Terrific line-up for the barista championships

This year will certainly turn out to be the best opportunity the hospitality trade has ever had to capitalise on espresso-based coffee. The latest news from the barista championships, potentially the biggest promotional event in speciality coffee, is all good – and with the world championships to be held in London in June, this means that the spotlight will be on good coffee for at least the next five months.

Advance entries for the UK barista championships have shown some very promising trends – and some surprises.

One surprise is that the giant Baxter Storey organisation, which supplies catering services for a large collection of blue-chip companies, has entered four of its staff. Baxter Storey is sufficiently serious about coffee to have its own barista academy, but this is still a notable arrival from the contract world. It is joined in the lists by an entrant from Elior UK (previously Avenance), the UK’s fourth-largest contract caterer.

It is no surprise that the big three high-street coffee chains are not represented in the entries. The nearest we have to one of them is Costa by association – this is Howard Barwick of J & S Ventures, which is a Costa franchise in Leeds. Howard recently won the Brasilia barista championship run by the Caffe Society company. This should leave the biggest remaining high-street names in the contest as Esquires, which has three entrants (registered as all from Ambleside, though apparently they are not), Krispy Kreme, which has its two top baristas in the south-western event, and Marks and Spencer, which has cropped up with a couple of names in the midlands one. Coffee # 1 from Bristol and Wales, which took the BSA’s Bev-e award this year, has also entered two names.

Several other interesting names are to be found in the entry lists – several of the newer breed of London coffee houses are represented in their regional event, but so are several trade suppliers. There is an entrant from Drury Tea and Coffee, and a repeat entry from First Choice. There is a contestant entering for Peros, the UK’s biggest trade supplier of Fairtrade beverages, and also one from Union Hand-Roasted, the London roastery which has also distinguished itself in ethical sourcing (notably with its work in rescuing the coffee trade in Rwanda).

The Drury entrant is their barista trainer Lynsey Harley, who is making a determined attempt at competition this year – she is also in for the SCAE’s cupping and latte art contests. The Peros entrant is their coffee trainer Simone Guerini-Rocco , who is their coffee trainer. “Whilst new to the world of competition coffee, and under no illusions about it, Simone was keen to get involved and we are very supportive of him,” said Peros’ Peter Goodey. “He is going for it and has some great coffees up his sleeve and a very interesting signature drink, so… who knows!”

We are also intrigued to see a southern entry from Kay Middleton of Coffee Charisma, an extremely active company from Farnborough (we think) whose work includes everything from railway stations to polo matches. We thought we saw Kay watching extremely closely at a UKBC final the other year…

From elsewhere in the UK, there are entries from five of Edinburgh’s most notable venues (including Artisan and Kilimanjaro) travelling to Glasgow, where curiously they meet only one Glaswegian contender. And in the south-west, no less than three from the new Jika-Jika in Bath, the café launched by rugby internationalists. Also in the south west, we see an entrant from the Nathan Outlaw business – he is one of the well-regarded newer superstar chefs.

The other major surprises are that the London heat is so full – and that the Irish one is cancelled through lack of entries. In recent years, the Belfast representation has been notably strong, with a heat always full of very talented baristas… but this year, nobody. Well, not on time, anyway. Several entries arrived after the heat had been cancelled, and most have been found places in the Glasgow regional event, and one in the midlands. Among the Irish contingent, we are pleased to see the name of Subi Tweed, a very distinguished competitor in recent years.

In recent years it has been the London event which has been cancelled for lack of interest. This year, however, competition in the capital will be immensely strong.

The finals of the UK barista championship will be held at the Hotelympia show at the end of February. The UK champion will go forward to the world event, to be held at the Caffe Culture show in late June.

And, as has already been strongly pointed out (but, we fear, not strongly enough for some marketeers!), for the world championship is to be held in Britain is the biggest single promotional angle that any beverage or hospitality company could wish for in the development of its coffee business. Let’s hope some companies take advantage of it.

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