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The first thing a barista does is select the coffee beans that will be used in the competition. — Pictures by CK LimThe first thing a barista does is select the coffee beans that will be used in the competition. — Pictures by CK LimKUALA LUMPUR, March 2 — For the first time ever, Malaysia qualifies for the World Barista Championship (WBC). Jason Loo, the winner of the Malaysian Barista Championship is currently busy preparing for the competition in Seattle, the United States from April 9-12.

During the WBC, Loo and other competing baristas have to each produce four espressos, four cappuccinos and four signature drinks (that are espresso-based and non-alcohol) within 15 nerve-wracking minutes to present to judges.

Beyond the taste of the coffee, competitors are also judged on the presentation of their beverages, their techniques as a barista and their personal presentation. The WBC is arguably the most stressful of barista competitions. How does a barista prepare for it though?

Step 1: Selecting the coffee

The first thing a barista does is select the coffee that will be used in the competition. Some baristas go as far as visiting coffee farms and working with farmers to choose the right beans. Building a personal relationship with passionate coffee farmers can be an added advantage as they know what a barista needs. The barista, in turn, learns more about bean processing and cupping on site.

Ultimately, the barista has to taste all the available coffees and select beans that stand out from the pack to develop a blend that works well as an espresso and be combined with milk and other ingredients to produce the cappuccino and signature drink.

Step 2: Roasting and blending the coffee

Once the coffee beans have been selected, the barista needs to work with a reputable roaster to roast and blend the beans for the competition. This can be tricky as some blends work very well as an espresso but aren’t as remarkable once they are combined with milk to create a cappuccino.

Some baristas go as far as visiting coffee farms and working with farmers to choose the right beans.Some baristas go as far as visiting coffee farms and working with farmers to choose the right beans.The challenge is in developing a roasting profile that produces a coffee blend that is stellar both as an espresso and a cappuccino. Approaching this balance also means the barista has a more versatile blend to play with for the signature drink. The flavours of the beans also change after roasting so a serious barista would cup daily to check and adjust as necessary.

Step 3: Creating a signature drink

The fun part for most baristas, once they have gotten the espresso and cappuccino down, is designing their signature drink. Here is where their individual creativity comes to play. Some would incorporate exotic ingredients to showcase their ingenious mixology skills while others will include only ingredients that can enhance the notes already found in their chosen blend.

Ultimately the aim here is to highlight the flavours of the coffee in an interesting way without drowning them out.

Setting up the table can be an art and contributes to the competitor’s final score.Setting up the table can be an art and contributes to the competitor’s final score.Step 4: Developing the table setting

The various coffee beverages aren’t the only things the WBC judges look at. One less obvious but equally important element is the competitor’s table setting. Consider the entirety of the 15 minutes as a performance by the barista: the way the table is set — from the glassware to how the signature drink is presented — can be a make-or-break aspect too. An inspired table setting carries the theme of the barista’s performance and is a foil within which to enjoy the cups.

Jason Loo, this year’s Malaysia Barista Champion, foaming milk for his cappuccino (left). Preparing the cups of coffee for the judges within the 15-minute time limit (right).Jason Loo, this year’s Malaysia Barista Champion, foaming milk for his cappuccino (left). Preparing the cups of coffee for the judges within the 15-minute time limit (right).Step 5: Writing the speech

Once all the tangible elements of the barista’s performance are in place, the next thing to work on is the speech. Some baristas rehearse a tightly-wound script that they do not veer from; others prefer to compose a rough structure but speak to the judges naturally, as though they were customers in the café or coffee bar. The second method is more organic and endearing, but can be risky if the competitor misses out on certain key items or explanations. Typical narratives revolve around why the barista chose that particular coffee bean or blend and the inspiration behind the signature drink.

Some baristas mix it up by adding filter-brewed coffee to their espresso blend to create their signature drinkSome baristas mix it up by adding filter-brewed coffee to their espresso blend to create their signature drinkStep 6: Building a support team

Competitive baristas wouldn’t dream of heading to the WBC without a strong support team. For most, working with a mentor or coach is essential. There are different coaches for different aspects of the process: one may work on technical matters, such as maintaining the espresso machine; another may train the barista on calibrating and fine-tuning the palate to pick up different notes in the coffee; yet another may mentor the barista in creating a winning persona to present to judges.

Step 7: Lots of practice

Finally a serious competitor never shies away from hard work. The mantra is simply “practice, practice, practice” and aiming to be over-prepared rather than being caught unawares. Everything — from understanding how the scoring works down to a single point to running through the routine over and over again — helps.

A careful competitor would strive to complete a routine under the time limit. This way, the extra time can be used to offset any glitches or mistakes during the actual WBC. Finally, lots of passion and a little luck never hurt; just ask any past World Barista Champion.

For more information about the World Barista Championship, visit http://www.worldbaristachampionship.org/

From left: The head judge may taste the coffee after the sensory judges have tried their cups. Talking to the judges and explaining your coffee can be a nerve-wracking experience. Getting feedback from the head judge is always helpful.From left: The head judge may taste the coffee after the sensory judges have tried their cups. Talking to the judges and explaining your coffee can be a nerve-wracking experience. Getting feedback from the head judge is always helpful.

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