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Radio Silence

It has been ages….absolutely ages since I have posted. And in some sense I feel like I didn’t fully commit to what I had initially set out to do…which was to write about the experiences of competition. It all started out pretty great…but then life happened…and radio silence followed. There is no good excuse for that.

When I first started this blog, my intention was to write about the experience of competing. I wanted to share all of the challenges associated with competition, and be open about the ups and downs a person has. I also wanted to explore the metamorphosis of mind-state of the competitor, in hopes it would provide a more transparent view for others who want to compete.

I began that endeavor by pushing myself to compete in every competition possible, with the belief that it would a) provide me with a well rounded understanding of competition itself, b) allow me to dig deeper into my own psychology and c) enable me to give those experiences back to the coffee community in hopes it might inspire or help others compete.  While I do believe that I achieved some of those goals, primarily a and b, I am left with the feeling that i haven’t given back enough yet. My commitment to writing about my experience become overshadowed by the very nature of experiencing.

Some people seem to be really fantastic at that thing called self-discipline. They are really great at forcing themselves to sit down and write the posts they committed to. They manage it like clockwork, despite the chaos of life. I really admire that, and hope that I can become better at it. I have to say that one my fellow coffee professionals, Kasjan Orzol, has that discipline. And its probably him that has reminded me the most of this little commitment that I made. Thank you Kasjan…your words and constant belief in me is what has got me to finally sit down write this. In fact…its what also inspires me to keep competing.

I have this little notebook full of all the draft blogs that I intended to post during the last year of competition. Some of those are fully written, while others are simply a collection of thoughts. So many little realisations that never made it here. And for that I am selfish, so it is finally time to share those.  As I enter preparations for UKBC 2018, I find myself reading through and reflecting on it all. While there are notes that are intelligible, some stuff just looks like chicken scratch on a page. But after all this reflection, I think it is time to get this stuff up. I recognise that the pieces will be less ‘raw’ and in the moment, and far more reflective. But I hope they might at least resonate with some others who experience the same.

So what I guess I am trying to say is that I apologise for not sharing enough, and intend to remedy that by posting as much as I can from that little notebook. I believe that doing so will allow me to share insight into the mindset of competition, but also give others reason to compete.

Throughout that year I realised the many benefits of competition, to which I believe fall under four main levels:

  1. Why a brand new coffee professional should compete
  2. Why a seasoned coffee professional should compete
  3. How competition helps a business
  4. How competition helps the industry.

I also realised the types of support a person needs to do well, and am thankful for those who have been there for me through this journey. My boyfriend and coach Jokubas Morkunas, my mentor Jamie Treby, Mat North and the amazing UK SCA who make all of this stuff happen, all my fellow competitors (so many to name), my colleagues, and all of those involved in the seed to cup journey.

I hope to cover these topics, among other things, in the next several blogs. Through this I hope I can teach myself the discipline that so many others have, and hope my words are useful. Please note that the blogs may not be in the order that the competitions took place. The old experiences may also be inter-spliced with new ones, as I am currently prepping for yet another competition. If there is anything that you would like to know more about, please ask and I will try my best to achieve that.

Thank you for reading these thoughts…I look forward to writing more.

 

 

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To Keep Going…Or Run Away?

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Photo by Kasjan

In life, we have a choice.  And along every step of the way. And when we choose path we can keep walking to see where it leads, or take a journey back to the place we started and choose another. Either way…we run into the same thing. Sometimes the path gets difficult. Sometimes the unexpected twists and turns force us into undefined spaces where we wonder if we made the right path choice. And sometimes we find that the path leads us up a mountain. Which forces us to ask ourselves whether we are prepared for what is ahead and whether we can make it to the top.

Some of us choose the path that begins at the base of a mountain, because we know that climbing that mountain will make us stronger. The journey will be long and hard, but the idea of running away is not an option.

We start to climb this mountain and all goes to plan.

So far…so good. It’s an uphill battle, but the views along the way are spectacular.

And then it begins to rain. It begins to pour. The wind presses the little drops of rain into our face like shards of glass. We push through…climb higher. And it gets colder. And we are further and further away from civilisation. The hail. The snow.

We are suddenly frozen.

