British barista comes close to a world title

Dan Fellows of the UK has succeeded in taking fourth place in the international Coffee in Good Spirits contest, the barista championship which invites contestants to create a coffee cocktail featuring an alcohol content. Most unusually, one of his drinks featured wine, something rarely seen in a coffee contest.

This year’s contest was held in Korea. As well as being our national Good Spirits champ, the British entrant featured highly in this year’s UK barista championship. He works a couple of days a week as a barista trainer for Origin coffee roasters of Cornwall, while studying management training in York. Origin supplied all his competition coffees.

For the international contest, he was required to make both hot and cold signature beverages and an Irish coffee, which is a mandatory requirement of the contest. He had to deliver two identical cold designer drinks and two identical warm designer drinks to a team of four judges in eight minutes, and both hot and cold beverages had to contain Grand Marnier, the contest sponsor.

For the cold drink, he went for freshness.

“The judges had had a lot of creamy drinks – I wanted to stay away from that and give them something clean, not syrupy,” Dan told us after the event. “Grand Marnier is an orange brandy-based liqueur with a citrus acidity which goes well with coffee. I also added a cane sugar syrup poured over cherry ice, which had the effect of adding flavour as it melted, whereas water ice would have made the drink weaker. Then I used a good quality rum with caramel citrus notes, to which I added spices – rather like a mulled effect.

“I stirred together and served with espuma (a light foam) of fresh squeezed orange and lemon juices on the side.”

His warm drink was something very unusual – coffee with a Shiraz wine.

“I had wanted to find a drink which people didn’t expect to work with coffee… there are old arguments about wine and coffee, and which has the more compound flavours, and I wanted to show that they work together. I saw the judges looking perplexed when I introduced it, but they later said it was the best drink of the show.

“I needed something to bind the two together, so I created a crème, and infused the shiraz with vanilla, which ‘calmed it down’ and took the sharpness off it. The crème was blackberry and caster sugar, with Soju, a Korean liqueur – it’s like a mellow vodka, only 20 per cent alcohol.

“As there was a floral note in my Ethiopian coffee, I also added jasmine tea. I muddled them together, strained over Grand Marnier, and added the shot and the red wine.”

All Coffee in Good Spirits contests involve Irish coffee, and unusually, Dan used coffee brewed in an Aeropress.

“This was my downfall – it’s great for taste, but I slightly overfilled it!

“I’ve kept the whisky content secret because I may want to use it next year. I’m not giving away my choice of whisky, but the rules don’t specify that it has to be an Irish one, and this one has a very interesting ageing process.”

It is often said that the key to Irish coffee is getting the cream right. Dan used a local one.

“I went looking for a cream locally, and as I don’t speak Korean, I just picked the one which smelled cleanest. It is with cream that Irish whiskey can go horribly wrong, and the big clue to everybody is, don’t use ‘cream alternatives’! I did in practice, and they split every time – it was freaking me out.”

A big debate over coffee cocktails in competition is of whether drinks are commercially practical, or simply made to impress judges. Both of Dan’s have proved themselves, he told us:

“There is a score for drinks which are ‘commercially applicable’, and a big hotel chain has agreed to do a version of my warm drink. The cold one is something I have served in bars before.”

The championship was won by a barista from Hungary.

This story has also appeared on the Caffe Culture news portal, the major online news source for the coffee-bar trade.

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