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Reports From the Road
Western Regional Canadian Barista Championship 2009
Author: Mark Prince
Posted: August 31, 2009
Article rating: 8.8
feedback: (4) comments | read | write

The city of Victoria on Vancouver Island was a first time host for the Western Regional Canadian Barista Championship during the last weekend in August, 2009, in preparation for choosing three entrants into the Canadian Championships, which will be held at the end of September in Vancouver. The event is traditionally held in Vancouver but this year Reg Barber was the primary host and it was an opportunity to have British Columbia's capital as the showcase city.

Victoria certainly didn't disappoint. Even though that was virtually no signage outside the hall (Leonardo da Vinci Centre, in W. Victoria), and the event itself wasn't in downtown Victoria, the place was absolutely packed. At times there were over 200 people in the audience cheering on local favourites as well as the baristas from the Greater Vancouver Area; on the day of the finals, it was sometimes hard to get a good seat to catch the action.

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Just walked in
The sight of the room when we first arrived; competition was already underway and the place was filling up fast.
Good video coverage
There was excellent video coverage of the event, both for live audience and for people on Ustream
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Jay and Les
Jay Caragay was the emcee all weekend, and in the foreground left is Les Qwon, who is the principal organizer of the event.
Bigger crowd
By midday, the place was jam packed as the competition flowed and continued.

On Saturday, a full slate of baristas went through their routines in the first round. Here's the competitor list - at least the one I had in mid August - it's a bit difficult to find a more current list as there weren't any available at the show with full names and cafes:

- Spencer Viehweger, Steven Gilmet, both representing JJ Bean Coffee in Vancouver;
- John Ohrn, Hines Public Market Coffee (Vancouver);
- George Giannakis of crema cafe in Vancouver;
- Derek Lukas of Buon Amici in Victoria;
- Kyle Straw, of Caffe Artigiano (Vancouver branch);
- Ken Gordon of Street Level Espresso, Victoria;
- Miriam Cook traveling far from Baked Coffee, in Whitehorse, Yukon;
- Ian Sudbeck-Reid of Habit Coffee in Victoria;
- Garrath Morgan representing Canterbury Coffee (Victoria Branch);
- Chantel Welsh, representing Salt Spring Island Coffee Company out of, you guessed it, Salt Spring Island in BC;
- Kathleen Greenfield from Discovery Coffee, Victoria
- Robert Kettner from the Fernwood Coffee Company in Victoria.

Looking over the list, you may note some surprising omissions. There is no entrant from 49th Parallel Coffee this year, and Caffe Artigiano opted to enter only one competitor (Cafes could enter up to two people). There's also other notable cafes missing, including Vancouver's Elysian Coffee, Prado, Bump n' Grind, Re-Entry, Cito Cafe and others. From the Island, 2% Jazz didn't have any entrants this year.

The Event

The Western Canadian Regional Barista Championship for 2009 started at 10am on Saturday, August 29th. The hall featured the three barista performance stages right in the middle of the room with seats laid out all on the outer diameter, giving a 360 degree audience perspective. There was a big screen tv showing all the details and the stages were very spacious and well suited for a barista competition. On the outer perimeter were several booths by various coffee and espresso companies. One notable booth was Oughtred; they had a Slayer Espresso machine set up and was definitely one of the most popular stops for show-goers the entire weekend.

The machines used in the competition weren't Slayers though - they were WBC-spec Nuova Simonelli Aurelias (which CoffeeGeek wrote about in two parts: Part 1, Part 2), and the Canadian importer, Espresso Cappuccino Machines (ECM) spared no expense in fully setting up the machines including a fourth practice machine for the event. In past regional and national events, there's always been challenges with the machines but this time around, the Aurelias were working flawlessly, and Nuova Simonelli had staff on hand all weekend long to make sure everything ran smoothly.

Competitors also had use of the WBC-spec grinder for the competition, the Mahlkonig K-30 which was supplied by COAG. I had a chance to work a bit on the Mahlkonig and I was extremely pleased to see that the clumping issues this grinder had in the past seem to be just that - a thing of the past. I may try to arrange a full test of the grinder later this year to see how the current K30 stands up to the previous WBC spec grinder, the Compak K10 Conic.

Everywhere you looked in the main hall, there seemed to be red t-shirts. That's because every volunteer at the event had special red t-shirts, and there were literally dozens of them. Outside of a full blown World Barista Championship event I do not think I've seen as many volunteers as I have at the 2009 WRCBC; it was quite impressive and a huge reason why this event went so smoothly.

The audience was also impressive. I've attended every regional barista event in Vancouver, and most of the Canadian National events and this was the biggest audience I've seen so far at any of them. At times it seemed like there was over 200 people in the audience, with more milling about in the wings and at the vendor booths. The most common comment all weekend long was how the Vancouver Island people were putting Vancouverites to shame with their volunteerism and attendance (compared to previous years) and I certainly cannot dispute that. Victoria did a stellar job representing, and I wouldn't be surprised if the regional event was held in Victoria every year - or at least the years the National competition is in Vancouver.

One thing that is a bit of a scoop is that Kyle Straw was using the next generation Anfim Super Caimano with several improvements over the current generation. The new collar has about 50% more selections for grinding, giving a bit more fine tuning on the machine. There is a new "purge" button to quickly pulse out old grinds from the chute, something the grinder sorely needed. There is also a new fan on the back of the grinder to deal with any potential heat buildup problems for high volume grinding. Probably the biggest change is the addition of a new digital timer with a .01 second (1/100th a second) adjustment. The timer shows both the set time, and when grinding, active time. Straw had his set in practice at 6.03 seconds, delivering about 20 grams of coffee.

