SERBC 2010: Competition Update

[flickr-photo:id=4381172035]The 2010 Southeastern Regional Barista Championship is in the history book. Volta sent its first full team to travel out to compete with the best baristas from Virginia to Mississippi, Florida to Tennessee. To the outsider, the competition must seem arcane. For those of us at the shop, it is a once-a-year opportunity to test the limits of our coffee knowledge and to learn from/party/network with other dedicated, passionate coffee professionals from around the country.

Sarah West, as a first time competitor, acquitted herself with both grace and passion. We couldn't be more proud of the performance that Sarah put in at the SERBC. A slight bobble with steaming milk for her capps cost her a place in the finals; best as we can tell she placed 7th out of 35 and was one of the highest placed first-time competitors. Missed the finals by a point or two. Also, she is possibly the highest score ever for a barista from Florida! She's certainly has the top place of any Floridan barista of the last three years. Sarah worked very closely with the Intelligentsia roasters and QC team to narrow down her coffee choices, ultimately settling on the Bolivia Anjilanaka component of the Black Cat espresso, roasted a touch light to bring out the acidity that she wanted for her signature drink. Special thanks to Jesse Crouse, Deaton Pigot, Chris Clements, and Geoff Watts for helping with the coffee roasting and background information on the Anjilanaka. Of course, there's also Alexandra Wright: serving as Sarah's coach, Aly joined Sarah in Chicago for training with Stephen Morrissey and Michael Philips. (Special thanks to Paul Rekstad and Doug Zell for setting the training up and making sure Stephen and Michael had time to help in spite of daunting schedule conflicts.)

[flickr-photo:id=4381172973]While Sarah took up the challenge of competing, Anthony Rue and Natalie Suwanprakorn took up the daunting task of volunteering as sensory judges for the competition. For Natalie, the SERBC was the first barista competition that she had ever seen in person. After a month of studying for the judge's exam, she demonstrated what we at the shop have always known-- her discerning palate is matched by her sharp observational acumen. In a display of trust in her abilities, Natalie was selected to judge a full slate of nine competitors for each of the first two days of the competition. For those keeping count, that means that she evaluated (and drank) over 57 espresso drinks in a bit over 24 hours. On one hand, judging is easy. You sit at a table while person after person serves you espresso, cappuccino, and signature drinks. In reality, it is very difficult to spend hour after hour give full, undivided concentration to drink after drink, furiously scribbling notes and tabulating evaluations on score sheets before retreating to a room to "calibrate" or justify your scores to the other judges. On a professional level, it is an amazing opportunity to be able to sit in one room and sample all of the best espressos from the top roasters and cafes in the country, served by passionate men and women who have put considerable effort and expense into their presentations.

In spite of the late nights spent at Volta testing espresso, evaluating milk suppliers, and endlessly discussing signature drink variations, I get the impression that the experience has stoked the passions of the Volta staff. Look for a larger team presence in 2011-- we're already making notes for how we can push ourselves to improve our results at next year's competition.

Atlanta Journal Constitution article about the SERBC, along with photos of Anthony judging Byron Holcomb, from 1000Faces Coffee