His business card says Regional Sales Manager for Lavazza Coffee UK, but there’s a lot more to this everyman than first meets the eye. Today we want to learn more about his role as Sensory Judge for the UK Barista Competition.
Here are his answers to our five questions:
1. Please describe the training that you undergo to become a Sensory Judge?
I was nervous the first time I attended Judges Calibration, as I knew there were many respected coffee experts attending. Calibration takes place over two days, ending in a written exam and a coffee cupping session. Judges need to pass the exam biannually, to ensure they are up to date with rule changes and trends within the competition.
2. Give us a brief flavour of your duties at competitions?
There are up to seven regional heats, and judges are asked to be available for two of these. Last year I judged at the South West heat in Exeter and the Midlands heat in Lincoln. The day starts with all the judges going through a 20 minute calibration session with the head judge to ensure everyone adopts a common approach.
There can be up to fourteen baristi competing on a given day, with each one getting fifteen minutes on the stage. After each competitor has performed, the judges spend a further fifteen minutes deliberating and synchronizing the scores, overseen by the head judge. The judges take great care to ensure scoring is fair and accurate.
Judges take fifty to sixty sips of espresso based drinks over a day. It is even more intense for the head judge who has over two hundred sips of coffee in the same period!
At the end of the competition the results announced, awards presented and then competitors have the chance to discuss their score sheets with one of the day’s judges.
3. How do you see the competition influencing coffee standards in the UK?
Barista competitions are a core driver of the industry. They are open to anyone interested in coffee, and definitely help to drive up quality in the High Street.
Press coverage has been pretty good over recent past years. This has been hugely helped by the UK having two World Barista Champions in the past decade: James Hoffmann and Gwylim Davies.
4. What are the key changes that you have witnessed in your 11 years in the coffee trade?
Too many to mention, but the first thing that springs to mind is the Great British Public embracing coffee shop chains. The likes of Starbuck’s have helped to open up a world gourmet coffee to a generation of new consumers. The chains work on a formula of consistency, similar to the fast food industry. However, as the UK consumer becomes more educated, this increases the demand for higher quality, with many consumers preferring a European-style coffee experience, such as that offered by Lavazza.
This environment has encouraged many independents to innovate, offering added value and originality. In these dynamic market conditions, those who stand still run the risk of becoming extinct. This is a very exciting time to be working with Lavazza, as we the perfect partner for the independent coffee retailer who wishes to compete against a chain by offering quality, consistency and strong branding.
In addition, a New Wave of independent specialist coffee shops, (controlling their coffee from green bean to cup), is building all over the UK. Kaffeine in London, Colonna and Smalls in Bath and Profrock, London are just a few of those worth visiting. East London, for example, has a cluster of around fifteen independent specialists selling some of the finest coffee in the world.
Interestingly, most people still drink instant coffee at home, (where tea remains the dominant hot drink of choice), but expect to be served real coffee out of home.
As competition from the independents increases, the chains will need to react by introducing new products, (one example of this trend is the introduction by the major chains of the ‘Flat White’ from Australia, although often the interpretation leaves a lot to be desired).
5. What is your favourite blend of Lavazza Coffee Beans and why?
LAVAZZA GOLD SELECTION COFFEE BEANS always for me! It is not the most expensive Lavazza blend and sits in the middle of the range pricewise . It’s been around a long time, but was launched in its current form about seven years ago.
The blend comprises 70% Arabica beans from Brazil and Central America. Both washed and natural Arabicas are used in the blend, to achieve balance between sweetness and acidity. (Check out Piano Coffee’s Gold Selection Tasting Notes) The other key component is washed Robusta from Java. This gives body to the blend, along with a chocolaty back taste. Washed Robustas are less common, due to the additional cost of processing, but these Javan beans deserve the extra attention. It is their presence which gives the blend its astonishing balance .
Gold Selection is always the blend of choice for exhibitions, not only because of its classic refined coffee notes but its ability to work as espresso or with milk. The grind variance tolerance is amazing, so even less experienced baristi can achieve a good crema on an espresso.
If Lance’s answers to our questions have stimulated your interest, you can find more information about the UK Barista Championships at http://www.scaeuk.com/.
Lance’s chosen blend of Lavazza Coffee Bean, ‘Gold Selection’ is available now from Piano Coffee.