The Boston Tea Party Barista Competition 2016

Simon Buckingham -
The Boston Tea Party Barista Competition 2016

Avid readers here at the BTP Blog will have been abreast of our in-house barista competitions for the last couple of years. It’s my favourite day of the year, but my point of view is prejudiced. I’m always going to tell you it’s a great day, this year I thought it would be cool if you guys heard it from people taking part. So, it’s over to them, first up Franky from Cheltenham:

“Being a barista at Boston Tea Party isn’t just about lobbing some milk over an espresso in a cup. We all learn about each stage, the calibration, the extraction, the pour. We spend hours bent over timers testing and tasting shots. Even longer practicing our latte art, until we finally crack the rosetta, tulip or swan we have long been lusting over. Many of us prefer the term coffee wizard to barista and this is what we aim to be. With cafes stretching from Plymouth to Birmingham we are spread far and wide across the South West. We aim to impress each and every customer we serve, but once a year we get the chance to impress each other too.

The Boston Tea Party Barista Championships are open to all members of staff and involve a variety of competitions. Latte art, Cupping, the Tea Brewers Cup, and the UKBC’s. All require their own set of skills, all make each and every one of us break out in a cold sweat.

Head Barista Fran and I from Cheltenham took the plunge and chose to compete in the latte art category. After a very stressful journey involving late trains and freezing temperatures; we finally arrived at Extract Coffee Roasters in Bristol where all the coffee we use is sourced from. Joined by our friends from BTP Worcester who, as luck would have it were fashionably late too. We arrived just in time to watch one of the contestants competing in the UKBC’s. This competition in particular takes a whole lot of preparation and skill. A fifteen minute presentation, involving an espresso of your choosing, a milky drink and a signature drink. All contestants were fully kitted out in microphones and the judges sat at a table following each and every move they made. As I sat there listening to their presentations and watching as they prepared original and intriguing concoctions, I was undeniably very impressed. Huge congratulations to Alex from Gloucester Road, Bristol for wowing the judges and coming first.

After searching for some coffee in the hope it would calm my nerves it was almost my turn to compete. There were several rounds and all of us had brought pictures of our latte art and had to create replicas. Put me on a coffee machine on a busy Saturday for eight hours and I can pour latte art like there’s no tomorrow. Put me in a competition for ten minutes surrounded by fellow BTP baristas and it turns out my moves are not so smooth. My hands and body became a human earthquake and my swans became wiggly blobby birds. Let’s just say it was not my finest ten minutes. Other Baristas absolutely smashed it and massive congratulation to Greg from Birmingham who not only competed in the UKBC’s but also took first place in latte art.

It was time to lick my wounds and tune in to the cupping competition. Each contestant had to try three black coffees and choose which one had been brewed and extracted perfectly. Those competing have to have a receptive pallet and slurp each coffee letting their taste buds do the rest. Shout out to Dorris from Worcester for coming first place.

For the Tea Brewers Cup each participant is given a tea. This year it was a milky oolong, and they had to brew it for a judging panel. They could use any kind of weird and wonderful method they wanted. The Crown was taken by Beth from Alfred Street, who focused on a traditional method following longstanding practices and a traditional Chinese teapot.

The whole day was a great success, if a little cold, and ended with a barbecue. Giving everyone a chance to talk and get to know each other. Laugh off their fiery competitive spirit from earlier in the day and list the countless reasons why they think their Boston Tea Party is the best. It gives BTP barista’s the chance to do something a bit different, see first-hand that they are part of something bigger, a band of coffee wizards that stretches for miles. To all BTP staff, suck it up and give it a go, if only for the flagon of hot apple and ginger at the end.”
Francesca Coby, BTP Cheltenham

Next up, our General Manager of the year, Joe Phillips from Worcester:
“The BTPBC was an awesome event as not only did it provide a platform for us to showcase the talent we have within the company but it also offered the perfect opportunity for peers to learn from, and inspire, each another.

Team Worcester had an incredibly successful, and fun filled, day with a first or a second in every event! Despite this (and don’t get me wrong I’m defiantly not one of those guys who say ‘it’s the taking part that counts’) the biggest prize for me was the team spirit displayed by every member of my team. At store level I always preach to new employees that they need to love what they do, and respect the people they do it with. I strongly believe this is the key to success. The BTPBC brought out these traits in every one of my baristas and I couldn’t be more proud.

Worcester’s UKBC runner up Tattinaja spoke to me about her experience after the event and the main things she pointed out where the ‘freedom and creativity within the boundaries’. I think these two things, freedom and creativity, are so important to the integrity of our business and they are exactly what makes me want to work here rather than at a ‘big chain’.

At such a dynamic time in the coffee industry its events like this, and investment from companies such as BTP, keeps the industry developing and innovating, in the right way! I don’t know about you but I’ve never seen an automated Starbucks machine show the dedication and passion for coffee that our four finalists did.”
Joe Phillips, Worcester.

Finally, it’s time to hear from Anita, our Product Director. With primarily a food background how did she find competition coffee making?

“I had the pleasure of being a judge at the BTPBC’s this year, it was an incredible experience. My day started by learning the ropes, Dan from Extract (our SCAE trainer and all round good egg) taught us how to judge, we calibrated ourselves by testing espresso shots (stirring three times and tasting twice are the rules) then marking the quality of the drink & it’s presentation in line with the SCAE scoring sheets. I felt an enormous amount of pressure as this really is one of BTP events of the year and so much hard work goes into it from all the competitors. Each competitor was mind-blowingly brilliant and quite frankly have some big kahunas to get up into of all of their peers to perform in the competition.

Not only does this provide a great day once a year, the quality of this whole event highlights the talented baristas we have a BTP and helps us on our quest to serve fantastic quality coffee with our cafes.

I am very proud to have been a part of it (even though I had the easy job in comparison to the guys competing) and I cannot wait until next year.”

Anita Atkins, Product Director

So there you have it, a much more rounded point of view this year. If you’re a barista and want to find out more about our competition and what it’s like to work for BTP, and what training we offer then strike up a conversation with our teams in store. I hope they’re as ebullient as Franky, Joe and Anita. Oh, and if you see Alex at Gloucester Rd, do congratulate him on the win. He earned it.