Barista Camp EU – Day Three

And the slow crawl towards exhaustion reaches its climax..

The day started off with the combination of a sore throat, sniffly nose and a mild hangover from the previous evening’s boozing and presumably dip in the cold midnight waters of the hotel outdoor swimming pool.

Sensory Foundation

It also started off with an hour long lecture as an intro to the sensory evaluation of coffee and a surprising lack of coffee to be drunk about the place. In time both this and therefore my senses started coming to (thanks The Barn and Five Elephant!).

The lecture was a mixture of pretty basic stuff and a bunch of science that wasn’t really going to be relevant in the exam but was interesting nonetheless (receptors, chemistry, nerves etc). It was nice to have some formal introduction to the world of sensory evaluation that I’ve been practising with for the past year or so.

I had to bail out when the practicals came though as my throat and head were getting painful and stuffy, so while I had a quick dip in the cupping bowls of “Umami, Bitter, Sour, Sweet, Salty I didn’t spend quite as much time with this as I might have.

A two hour nap commenced, skipping lunch and leaving me in a somewhat better state for the afternoon of lectures..

Christopher Hendon – Performing a Good Experiment

I’ve sat through quite a few lectures from scientist types and fallen asleep through nearly just as many – thankfully in this case Christopher is a super engaging speaker with a humourous delivery and good content. Christopher is a scientist who has come into coffee via his research with Maxwell on a number of topics (including the water stuff!) and it’s good to see somebody else who is interested in coffee at a professional level (and beyond) but doesn’t want to get into it commercially

If I had to make money with it then it wouldn’t be so free to enjoy it

He started off with the art of asking the right question, with a preference towards asking questions with a distinct “yes” or “no” rather than open ended subjective answer as well as looking at whether the question could be answered within set costs (and how to drive down costs via collaboration).

A focus on big goals with small experiments to aim towards those goals and a critical attitude towards interpreting results with an entertaining real-life exhibition of the famous “Birthday Paradox”. Those graphs from the EK43 featured again too with the same data (grind distribution) displayed in “volume”, “surface area” and “count”. Once again showing that the oft-repeated phrase “the EK43 produces almost no fines” to be utter bunk 🙂

The talk closed off with the “Great Coffee Experiment” whereby he wants everybody to submit their extraction results for coffees from two regions that are close together but produce very different coffees so he can see trends (or lack of).

This can be found here and is worth contributing to if you’ve got a refrac and you’re likely to have an Ethiopian and Kenyan side by side at some point (from whatever roasters).

Scott Rao – On Extraction Measurement

I was hoping to have my method or understanding of extraction challenged by this talk and ended up leaving disappointed on that end but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. He’s a pleasantly intense and passionate character with strong opinions on extraction (not experiencing confirmation bias here at all hah).

One little titbit that was interesting was pointing out how with batch brew with more coffee you should configure a shorter brew time as total contact time needs to remain a constant. This isn’t intuitive until pointed out at which point it makes perfect sense – coolio.

What was interesting in the cupping was that there was a clear preference from some people in the room (presumably londoners) for the “under-extracted” and acidic flavours and a clear preference from the local Italians for the “over-extracted” and bitter flavours.

While I myself would always aim for ‘sweetness perception’, there has been a growing part of me that wants to play with complex acidity and what that really means (see also the Brewers Cup entries this year). With modern and well roasted coffee the lines around “under/correct/over” are falling apart because you don’t get obvious “defects” at high EY but it doesn’t mean you necessarily want to push there. Refractometer to the rescue in understanding the what and taste buds for informing the why.

Christian Klatt – Heating (in) Grinders

We know a little about this from the WBC finals this year and there have been a few experiments done – but Christian (who works for Malkhoenig)  has done the research on how various temperatures of bean affect grind distribution and flavour.

My takeaway was that it can either be a positive or negative thing (more fines at cold temps, fewer fines at higher temps, chemical changes) but it’s entirely grinder/burr/time/etc dependent and there was so many variables that the best (current) option is to keep temperature stable and low if you want consistency (how this applies then to these pre-heated burrs shrug).

Nobody knows, more research required. We did a cupping of frozen beans vs room temperature beans vs heated beans and my preference was the room temperature beans – go figure.

There were tons of interesting questions being asked during this talk but a lot of the answers were basically just acknowledging that they were interesting questions that couldn’t be answered yet.

Back to the Sensory Room

With a quieter practise room I decided to go and subject my nose to the Cafe Nez experience – picking out various scents between floral/vegetal/herby/resinous/spicy/carbony/etc around the tasting wheel is fairly easy although identifying the individual scents as “peanut” or “blueberry” less so – I guess this is just a matter of resetting the brain’s instinct to identify certain aromas with their real-life counterparts. This ties in nicely with what Sang Ho was saying yesterday about creating a common language and vocabulary for describing taste.

Anyway, bed early because feeling crap..

The next morning (and beyond)

There is no “Day 4” in this series of posts, Day 4 is finishing off day with the sensory theory exam and the sensory practical exam (the former I’ve done already and the latter I’m hanging around waiting for while I write this).

I’ll probably pass the practical (I passed the theory) if my nose just holds out a little longer (I am a day off getting a pretty hefty cold from the feeling of it) and even if I don’t I’ll be continuing my sensory training.

While the courses I chose for this barista camp were seriously basic I didn’t feel that they were patronising in any way and I really enjoyed them. They have piqued my interest in going for the full coffee diploma and from discussions with various ASTs yesterday I think I’d manage intermediate/professional barista level without too much hassle.

The sensory and green however are things that I want to pursue further as I have less experience with them in a formal setting and you can’t just pull out a refractometer to measure them. Being able to pull out and calibrate myself with professionals around the world when describing taste would be super useful and fun so that’s what I’m now setting myself to do. (These two tracks alone would get me the diploma).

Education Engage.

2 thoughts on “Barista Camp EU – Day Three

  1. Hi Rob,
    Andy Schecter just introduced me to your blog and I really appreciate your systematic approach to coffee making. Great job.

    Sorry my barista camp talk didn’t offer the challenge you were hoping for; I wish I could have offered a more advanced discussion but the constraints of time and the audience’s average experience level limited how challenging i could make the talk.

    I look forward to your future blog posts!


    1. Completely understand! I often get criticised for going the other way with my tech talks, there is no winning when trying to satisfy a large audience 🙂

      Your remarks about batch brew ended up being super relevant at the events I’ve been doing coffee for so in the end I did get something out of your talk!

      Thanks for stopping by! I hope my future blog posts don’t disappoint 🙂


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