First Published - May 15, 2014
When the dust settled on the London Coffee Festival and I realised I was going to have to compete again in Melbourne, I had to start planning, and I had to do it pretty quickly. There was only going to be five weeks between the competitions.
The World Championship takes a slightly different format to the UK competition. The first round is fairly specific – you need to produce a hot coffee cocktail of your own making, using Grand Marnier, then a Cold Coffee cocktail, again with Grand Marnier. If you score highly enough to reach the World Championship Final, you get to do your Irish Coffee and one of your other cocktails. I had planned my UK routine with the orange liqueur, thinking it was needed, but it turned out it wasn’t essential. I figured that the worst case scenario would be that if I got through I would have well-developed cocktails in place already. The upshot was that I was going to need a new hot cocktail.
Before working on that , though, I was going to need to pick which coffee to use again.
Selecting the perfect coffee
The 2014 crop of coffees from Los Lajones had arrived in the cupping lab on the Tuesday before the UK Championship. It was too late to use any of them in the UK, but I was interested in looking at them for the Worlds.
Coffea arabica grows as several different varietals – again, if you keep following our grape analogy, think the difference between a Sancerre and a Shiraz in terms of the characteristics each varietal will produce. The Los Lajones I had used in the UK was a mixed varietal crop with Caturra, Yellow Catuai and Pacamara, but I was really interested in trying a Geisha from the same farm, grown at 2100m! That’s Austrian Ski resort altitude! Geisha is a near-mythical crop in coffee terms. Originally Ethiopian in origin, it was rediscovered in Panama in the early 2000’s and became a sensation, regularly setting new record prices at auction. Geisha trees grow very tall and to achieve the extraordinary flavour profile (high sweetness, superior cleanliness, notes of berries, mandarin oranges, mango, papaya and distinct bergamot-like finish) the geisha trees need to be grown in extremely high altitudes. Another unique feature of this particular crop is that it is naturally processed – dried out in the sun with the fruit still on the bean. This may be the only Natural Geisha in the world!
I tried a cup of this rare and remarkable coffee with Steven Macatonia and Oli Brown and was hit by firework after firework of flavour going off in succession with my flavour notes.
BOOM! Strawberry BOOM! Orange BOOM! Dried Fruit BOOM! Brandy Butter BOOM! Cocoa. It was like the coffee had been grown especially for my routine!
I took the decision, quite easily, to use the Geisha. As such a rare and exquisite coffee, it is quite an investment from the company to dedicate around 10% of our total stock of this coffee for the competition.
Coffee recipe development
From here, I moved back into recipe development. I was happy with the Irish Coffee and the Custard Martini from the UK Championship, but I thought I might try to enhance the martini by making my own advocaat. Word of advice: don’t. Advocaat is made by whisking together egg yolks, sugar, vanilla and brandy over a Bain Marie. It’s messy, hard, time-consuming and the end result looks like scrambled egg. It tastes pretty good, but the abc is roughly double that of commercial Advocaat. After a couple of fairly catastrophic experiments I gave up and resigned myself to the fact that the Advocaat is not the fine, hand-crafted bespoke ingredient which gives this recipe true sparkle – that’s the coffee. Instead, the Advocaat is a great building block – a base to build from which gives you silky luxurious texture and a dense, custardy mouthfeel, with a fairly generic, unobtrusive vanilla flavour which does not interfere with the other components.
I just needed another hot cocktail. I went back to the Basil Grande – strawberries, basil, Chambord, Grand Marnier and cranberry juice. I switched the cranberry juice for a deliberately under-extracted aeropress, to drive the acidity and try to replicate the character of cranberry, but try as I might, it just tasted horrible! Astringent, unbalanced and with an aftertaste like drinking too much cheap fizzy pop before going on a rollercoaster. Not what I was looking for, and definitely not doing justice to such remarkable coffee!
I asked Gordon Howell, the 2013 UK Champion, and 3rd in the World last year for some advice. He suggested going down the route of brandy, port, mulled wine, and warming wintry spiced drinks, so I ordered some samples of brandy and experimented with how they would work. Again – some showed some promise, but mostly they were disappointing.
One evening, about 2 weeks before I flew I was hit with inspiration! In a previous job, we had blended blackcurrant and raspberry juice with almond syrup to replicate the flavour of cherry. I had Chambord, which is a liqueur based on raspberries and blackcurrants, and if I. Could get some amaretto, this might work!
But how to present this, and what coffee method to use? I did a lot of research into hot cocktail recipes and there really are not that many! I tried to think about what the best hot cocktail I have had is, and it’s Irish Coffee. There is a good reason these classics stick around and it’s because all that testing work is complete and quality and popularity are proven! I thought I would do an experiment with making Irish coffee the same way as I do for the final, but substitute my Dalmore for the Amaretto and Chambord mix.
I made one up, took a taste, and gave it to my wife. She refused to let me have it back! Sweet, with the flavour of bursting, ripe juicy cherries, and dark chocolate, somehow I had made a Black Forest Gateau in liquid form and it was delicious! She enjoyed it so much, I had to make her another one. Absolutely no cherry or chocolate in the recipe, yet the flavour of both. This was a very serious breakthrough!
I booked a couple of days in our training room to do some routine run-throughs, and got practising on my new routine. Things were ok, nine minutes on the first practice and down to seven and a half after the second, I did half a dozen trial runs and was really satisfied with how it was all working out.
My second day I did a practise run for the final IF I got through to it.
The Irish coffee was really harsh, brutal, unpalatable, disharmonious and woody. Not at all how it had been in the UK championship and not at all how it should be. With the help of Oli Brown I pushed through about 4 hours of recipe testing, trialling different grinds, different ratios of water to coffee and different amounts of whisky. Nothing we did made much difference to the flavour. This was a real problem. It was the Friday before I flew on the Sunday and there was no time to change anything.
The way I would have proceeded, if I had more time, would be to carefully examine the flavours in the Coffee and match them to a specific Whisky which I would then use instead of the Dalmore, but unfortunately there simply wasn’t time, and the only thing I could do was use the three varietal blend from the UK competition, which was roasted for me at very very short notice!
A little dramatic, and a little last minute, but the right decision. I have two routines that I am proud of, with drinks that I think are delicious and I am confident that I can deliver a credible performance and leave with my head held high, having done the best I can. I am up against some super- serious competition again. Matt Perger is a former Australian Barista Champion, an innovator in grinder technique and came second in the World Barista Championship last year! There are also two of last year’s finalists – Martin Hudak from Slovakia and George Koustoumpadis from Greece. It’s going to be a very high performing competition!
I’m looking forward to competing, and I will keep you posted on how I get on!
You can follow Dave on Twitter at @DavidJamesonUK, and if the technology gods smile on us you’ll be able to view his performance on the livestream here on Friday 15th at 06:26 UK time