One thing after another. None of which one can prepare for. Nature has its way of teaching us lessons we do not understand unless we make it through.

Trapped in a mind space.

And with the decision: to continue or to admit failure.

To lay in bed and be defeated…or to get up and fight for the thing you knew you could accomplish if you just put your mind to it.

Completing it. That’s all you need to do.

This…is pretty much how these last weeks have felt. I set out to climb this crazy mountain. I set out to do this long race. I set out to do something that so many told me was insane. And then I almost let it all fly away.

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Photo by Lisa Laura

I signed up for UKCIGS and UK Latte Art on the morning of the final day of the roasting championship. The timeframe seemed generous. And the challenge looked exciting. Two competitions in one day. What a rush. I was terrified to compete in latte art, because I have always been nervous when pouring in front of judges anyway. But it was part of the point. To put myself through that experience so I could get over it. CIGS, on the other hand, was a return event for me. I have competed in it before, so it was an opportunity to try to do better this time. Mainly try to smile more, and be more myself on stage.  So, the goals for these competitions were quite different.

Running up to the competition, my life became a bit chaotic. Nothing new for anyone who knows me. Work projects began to take off, and time management was tricky. On top of that, I was trying to keep a personal life steady and balanced. I had planned to practise for these competitions several times a week, so that the routines would be polished and ready to go by the week before. Seemed logical and totally feasible. But alas…it didn’t happen.

Instead of practise sessions for the competition, this last November was filled past and present personal situations creeping into the evening hours of my life. On one hand, I was trying to devote myself to a relationship that needed focus, and on the other I was trying not to lose focus on all the projects at work. Amidst this it was November…which is one of the hardest months I experience every year.

Why? Well I could probably write a book about the various November’s in my life, with each new November adding another difficult memory to my little charm bracelet of perseverance. And while it’s true that I have gotten through each of them, it also must be noted that for each one there is a new scar. Some things I have lived through are far too much to write about in this particular post. Some who know me well, know which ones I am talking about. But there is one I will share, which was a major struggle this year, but was a major catalyst for deciding to compete in everything.

On November 30th 2012 I got married. And I got married to someone I thought I would be with forever. I believed that, as a team we could conquer the world. But on November 30th 2012…in the evening…I saw the foreshadowing of the future of our marriage. It was one of the most painful and emotionally breaking memories of my life. And yet we stayed together for a few more years. Ups and downs. Until the collapse in 2014.

Every November since has been difficult. The memories from even before that event, and some of the extremely painful things that happened the November’s after, have piled upon each other to hit a threshold. And this November…I received the divorce papers. Now you would think that this would be a good thing considering everything, but the reality is that the timing of November coupled with the painful memories that receiving these papers triggered, had a crippling effect on me. My mind space was all wrong.

The week of the competition quickly arrived, and id still not done anything I would call productive. I was too busy trying to balance out all the weights I was already carrying on each of my shoulders. And there it was again. November 30th. It had been four years… and yet it still resonated inside me so intensely. I cried through out the night…knowing I should be training as I only had a few days left but feeling my every inside falling apart.

And then December 1st came. And my boyfriend broke up with me.

I was a mess. I sat looking out the window realising that I’d let it all turn to shit. I called my best friend, Kuba, to tell him the news. I’ll never forget what he said to me. ‘Diana…you lost yourself in him. And the woman I know will not just lay in bed defeated. She would get up and fight. I can be in the training centre to help you in an hour. Let me know when you are on the way’.

Wow. How well he knows me. How he could still see me…even when I couldn’t see myself.

I got up, packed my things, and went straight there. And he was waiting for me.  And even his day wasn’t going well…as you can see …

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We spent the afternoon creating the two beverages, hot and cold, for the preliminary rounds. The drinks were inspired by an exam I gave to one of our baristas, Nibs, whereby he did the gutsy thing and served me a shot of espresso at 14.5g-44g when most baristas go for the `15g-34g safe-spot. This open cup is what I have been looking for from them for some time, particularly with highly complex coffees, and he’d done it. AWESOME. This was the reason I’d chosen this coffee in the first place: its complexity and versatility. Kenya Karura. And now I wanted to build a whole routine around this inspiration. So, the two drinks we created were designed to showcase the two sides of this coffee.

