First Published - May 14, 2014
Dave Jameson decided on the spur of the moment to enter the 2014 Coffee in Good Spirits Competition. After some express recipe development [link to second post] and much anguish over timings, the day of the event finally dawned.
The Friday of the competition arrived, and I was on stage at 1.40pm, with half an hour to practice backstage and 5 minutes to prepare onstage. I was pretty nervous, but took a walk around the London Coffee Festival, where the event was hosted, which was full of friendly faces.
I spent some time in the competition area watching the brewers cup to acclimatise myself to the stage, and I hung out at the Union stand where I confidently told my manager that I was happy that my routine would run to time, I was happy that my drinks were good, and that I was happy that I wasn’t going to win. I’d realised that the standard of competition was so high that there was no way I could win, one guy spent three weeks developing an ice cube! My recipe was too simple, too generic and too easy to win and I would be lucky to make the top three. However I was happy that I had learned lots about coffee and recipe development and put myself out there. I was going to enjoy myself and not worry about the result.
Finding myself onstage, with my glasses, aeropresses, whisky and shakers in front of me was fantastic. I have watched a lot of UKBC performances over the past few years and always wondered how on earth you can pour such great latte art when your hands are shaking so much! Being onstage, understanding the time pressure, and knowing that the judge was trying to see my portafilter baskets, inspect my tamping etc brought it all into new perspective for me. Until you have been in that situation, I don’t think you can properly understand how difficult it is for competitors to say, do and deliver what they want to. It has enhanced the respect I already had for them, and I think it enhances my credibility as a judge to be able to say that I have competed.
As soon as my time started I had my first problem. I had chosen to grind my coffee on stage for the Aeropresses, and my grinder wouldn’t start. I was banging away at it for 20 seconds, but it wouldn’t start grinding. I stepped away – told the judges more about the Los Lajones, and went back to it, where finally, it started! Massive relief, but I was now 30 seconds or more behind where I wanted to be. I got my head down and got on with it, only to find when I got to my other grinder to prepare the espresso that it wasn’t working either. There is a trapdoor at the bottom of the coffee bean hopper, and I had forgotten to open it! No beans were coming through. I made my excuses to the technical judge -it’s reasonable to waste coffee by clearing out the grinder blade chamber of any old coffee, so that the stuff you use for pulling the shots in competition are as fresh as they can be. I did this twice to make sure my coffee was a proper full dose. This probably cost me another 20 seconds or so.
With 30 seconds to go, my music changes from cheesy 80’s hair metal (Panama by Van Halen – do you see the link?) to some really fast uptempo 90’s rock (Caffeine Bomb by the Wildhearts) – this is my cue to wrap it up and finish – I knew I had to do this pretty quickly as this song has a swear word at 9:30 into the routine, and that is an instant disqualification!
I finish, and run to the timekeeper – 8:26 seconds – a 13 point deduction.
I was really happy with the way it went, and I was pleased that my drinks were as good as they could be, the routine went well, I dealt with the problems I had and still finished in time. The deductions would probably keep me out of the top three, but I could live with that.
Lining up on stage for the results was tougher than competing – looking the audience in the eye – people you know watching you and nothing else to focus on. There is real kinship with the other competitors by now – we’ve all been through the same battle and come out on the far side.
The top three are announced in reverse order:
Third – Rob Dunne – DunneFrankowski. Wow! This guy was one of my favourites, and he does stuff with coffee and spirits all the time.
Second – Dan Fellows – Origin. Wow again! Dan was the Champion two years ago – came second last year and is a regular top ten UKBC competitor – in all honesty, I was SURE he was going to win.
At this point my heart starts beating out of my chest, because either I have won, or I’ve not made the top three. I’m sure the rest of the competitors feel the same way too……
First – David Jameson – Union Hand-Roasted Coffee.
Unbelievable. I never imagined I would win this, and it was such a buzz to get my little trophy! I still haven’t stopped grinning.
So how did it all come together? I’ve been giving this some serious thought. I was definitely lucky to have such great coffee – I would not have been able to use such brilliant coffee if I didn’t work at Union.
The support and gentle guidance from my team of mentors too was invaluable. Having skilled, knowledgeable people around me to help coach and guide me was such a huge benefit, and the depth of knowledge and understanding of coffee at Union is like nowhere else I have ever worked.
Having judged competitions was really useful – I recommend it to anyone – the simple fact of knowing the tricks to get round my grinder problem for example, I would not have known without having judged. It also helped that I was familiar with the stage too!
My very very understanding boss, Matt Kennedy was also brilliant, giving me loads of time to prepare, practice and perfect the routine. It’s been an amazing project and very rewarding.
Next stop: Melbourne for the World Championship.
And he’ll be reporting back for us from there too – Congrats Dave, it’s an amazing achievement and we’re all incredibly proud of you!