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Slayer Espresso Machine
The Oughtred booth had a 2 group Slayer espresso machine on hand. It was a popular stop.
Slayer Details
One thing I really liked about the Slayer was the angled mirror for watching exposed portafilter shots. Quite slick.
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Anfim Super Caimano Timer
A close up detail of the new Anfim Super Caimano digital timer.
Anfim Fan
The fan mounted on the back of the Super Caimano
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In Practice
Kyle Straw in warmups had his timer set for 6.03 seconds.
In action
When the grinder is in use, the red digits count up until the grinder gets to the programmed time (in green).

The competitors

There were thirteen competitors in this regional, with a wide range of experience, both in competitions and in their barista profession. We had seasoned baristas like Spencer Viehweger, Kyle Straw, and Derek Lukas; there were first time competitors including George Giannakis and Chantel Welsh. Some had the benefit of many years of competitions, including both watching and participating, where others were doing this for the very first time and while it showed in their technique and output, one thing I noticed as well was pretty cool: many of the first timers brought more of their "cafe groove" to the table. By that I mean they went a bit less "by the rules" (and probably blew away many points), but brought more of their personal style and technique showing how they do things in their cafe. Sometimes I wish the competition would reward this a bit more, but judging that kind of thing would be quite tough.

We didn't stay for the entire first round, but caught the performances of several favourites, including Straw, Viehweger, Lukas, Giannakis and  Sudbeck-Reid. I remarked to friends at the event just how far we've come in these performances; comparing the WBC performances in 2003 and 2004 to a regional today. The common thread was that the 2003 performances wouldn't even crack top ten (out of thirteen) in Victoria this weekend - the skill level is so much higher today than it was six years ago.

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Chantel Welsh
From Saltspring Island Roasters, she was a bit nervous but a great barista nevertheless.
Derek Lukas
From Buon Amici in Victoria, he wore a hat on his first day.
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George Giannakis & Crowd
George was a popular performer.
George and Shots
George didn't get past round one, but his performance was solid.
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Table Pours
George's cappuccinos were served in front of the judges.
View from Ustream
I pulled a short stint on the ustream chat during the first round.
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The timer
Digital, baybee. The timer system used during the competition.
Kyle Day 1
Kyle Straw on the first day with his screen image.
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Spencer Viehweger
During the finals, Spencer was very solid and at ease with the judges.
Kyle talks the coffee
Kyle was polished and was talking about the coffees and milk during the finals.
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Kyle Straw tamping his coffee during the finals.
Sammy Watches
Sammy Piccolo, 4 time Canadian Champion, watches on.
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Kyle and Crowd
The place was absolutely packed for the finals.
Damn, but does that Anfim dose perfectly or what.
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Judges scoring
Matt, from Elysian Coffee, scoring the espresso.
Finals Crowd
The place was packed, standing room only. This is only 1/3 the seating too.
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Kyle Signature
Kyle Straw building his signature drink with some espresso cream.
Derek Lukas
Emcee Jay Caragay introduces Derek to the crowd.
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Double Shot
Derek brewing all four shots of espresso at the same time. Using some nice terrakeramik cups.
Talking the coffee
Derek walks the judges through the tastes his espresso has.

By the end of the day, the finalists were picked. Straw from Artigiano; Sudbeck-Reid from Habit Coffee; Viehweger from JJ Bean; Ohrn from Hines; Lukas from Buon Amici, and Kettner from Fernwood Coffee. I was a bit surprised not to see George Giannakis or Steven Glimet in the finals, but Giannakis told me himself that his cappuccinos were the culprit that day, resulting in some lost scores. He still finished 7th.

On Sunday, the finalists all took their turns again. The performances are all up on Ustream, so have a look

EDITOR's NOTE we apologise for these videos automatically playing - it is quite annoying. Even though we have autoplay=false in the embed code, they still auto start. If anyone has a tip on how to properly embed these codes (or get around a ustream bug, which it appears to be) please let us know in the comments.

Robert Kettner | Fernwood Coffee Company, Victoria

Ustream link: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/2075959

Ian Sudbeck-Reid | Habit Coffee and Culture Cafe, Victoria

Ustream link: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/2076177

John Ohrn | Hines Public Market, Vancouver

Ustream link: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/2076500

Spencer Viehweger | JJ Bean Coffee Roasters, Vancouver

Ustream link: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/2076761

Kyle Straw | Caffe Artigiano, Vancouver

Ustream link: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/2076993

Derek Lukas | Buon Amici, Victoria

Ustream link: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/2077229

If you take the time to watch these performances you can see a wide variety of styles and stage presences but one thing all six have in common is an obvious knowledge of their coffees and a passion for what they do. All six of these fellows could easily win the competition, but in the end there is only one winner.

One thing I particularly liked was that after each competitor finished their final round, the audience was invited up to try the espresso. Each competitor started a line of "customers" and continued pulling shots for anyone who wanted one. This should happen at every barista competition - a great way to let the audience taste the coffee. Some, including Viehweger even built their signature drinks for audience members.

The winner

After those very solid performances, the announcements took place and Kyle Straw of Caffe Artigiano - also the lead trainer for two Canadian Champions (and competitors that finished 5th and 2nd in the World Barista Championships) - took the win. Spencer Viehweger was a well earned 2nd place, and Derek Lukas finished third. All three will be competing in the Canadian National Championships which take place in September in Vancouver.

Article rating: 8.8
Author: Mark Prince
Posted: August 31, 2009
feedback: (4) comments | read | write
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