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Roasted by Sir Jamie Treby

We left the training centre that Thursday night feeling happy with the results. I thought ‘perfect…I have one more day to run through it and design drinks for finals in the case I get through’. I went to sleep.

FRIDAY MORNING. Oh, I’ll never forget that Friday morning. I woke up to a text from Mat North asking where I was. I was beyond confused. I’d thought that the preliminary round was on Saturday and the final was on Sunday. Mind you…looking back this makes no sense. Turns out the preliminary round was that Friday. It was 10:00am when I saw the text. I’d slept through my latte art slot and needed to be dialling in for the CIGS at 2:30pm. HOLY CRAP. I jumped up and gathered my things and headed to the training centre. Id not even run through this thing once! I quickly smashed out three run throughs and then packed and headed to the venue.

Surprisingly everything went quite smoothly considering. I was gutted I had to miss out on Latte Art, but happy I’d managed to do my CIGS routine. To be honest, I was just happy that all the drinks ended up in the glasses and that I was able to communicate the concept to the judges. But this was as far as any expectations had gone. So, when they announced my name as a finalist I was completely shocked. Quickly followed by the shock was the realisation that I had no finals routine prepared. So Kuba picked me up from the venue and raced with me to the training centre again. We stayed there until 1:30am…whereby I managed to develop an Irish coffee concept and run through the new routine twice. We were just gonna have to roll with it.

You would think that this is the end of the ridiculousness, but it’s not. This time I made sure to arrive early to the call time, being quite mindful of the trend of events so far. I polished all of glasses, and neatly set out all the equipment. I double checked that I brought the right coffee, and set it on the table next to my nicely polished competition gear. I made sure that all my stuff was on the allocated table that said my name. And for luck’s sake… I checked for everything again. Everything was good. It was time to relax. So, I left the competition training room and took a stroll around the venue to say hi to a few people. The mates from Taylor St were arriving, so I figured I could catch up with them as long as I was back 45 minutes before my dial in slot.

Like a good competitor, I stuck to the schedule. My colleague Jordan and I went back up to the prep room 45 minutes before my dial in and started scanning over my things in preparation for the dial in. Glasses polished…tick. Speed pourer on…tick. Equipment present…tick. Coffee in its place… NOT TICK! NOT TICK? NOT TICK?!!  Yep. My coffee had gone missing. 40 minutes before I had to dial in. No joke. It was there when I left. And now it’s gone. And I promise I am not mental. I had shown the bag to Maxwell earlier that day, just before placing it on the table. And here is where JORDAN, one of our awesome Taylor St Baristas, saves the day. As soon as we realised it was missing… I remembered I had a spare kilo at our Monument shop. He jumped up and sprinted to the shop to collect it, while I watched the clock tick down and began devising plans in the case he didn’t get back in time. But like a BOSS, Jordan arrived literally ONE MINUTE before my dial in slot began. What a Legend (That’s Jordan sitting on the couch there).

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Photo by Krzysztof

By the time I was heading to the stage…I was thinking that at this point anything could go wrong. I was feeling nervous…but only because I knew that the odds were against me. Luck was not on my side. And then, as I arrived on stage, I realised that half of the audience were from Taylor street. They were everywhere! Lisa Laura even made a mini banner. I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time… as I have never been so supported in my life. WOW. Immediately the storm inside of me was calmed and I was ready to rock and roll. I knew it was going to be okay no matter what happened.

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Photo by Lisa Laura

I went on stage…and those ten minutes flew by. I can still remember the clinking sound of my spoon against the glass as I was trying to pour my Irish coffees. I can sound extremely calm, by my hands tend to show the nervousness that I don’t even realise I am experiencing at the time. And at 9 minute 59 seconds I call time. They still tell me I made them so nervous with how close I was to the 10-minute time mark.

To be honest… seeing them all in the audience made every moment worth it. I didn’t think I was going to place, but I didn’t mind. I had been given something greater: my first experience of having a team there to support me. It was beautiful. So, when they called my name out for 3rd place…I didn’t know what to. After all that had happened. HOW? How?

