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espresso rules - Baristas
espresso rules
The ceo of the company I work for was telling me once about some guy who comes in 2nd place almost every year at the world barista competition. She said he never makes 1st place because of his unorthodox dosing method of overdosing, cupping his hand over the portafilter, and shaking to settle the grinds. The SCAA decided that it 'wasn't really espresso' if you do it that way, which I personally think is silly.

How do you feel about variations in the art of preparing the perfect shot? I know at my store we do implement specific guidlines since there is almost always more than one barista pulling shots a day, but everyone I work with has different preferences and methods when we are by ourselves.

My feeling is that if it looks good, tastes good, the puck is perfect, timed properly, tamped precisely, then slight changes are fine. I don't know, I side with unorthodox doser on this one. I know I can pull a beautiful shot of espresso 'my' way, and my coworkers can also pull an expert shot 'their' ways.

13 comments or Leave a comment
kyrina From: kyrina Date: July 27th, 2007 11:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's just crazy. I'd think the results would matter a lot more than the method. (well, that and keeping a really clean work station)

From: bananamassacre Date: July 28th, 2007 06:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's what I feel too. Have you ever been to a competition/competed? It's nuts. It's exactly like the movie best in show, only with espresso.

I've only been to one regional competition and they took points off for one guy because he was wearing brown shoes with a black belt. Yes I'm freaking serious. They judge you on everything.

kyrina From: kyrina Date: July 28th, 2007 07:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
I actually haven't been to one (nor have I seen Best In Show). I really should get around to going to at least see one or a barista jam.

It's just weird. Which reminds me, did you hear about the big controversial thing with this year's US Barista Championship (involving the signature drink category). The whole thing is just way too stuffy from what I've heard and it really needs to change.
cheapdialogue From: cheapdialogue Date: July 28th, 2007 08:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
It is changing, there are just tons of commitees that have to be worked through. Also, there is the consideration that the US nationals feed into the world nationals, so we need to keep rules on par with that.
kyrina From: kyrina Date: July 28th, 2007 11:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
Very true.
I look forward to seeing what eventually happens.
From: bananamassacre Date: July 29th, 2007 05:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't think I heard about the scandal...I heard about something, maybe involving a girl and the way she dressed or something? I can't remember.
j0hnnym0 From: j0hnnym0 Date: July 28th, 2007 03:15 am (UTC) (Link)
In the last issue of Barista mag, they mentioned the amendments to the rules and criteria of the WBC!
From: bananamassacre Date: July 28th, 2007 06:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't subscribe to barista magazine because I'm broke, though I think our roastery does. I'll have to rummage around and find it, thanks!
cheapdialogue From: cheapdialogue Date: July 28th, 2007 03:31 am (UTC) (Link)
I agree that the proof is in the cup.

However, the finger shaker can't prove that they are doing it exactly the same way each time, perhaps on the first shot they jiggle their fingers 12 times with a 45 degree angle and the next it's 15 at a 60 degree angle. This can result in uneven dosing, from a techincal judge perspective.

The trick is to do it exactly the same way each time, and with the rapid palsy approach, well...you can't be exact.
From: bananamassacre Date: July 28th, 2007 06:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ah, such a good point and really pretty obvious! I guess I didn't think of the inconsistancies the barista would undoubtedly encounter while shaking the portafilter like a bad nanny.
cheapdialogue From: cheapdialogue Date: July 28th, 2007 08:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yep, it isn't about 'bad form' so much as it's about inconsistant form. If someone can't replicate their actions in drink making, it would follow that they can't replicate the drink quality.
the_sedition From: the_sedition Date: August 9th, 2007 07:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
all that matters is consistency and the taste in the cup. our company trains everyone the same way, but it you deviate, your shot better be delicious and if it is, you can do whatever the hell you want!

I've competed, and the rules are a bit wonky, but I really believe they are working on it.

From: cloisteredc Date: September 13th, 2007 04:10 am (UTC) (Link)


As a proponent of overdosing (see his article in the Feb/March 2006 Barista Magazine, in response to Australian underdoser George Sabados), it almost sounds as though your CEO was refering to Tim Wendelboe. In fact, if he hadn't won the 2004 WBC in Trieste, I would be almost certain it was him. Still, I haven't seen or read (including his technique outlined in the article) anything about such an outlandish method of dosing.

Other comments have already correctly pointed out that consistency and repeatabliity are the primacy concerns of the judges at barista competitions, ranking as a component of ultimate taste in the cup. I also can't see the judges refusing to consider this method a valid method of preparing espresso, as assuming that a regular tamp is still employed, it would meet the pressure requirements for this type of coffee brewing.

I think that the issue of consistency among employees of a single cafe is an interesting one. I was recently invited to a newly opened cafe, where my experience with the person on the espresso machine was somewhat disappointing. Speaking later with the roaster and manager, I was assured that a certain level of quality _was_ being obtained at this location, so long as you were served by the "right person."

Beyond this level of fluctuation, to what degree may two talented baristas really differ in technique, and still present a unified "taste" for the cafe. Among myself and my coworkers, we employ respectively: Stockfleths, Schomers, and a Staubb...and probably a few more thrown in elsewhere. This past weekend, Heather Perry of Coffee Klatch (and 2nd place, 2007 WBC) visited my cafe for a couple days. When we asked her to demonstrate her distribution and tamp, she obliged, emphasizing her simple leveling, 30 lb tamp, light knock with handle, and polish (it might be of interest that she also flushes the group of a GB5 for a full 5 seconds). She recommends and uses this for that single reason of repeatability of her shots, and consistency of several baristas.

Say two baristas are working the same machine and grinder within a very short period of time, where atmospheric conditions would not necessitate grind adjustment normally. If they weren't tamping at the same pressure, the grind would of course need to be changed between their shots. Does variation in distribution contribute to the same level of change in the end result? Should this level of uniformity be pursued in a commercial setting, or should two skilled baristas be left alone in their own methods, so long as everyone consuming the product is relatively happy?

Sorry to essentially repeat the OP's original questions! A lot of the discourse found on some other sites can focus towards the roasters, cuppers, etc and less on the barista in a daily setting. I'd like to see some more activity here!
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