistic presentation using only coffee in the signature drink to what became my WBC presentation with all the extravagance of the beetroot and vinegar.

What was the concept or guiding thought behind your presentation?

Torfi, Denmark: The process was pretty easy… I have alot of experience creating courses and concepts in different restaurants and therfore I have alot of different recipes, so it didn’t take long to come up with the concept and the recipes. It’s something I’ve done many times before and something I’m good at. After I came up with the concept and the flavours I just had to find a way to do what I wanted but still make it drinkable, and I already had a clear idea about how I could do that. The rest was just about trial and error, finding what worked and what didn’t.

See a video of Torfi’s WBC presentation here.

Joona, Finland: I wanted to keep it really simple with absolutely no extras or anything. I dislike the “OH HOW I LOWS THIS BEATUFULL COFFEE ITS THE MOST AMAAAAAZINK THING IN MY LIEFE YES!” approach and wanted to present as little opinions as possible and concentrate on the “facts” and observations, it’s not car commercial you know!

I started by making aeropresses out of the El Sal and Blackburn for the judges so that they could to see my blend from my point of view. I also tried to connect my taste descriptions to the “aeropress-cupping” or the information that I had about the coffees.

Second thing was that I wanted to keep it interactive and somehow challenge the judges to express their perception of the coffees.

See a video of Joona’s WBC presentation here.

Per, Sweden: We wanted to put emphasis on the fact that coffee is more than just coffee, it’s a way of meeting people and connecting to others. We’re also roasters and baristas, so quite deliberately we talked very little about the process of producing the coffee.

See a video of Per’s WBC presentation here.

Finnbogi, Iceland: During the preparation I went back and forth between different concepts and philosophies trying to find one I could believe in and sincerely present to the best of my ability. Honestly, this was one of the things that I worried the most about. I had to come up with some kind of concept that I could relate to and adequately present. At the same time all these rock stars of coffee where going to throw out all kinds of awesome and thought provoking ideas.

When I stumbled upon what ultimately became the concept behind my presentation I felt a surge of relief. I wanted to talk about something I knew, so I talked about being new in coffee. It all fitted so well together, I was there at the WBC after roughly a year in the industry, presenting the coffee that made me fall in love with coffee and apart from being new I didn’t really have any meaningful experiences to share.

I may look back some day and think it naïve but I think this presentation will always be very close to my heart. If not just for the fact that I was there.

See a video of Finnbogi’s WBC presentation here.

Rasmus, Norway: My presentation was centered around this being my 9th consecutive year of competing. I talked about how barista competitions are helping us develop and push the envelope in how we approach coffees. Then a little bit of reminiscing about the good old days before I served the espresso, where I said it had nothing to do with the old days. This is seasonal coffee, this is what I’ll take away from the competition, etc.

See a video of Rasmus’ WBC presentation here.

Describe the process behind creating your signature beverage.

Per, Sweden:
 We wanted to use malt, since my grandfather was a brewmaster at a beer brewery, a good connection for me. We wanted to use ingredients that we find up here, therefore we felt that we couldn’t make a drink that picked upp the flavours of the coffee (apricot, almond). Instead we went for contrast, to highlight our part of Sweden and the coffee and tried to create synergy between them. We had two days with two chefs when we tried several different options and then we worked a lot on our own before we were satisfied, in the end it got quite tasty and worked really well with the coffee.

Finnbogi, Iceland: It was a long process influenced by many people. It started by visiting a chef who worked at a restaurant in Reykjavík called DÍLL. He tasted my coffee and guided me through a mind blowing tasting of all kinds of things from tartaric acid to a delicious beetroot sorbet. After working with him he agreed to prepare for me a blackcurrant vinegar.

I was heavily under the influence of new nordic cuisine so I added the beetroot concentrate as a counterpoint so I would be able to use the vinegar. In the end I felt that I couldn’t do new nordic cuisine justice with my limited time so I kept the drink but left the idea of a complete new nordic presentation for another day. What is interesting about the drink and its evolution is that the blend of vinegar and beetroot was supposed to be in the form of an icecube and the drink served cold.

At the day of the competition the freezer wasn’t working and I wasn’t ready to change the time of my presentation. I worked around it by altering my presentation and serving the drink hot.

Torfi, Denmark: I wanted to play around with the flavours that I got from the espresso and the cappuccino, and I wanted to play around with the experience that people got when they drank the sig drink. I wanted to make a drink that showcased everything I loved about this coffee. I wanted people to taste the espresso, just sligtly enhanced, the same with the cappuccino. But I also wanted to create a new experience, I wanted to finish it off with an explosion of all the flavours coming together and leaving you with a desire for more… and it worked! 9 times out of 10 there was nothing left in the bowl. During this process I realised that 3 of my many different backgrounds were working together to create the whole presentation. So that became the guiding concept of my presentation.But first and foremost it was about getting the best out of the coffee!

Joona, Finland: My sig drink was a combination of espressos and shrub that I stirred with ice. I did some experiments with coffee and vinegar back in 2010 and thought they would mix quite well. In 2011 I found some vinegar-syrup recipes from The Bon Vivant’s Companion and basically adapted their ideas to suit my espresso. The sig drink was really cocktail-oriented but I’m fine with that. I used to work as a bartender and have nothing but respect for the true bon vivants.

Rasmus, Norway: My signature drink was a play on my approach to coffee, as well as who I am and where I come from. Norwegian style of roasting and Oslo water makes me partial to light, acidic coffees, so I used a Mypressi to extract a lighter roasted espresso, using Oslo water. Together with an apricot reduction and sparkling water, this was one part of my drink. The other part was meant to show my approach to coffee today: longer shots and darker roasts give a more balanced and less acidic espresso. The espresso was shaken with macadamia nut milk and a fennel infusion; it was creamy but not too heavy.

How did you think your presentation went?

Rasmus, Norway:
 Personally, I was very happy with my presentation. Unfortunately it didn’t resonate as well with the judges. One sensory judge in particular scored me 20 points under the others. Where I had gone from more of a traditional signature beverage in the national competition, with what was – exaggerated for effect – basically whipped cream and jam, to a lighter and more acidic version in the WBC, it seems the judges were looking more for the former.

Torfi, Denmark: I thought my presentation went well apart from going over time. I thouroghly enjoyed doing my presentation at the WBC and being only 2 points away from the semi-finals in my second ever barista competition, I can’t say I’m unhappy with my performance!

Per, Sweden: The first day I went 6 seconds over time, and there were a few things I felt I could improve. In the semis it was very good.

Joona, Finland: This could always go better obviously, but I’m satisified with my presentation. I learned some new things, met loads of nice people and got new ideas. I couldn’t ask for more.

Finnbogi, Iceland: It was fantastic. I find it amazing that I was able to perform after all the stress of the previous days. I was a wreck until I went on that stage, then something changed. I ran through the lyrics of ‘One moment in time’ by Whitney Houston in my head and rocked it.

Obviously things could have gone better considering my placement but I know I will always be able to think back to that presentation with pride. Competing at the WBC is such a unique experience and the fact that I was able to remember to smile, look the judges in the eyes and refill their water is considered a success in my book.

The 2012 World Barista Championship was won by Raul Rodas of Guatemala. Per from Sweden made it to the semi-finals and came 11th overall. Torfi from Denmark came 13th, Rasmus from Norway 21st, Finnbogi from Iceland 30th and Joona from Finland 32nd.

Short recaps of the performances of all the competitors are available on Day 1; Day 2.

Photos by, used with permission. The photo of Torfi is from The Coffee Collective’s flickr stream. The photo from the Mugaga Co-op is taken by Tim Varney.

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