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Photo by Kasjan

And walking off stage from receiving the most awesome looking trophy ever, I began to cry. There to greet me was my Taylor St family. I couldn’t hold back the tears. I would have never made it that far without them. They kept me focused. They rescued me when I was drowning me. They reminded me of who I am. They believed in me…when I didn’t even believe in myself. They supported me. And then they celebrated with me. The victory was sweet.

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Photo by Krzysztof

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I now understand why every great competitor has a team behind them. It makes the world of a difference. I would be nothing without them. I would probably still be lying in bed…crying. Competition is hard. But we don’t have to do it alone. Thank you to Kuba, Jordan, Kasjan, Lisa Laura, Jamie, Andrew…and everyone else who has given me a moment of their time.

 

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Photo by Krzysztof

 

Sometimes life spins out of control. Sometimes one thing after another.

We have a choice to make.

To Keep going… or to run away.

 

So what happened in this year’s UK Roasting Championship, anyway?

 

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It has been just over a week since I took part in the UK Roasters Championship. I must say that the event was absolutely fantastic. It was quite a different scene from the Barista Competitions that I have taken part in. What do I mean? The roasting championship felt extremely friendly, collective and collaborative. It was highly communal, with most competitors discussing and sharing ideas. Barista Championships often do not have this kind of charm. They are much more intense, competitive, and individual. Competitors seemed more focused on their own performance and less so on the collaborative aspects that the roasters seemed to have. Roasters were discussing their findings, sharing their personal experiences, cupping each other’s coffees, and providing each other feedback. I found it incredibly inspiring and welcoming, being the only participant who is not a ‘roaster’. Now, I am not sure if the reason it had a different vibe is because roasters themselves, unlike baristas, are often out of the spotlight and therefore have less of a performative approach to the competition. Are production roasters inherently different from Baristas, in that the personality type attracted to each profession dictates the vibe of ‘competition’?  Or perhaps it is that the UK Roasting Championship is quite new, and therefore has not built up the intense competitive tension that I often find in Barista Championships? Or… perhaps it has to do with the structure of the competitions? Baristas spend months on end preparing a routine that they will have fifteen minutes to deliver. Roasters will only be able to utilise skills they have gained in their coffee career to deduce the information they need to produce their roast, which all takes place over a period of three days. I am sure many have seen a Barista Competition, and thus understand what I mean when I mention this fifteen-minute routine that the barista prepares for. But many will not have seen a roasting championship, as they aren’t structure to be a spectator’s sport. This makes sense even within the normal working day, where baristas act as the customer facing ‘performer’, while roasters often work behind closed doors. Let me then take a moment to post on how the competition works for those who may be interested in competing in the future.

What you will have to submit:

1x Green Grading/ Green evaluation sheet, for the single origin coffee you will roast. On this sheet you must note any green coffee defect counts found, moisture, density, colour, odour, screen size and general coffee origin information.

1.5 kilos of a single origin, chosen by the sponsors and organisers. In our case, it was Kenya Kathakwa AA.

1.5 kilos of a blend of three coffees, also chosen by the sponsors and organisers, whereby you must use at least 10% of each in order to qualify.

1x detailed roasting plan for all the coffees you will roast, including description of the final cup quality you plan to achieve (Taste balance, flavour notes, acidity, body) and why and how you plan to plot your heat application/it’s significance.

Prior to the competition, there is only so much preparation that a person can do. You cannot roast the coffee beforehand, you do not know the coffees you will be require to roast, and you most likely will not have ever worked on all of the equipment available. And even if you have worked on the same type of roaster that you will be using in the competition, you cannot necessarily use the exact same roast curves you have used on your own roaster. Each roasting machine will have a different set up, which means that what you did in your roastery does not necessarily work on this roasting machine. Even more so if the roasting machine is a different size, and/or make. So, in some senses, everyone is starting from the same point.

