Friday, August 10, 2007

Back from Japan

I returned from Japan a couple of days ago. Sigga Dóra and I had four days of workshops for UCC Ueshima Coffee Company in Tokyo and Kobe the days after. So here's my attempt at a recap of the days:

The WBC was terrific. I had a great time being able to catch up with old friends. It's almost like a family reunion since some of these people only meet once a year.
A major highlight of the trip was to meet up with Edwin Martinez from Finca Vista Hermosa. You can read about his experience in Tokyo on his blog. I had to make sure not to bombard him with questions and take all his time as I know he was there also to meet new people. Edwin has a really great understanding of the barista craftsmanship and it was great to talk to him about the WBC, his coffee, the future and our beginning grower-roaster relationship.

I also had a most interesting conversation with Doug Zell, Chairman of the WBC and president of Intelligensia Coffee Roasters about Direct Trade and the problems in the global coffee trade. Intelligensia has done a fantastic job in the US over the past years and Doug was very eager to share his knowledge and experience with us.

During the WBC I spent most of the time talking with competitors and enjoying the atmosphere. I must admit it felt pretty good to be there without having to worry about four suitcases of cups, glasses and accessories. I couldn't help getting a little nervous on their behalf though. Lene, Jeppe, James, Stephen, Sonja, Imma, Bronwen, Ken, Willy, John, Tim, Costas, Einar, Andrew, Fritz and countless others made the back room a very fun place to be.

I also spent a little time on the show floor looking at new products. Most interesting for me was the siphon brewers. It's a big thing in Japan and they even had the national siphon championship at the other end of the room. I really like siphon brewing (have a Bodum Santos at home) and the way they do it in Japan is really neat. Single cup servings, brewed by order and there's a certain show element over the whole thing I really enjoy.

The rest of the time was spent watching competitors. This year seemed to have more molecular gastronomy-inspired signature drinks, which worked for some - not for others. Espressos and techniques in general seemed to be more stable and I saw some excellent latte art too. It's always hard to tell who's good from the audience as you're not tasting the drinks. So the finalists actually came as a bit of a surprise to me. Maybe because it was the first time no Nordic country made it to the finals. But it was great to see a coffee producing country, Brazil, finally make it. I watched the finals from the back room - especially a very nervous Stephen Morrisey (James Hoffmann's coach) who looked like the nervous father in a waiting room. The atmosphere was both intense and laid back and it was great to see so many smiles. I got to announce the winners and boy was I nervous... I literally had no idea of the outcome but was very happy to see James taking the price. The WBC finished up with the customary barista party and vodka drinking. Good times...

After the WBC I had workshops for UCC. Very well organized and attended. Two two-group La Marzocco GB5 and Mazzer grinders, cameras and projection screen, good work tables and a great translator. We spent two days in Tokyo, one in Kyoto and the final day in Kobe, where UCC's headquarters are situated. Many thanks to Mr Ueshima for bringing us in and hosting such a great event.

WBC next year is in Copenhagen and the organizers have a lot to live up to. Hope to you all here in our hometown then!

I have uploaded my pictures to my Flickr account - see also the link on the right side.

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