Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Nordic Barista Cup 2009 Iceland Day 1

The Nordic Barista Cup is always a fantastic event simply because of the social aspect. Where the WBC or SCAA can seem overwhelming and not providing enough time to talk to everyone you know, the NBC is a smaller event of only 100-120 people. This year it was even more close and personal as we had to spend two nights in huts in the country side - but more on that later.

This year the NBC took place in Iceland and as usual all the rules are then up to the local organisers. You never know what to expect of the NBC but when people like Sonja Grant is working behind the scenes it's even more un-imaginable what will be happening.

All my pictures from the NBC can be found on Flickr

On wednesday evening all the teams, attendees, volunteers and organisers met up at a bar in downtown Reykjavik for an introduction of everyone. The teams were presented and there was a small lecture on coffee in Iceland.

Day 1

Thursday morning we met at 8:00 for registration at the Reykjavik art museum, which was the venue for Thruday and Saturday. There was a quick latte art throwdown, where our very own Karen were in the finals against Mike Phillips - the current US barista champ from Intelligentsia in Chicago. Mike (unfortunately) won.

Then the lectures began. Each year the NBC choose a country of origin and this year it was Costa Rica. The proceeds from the event goes to a local charity there. Each of the teams had to do a presentation about a single growing region in Costa Rica.

Denmark chose to dance their competition showing off true X-Factor - something the judges were looking for this year.

Over the day we had lectures about Costa Rica, Cup of Excellence, Basic Roasting, Basic Grinding and Basic Milk theory.

The Cup of Excellence lecture by Susie Spindler was for me the most interesting of the day and reminded me just how important the programme has been in developing the coffee market. As Susie said, when they began the programme there were no-one doing Direct Trade and marketing the farms the way they are today. It was a good reminder about the importance we can make on the lives of the farmers through the way we choose to run our businesses. And for me, it was a good contrast to the Charity-theme, that in general is a little too thick at the NBC.

My favourite moment was during the Q&A when someone asked whether some of the money the farmer gets paid throught the CoE auction could be ear-marked to improve the quality of their coffee. You could feel this is something Susie feels strongly about when she answered: "No! Why should we decide how they spend their money? We don't want anyone to decide how we spend our money, do we?"

I think it's such a common misconception that the farmers don't know what they are doing and that we from the rich west should help them manage their farms. Most of the farmers I've met know what they are doing. They know better than anyone what equipment is missing or needs replacing at their farm. They know if a new house for their family of a new de-pulper is most needed. Not us! We need to build a relationship with farmers based on that we are equals. Not that we should micro-manage their income. Now, if we can provide assistance and education to help them improve their own economy that's great, but let's start with paying them appropriately for their quality coffee.

In general some of the lectures - or parts of them - were too basic. I don't think we really learned that much about Costa Rica that you couldn't read in 15 minutes on the internet. I would have loved to hear more about the varietals - why they grow the ones they do - and about the new micro mills. I definitely think the level of the lectures can be brought up a notch with this kind of crowd, where everyone works in speciality coffee.

The reason for the many "Basic" lectures was that the teams had to acquire some knowledge from the lectures and apply them in the competition.

They would actually had to build a roaster and a grinder themselves, it was revealed. They would also be cupping Costa Rica Cup of Excellence top 8 coffees and try to rank them as close to the original scores as possible. Tough challenge!

So the Thursday went with a mix of lectures and competitions; Milk steaming, CoE Cupping, Aeropressing and so on. They did well in allowing the attendees to participate in the competitions in various ways. Although I was a little jealous of the teams that got to cup all 8 CoE coffees in real cupping, where us attendees only got 4 brewed as filter in paper cups.

In the evening we went off from Reykjavik with all our luggage, first to visit a Geo-thermal plant, then to a great lobster restaurant called Við Fjöruborðið on the south coast and lastly to Minni Borgir, a cluster of huts in the countryside, where we would be spending the next two nights.


Jotunheimssonen said...

I simply love this blog of yours! Right to the point, fun to read, and perfectly balanced when it comes to giving the personal touch! Keep it up!

Klaus Thomsen said...

There's been an intersting discussion taking place at

I just posted my comment there, but thought I'd post it here too. Remember it's a reply to Rasmus' post.

Hi Rasmus

It all comes back to what I wrote about being *equal* in the transaction. I would never dream of calling up my cup supplier and telling him how to spend the money I paid for my porcelain cups. It’s the same way with the farmers. Why do you feel the right to micro-manage their business?
This is why we do Direct Trade and visit the producers every year – to build up a relationship where we can share our ideas and values. And by paying a high premium directly to the farmer we can see we get a much higher quality the other way.

I can relate to your feelings about a certain coffee not living up to its full potential. It’s a shame for sure. As Susie said in the lecture the CoE spends a lot of time guiding the farmers and creating a platform where farmers and millers from around the world can share their knowledge.

I am sure that when the farmer you visited see he doesn’t get a high price for coffee the next year or following year he will realize himself that he might need to do something about his processing or harvest or whatever the problem might be. And of course you can tell him that you were disappointed in the quality of the coffee the following year – to the farmers I’ve met that’s a very brutal thing to hear, but I think it’s more honest and respectful than managing their income for them.

I guess my priority would be to improve the social conditions on the farm rather than thinking about the quality I could get via your model. If my travels to origin have taught me one thing it is that fancy machines does not produce quality. People do!

I think you do fail to see that people being angry at us for micro-managing their business will likely hurt the quality of the coffee more. I don’t belive in forcing people to do things – I believe in sharing our values and ideas and that way bring the industry and the coffee quality forward.

Best regards,
Klaus Thomsen