On day one, all the competitors arrive for a lovely little meet and greet. In our case it was mostly familiar faces, which made it quite nice to be there as it doubled as a fantastic chance to catch up with the mates I haven’t seen in a while. Always a good reason to participate, in my eyes. Once all the competitors arrived, the lovely Mat North announced the coffees that we would be roasting. In our case it was a Kenya Kathakwa AA for the single origin, and Nicaragua Samaria (natural), Costa Rica Aquiares (honey), and Colombia Veracruz (washed) for the blend. In addition, we would be supplied with a separate coffee (with no name or indication of its origin) that we would be using during our practise time. Ill point something out right now: we were only going to get to practise roast with a coffee that wasn’t the one we would end up submitting. This means we would have to base our roast plans on a coffee that isn’t necessarily going to react the same as the ones we would eventually roast for submission. Pretty crazy.

After induction to the equipment, we were given time slots to complete the following tasks: sample roasting, green grading, and practise roasting. We were given 40 minutes for sample roasting, 40 minutes for practise roasting, and 30 minutes for the green grading section. Time crunch indeed! Because we were sample roasting on an Ikawa we could only really do 6 minute or less sample roasts, as we would need to sample roast the four coffees (to help up with the roasting plan since we weren’t going to get to taste the production roasts we would submit until after we had submitted them), within the forty minutes. It would seem like there should definitely be enough time, but not as such. Ikawa sample roasters need about 2 minutes to cool the beans, and anywhere from 30 seconds to 1 minute 30 seconds to heat up. If you do the maths, it means your roast can only be about six minutes. So again, all of us were in the same boat. We would all need to cup underdeveloped coffee and try to acquire as much information as possible.

Then came the green grading portion, where we would need to fill out the green grading form I described earlier in this post. Green grading was probably one of the most useful aspects of the competition, as it gave the competitor a chance to have a closer look at the green they were actually going to roast, and gather moisture and density information for later use/correlation.

We then roasted the practise roasts on the production roaster we would use for the final submission, which was a 2.5kilo diedrich. We had 40 minutes to get to know a roaster we had never roasted on, get to know a coffee we weren’t necessarily going to use, and wrap our minds around possible curves we might want to use in the future. I am sure that everyone went about this quite differently. I decided to draw out three different heat application ideas (via gas and airflow), keeping charge temp and in between batch protocol the same for them all, and then watch how they roast and stop them just as the coffee began to smell like it was hitting a certain sweet spot I was hunting for. I figured I could then cup them and see if my theoretical approach matched up with the results, and then decide which curve might work for what coffee. I found this approach worked quite well, as I was able to see how the curves were affected by both gas changes and airflow changes. The resulting two methodologies/curves (A and C, as B was pretty rubbish) I chose were derived from the data I collected in that room. The choice of whether A or C for each coffee was then based on what I wanted to get out of that coffee, as perceived by tasting through the underdeveloped sample roasts and trying to imagine what that could become. Because I decided to roast all coffees separately, due to differences in moisture and density, I needed to first decide what my ratios of each would be in the blend. From there, I could attach either A or C as a roasting plan.

I must have cupped so much coffee that day. It was around ten pm when we all finished up and left Dear Green. I had one beer and fell asleep quicker than a toddler in a car.

Day Two is basically show time. You have 1.5 hours to roast all the coffee you will need to produce the 1.5kilos of single origin and 1.5 kilos of the blend. And when you walk into that room you will have already submitted the roasting plan, therefore marrying yourself to what you said you would do. Points are given for accuracy between roast plan and actual roast, so in some ways you are just praying you can hit all the numbers correctly. Chances are, not every roast is going to go to plan, so efficiency and planning is key.

I managed to turn six batches during the time, only after a technical malfunction. No worries though, as I was given a technical time out and the lost time was added to my session time clock. But bloody hell, after the whole malfunction I knew that first batch was not going to go as planned. Luckily I had pre-weighed two batches of every coffee I was going to need to roast. So I was able to catch up after the second batch, completing six roasts and allowing myself a bit of choice before submission.

It isn’t until the final day that you get to cup the coffee. So you essentially spend the evening either thinking about the curves and how the roasts went, or not thinking about it all and chilling out with several glasses of wine. I reckon almost all of us chose option B, which makes sense as what the heck can you do now anyway? J But the evening was just as lovely as the day time. Everyone chatting about various subjects, many of which did not involve coffee. Again… everyone at that competition was absolutely lovely and I felt happy just to be there skill sharing and exchanging ideas.

When we did finally get to cup them, we did not know who’s was who’s. So we were able to just cup them without any bias. Most of us were mildly hungover, which added to the bonding via commiseration.J That and the excitement of waiting for results…which came quite late in the evening. The judges have quite a lot to mark and calculate and I am so thankful for their help.

Now I went into this competition only expecting to learn. I am not a production roaster, and knew that I only had a few weeks to learn how to roast, but thought this kind of challenge would force me to learn more like a child does. I didn’t mind if I was last, as I knew I’d walk away with so much more knowledge than before. I felt that during the weeks I trained up, as well as during the days I was there. The information gained is incredibly, and the learning curve steep. I don’t think I’ve learned that much in ages.

results

Surprisingly, I place 7th!  I am incredibly thankful to my colleagues for all their help. It reinstates my confidence in the fact that we can learn anything we want if we put our minds to it. What is more, it has peaked my interest in continuing to roast and allowed me to connect with others who may be able to mentor me on that journey.

So are roasters different from baristas, with regard to the vibe they create in competition? Is it that we spent three days together, bonding over the same confusions and puzzles? Or is it that it is such a new competition? I guess on some hand I do really wonder, but on another hand I don’t care. I just hope the humility I felt in that room, is one that continues to grow within our industry. I felt incredibly inspired by all the coffee professionals I spend time with over that weekend, and hope to continue to build relationships with such talented and brave individuals.

And for those of you thinking about competing in the roasting championship in the future: do it. So far, of the competitions I have taken part of in the past, it is my favourite.

 

Follow the bloody curve

I spent the last roasting session manually tracking my bean temp, and then calculating ROR. From there, I hand drew the curves and cupped all the batches to search for correlations. Some of the roasts were same drop temp, different shapes. Some of them were different drop temp, same shape. And some were….well… experimental. I’d like to say that I totally knew what I was doing when I roasted them, but ill confess I didn’t. I mean… sure… general predictions from my time spent in QC/looking at roast curves. But it’s very different when you are the one trying o control that roaster. Especially when it’s completely manual.

When I cupped the coffees, I was actually quite surprised how different they all were. How one little adjustment to shape, first crack, development, and end temp affect so much. As much as I would like to say I suddenly was some genius who understood everything about roasting…I’m afraid not. In some ways I was more confused than ever, just hunting for any sort of correlation.  But then.  on the other hand, I knew which curves definitely didn’t work and why. Which meant at least I’d learned something.

Jamie told me to pick three of the curves I liked the most, and try to replicate it. I was busy trying to redesign everything and break everything down in my head, but he assured me that I am a few steps ahead of myself and need to ‘just try and follow my own curve’. He said ‘you will see what I mean’. And of course I thought ‘well I mean I’m just gonna do what I did last time’. HA!

I got in front of that roaster, and literally laughed out loud when I saw that my first three roast had gone all wrong. I suddenly got what he meant. It all suddenly clicked. And I began analysing where my gas and airflow changes were and where they were hitting, and how that was affecting the whole progression. I started trying to figure out what temperature was crucial for each gas change in order to ensure consistency. And by roast six…I had a plan!

That’s where the fun began. Jamie gave me some fresh crop (id been practising on old coffee) Brazil and Colombia and told me to do three different roasts of each. I decided I’d use the same drop temp, first crack point, and end temp. I decided I would use the development time as the variable I would adjust. And above all…I decided I would FOLLOW THE BLOODY CURVE.

Just turn it brown

I’ve got to say…I feel pretty lucky.  While I am embarking on quite the crazy adventure…I definitely feel the support. Both Andrew and Jamie have been so positive about this whole crazy project. And what’s more, Jamie has actually agreed to coach me through it all. What a group of rockstars!

Today with day one of roasting championship training with Jamie. I rocked up to Deptford Bridge thinking …well actually I don’t know what I was thinking. I suppose that I was going to have some sort of classically structured ‘how to roast’ lecture. But why in the world did I even allow that thought to cross my mind? Have you met the guy? This is Jamie we are talking about. The main as a mean handlebar moustache and knows more about random things than I can shake a stick it. He’s the guy with all the crazy ideas…that just might actually work J. So of course, with that comes a less structured, but equally more effective way to learn how to roast.

Essentially…he told me… to take the coffee that is sitting next to the sample roaster…and turn it brown. ‘just go burn some stuff…and it’ll will all start to make sense’.  And as much as I wanted to continue asking questions and creating theoretical predictions, he assured me that I needed to go ‘play’ in order to get my head around anything in the first place. He wanted me to just focus on roasting the coffee and smelling the stages. He wanted me to trust the sensory and experience the stages of roasting…old school. No cropster, no fancy machine, no reliance on technology. Observe, record, and correlate.

So that’s what I did. I focussed on turning it brown and noticing the visual and orthonasal signals of change that the coffee was experiencing. I recorded data. I smelled some beans. I turned some green stuff brown.

So I have a confession: I’m not a production roaster.

Since I have committed to competing in every competition this year, that obviously includes roasting. Which is quite amusing seeing as I am not really a production roaster.

Sure. I spent over a year in Workshop coffees roastery doing loads of different things, but none of them included production roasting. And just as I got on the 25 kilo probat to finally learn… I decided to shift companies and head over to Taylor Street for bigger long-term opportunities.  I’d learned loads in the roastery at Workshop coffee.  But at that point I knew that while becoming a production roaster for Workshop coffee would have been super interesting, my long term goals required the shift to a job role that held more long term prospects.

That brings me to now. I am sitting here, having a look at the rules for this roasting competition. I’ve just received a text confirming that Andrew has successfully entered me. And half of me is realising I’m absolutely mental while the other half is really excited…like a little kid with a brand new toy.

The truth: I have no idea what I am doing. I have a pretty strong background in QC, but less so on the production roasting side. I have less than three weeks to learn how to, not just roast, but also write a curve that I can explain and accurately follow. I am genuinely excited: I get to learn again. It’s been a while!

Cubism.

Training for Latte Art…with cubism as the result.

Today I had my first freakout.

I stood in front of the bar, like ive done for twelve years , and tried to pour a rosetta. Tried.

And Failed.

Sometimes I really wonder if I know anything. And how is it that some 50 Baristas even listen to what I am saying. And why in the world do they believe me? I am just another one of them…trying to hone a skill that will never be good enough in my eyes.

My hands. They didn’t do what I told them. They did the opposite.

I said ‘pour rosetta’ and they said no. Disobedient muscle mechanisms that tell me I’ve been off bar for too long. How does this happen?

What do I feel? A sense of insecurity. An anger that I allowed my mind to drift into the cup and not into the sensation that runs free with a great pour. Trying to be an architect when I need to just be an artist. Trying to write numbers when all I should do is allow myself to hear sound.

The sound of the way it swirls in my jug. The sound of the way the espresso pours into the cup. The sound of waves being formed by the white textured paint that floats itself on top of a brown surface.

Today I tried to control the uncontrollable. I didn’t surrender myself to the skill that is inside of me. Today I didn’t surrender. I controlled. And in the most ridiculous way.

If you want to surf on a wave, you must learn how to surrender yourself to the wave. To the power that is behind it. To the natural physics that give it the beauty of its nature. You musn’t try to control it, or you will find yourself tumbling under its roar. Instead…you must feel it and become a part of it. And from there you can carve any shape imaginable. I had learned that lesson long ago. And now I learn it again.

The only control I have is of the mind. Not in formulas or calculations. Rather in facing fear and tackling distraction. The connection that lives beyond a barista on a bar. Beyond a ten leaf tulip. The one that just feels, senses, connects and stops trying to control. The one that understands that it is the hand, the speed, the pour, and the image that want to come together without distortion. The sensing of the body and the miniature movements it can create…to become one with another object wanting to be created.

The world will be full of distractions, but the mindspace can be worked like a muscle. And tonight it rang so true. If I want to be great…then I must first let go and trust that my body understands what it needs to do. I have never really trained my latter art beyond a clean design. Tonight I finally find the value in training it. It will teach me the mind space for all other competitions.

Im now sitting at St Pauls Taylor St. And I know I have to push myself to try again.

I don’t like training in front of people…and there are four people here. Of which three I train on various topics in coffee. It scares me to try again in front of them.  But now I realise its something I must do.

The Mindspace.