Presenter Dubai: Espressos at the UAE Barista Championship ’14
MC & Presenter Dubai: Hisham Wyne takes on several potent espresso shots in one afternoon - and lives to tell a trembly tale.
It's become a bit of a tradition. The UAE Barista Championship has been going strong for six years now. And I've presented it each of those years - from back when I wasn't even in the game professionally. As the "Presenter Dubai" title might give away, I'm firmly in the game now, and it's been a prolific year. But anyhoo...
It's a great thing. There is - finally - a coffee aficionado community in Dubai. That cares about a better cup of coffee. Understands the difference between blends and single origin beans. And gets that flash roasting tonnes of beans - yes, I'm looking at you, Starbucks - just chars them and makes them better. Roasting, incidentally, is an art unto itself. It can take days to for a bean to be roasted slowly to accentuate hidden notes. Specialty roasters too are setting up shop in our fair city. Which is great news for anyone wanting to experiment with great coffees.
The UAE Barista Championship has been at the epicentre of it all. Every year, over a dozen baristas from coffee concerns all over the UAE - Bateel, Coffee Planet, Raw, La Marquise, Rider Cafe, Bon Cafe - throw their hat into the ring to vie for the honour of becoming the UAE Barista Champion. Actually, they don't wear hats. So perhaps they chuck expresso cups into the ring.
The competition is fierce and only one can be crowned. And this year, there was all to fight for. The newly crowned UAE Barista Champion, you see, was to be flown to Seattle, global mecca of coffee, to represent the UAE at the World Barista Championships.
The rules, mandated by the World Barista Championship body, are straightforward.
Each contestant gets fifteen minutes of prep time. They load up their coffee, check their grinders, sort out their espresso machines, and generally get their workstations in fine order.
Then there's fifteen minutes of competition time. During this, competitors must make, in any order, three sets of drinks: espressos, cappuccinos, and signature drinks. A panel of four sensory judges score the drinks on taste and visual appeal, so four of each drink must be made. The signature drink gets interesting. It's meant to show off a barista's creative flair. There are really only two rules: 1) That the drink must involve coffee 2) We don't like tiddly judges, so no alcohol please.
The best signature drinks tend to accentuate the notes already within the coffee bean - for instance by using orange extract to bring out the acidity, or a bit of blackcurrant to enhance the terroir.
After a tense few rounds and a six finalist shortlist, the eventual winner emerged. Your UAE Barista Champion for 2014 is Dimitry Griekhov for Cafe Rider in Al Quoz. Well done that man!
It's always great fun MCing the event. This year, we had Columbians in the hall. They slapped this "Sombrero vueltio" on my head. I think it literally translates to "gay sombrero." I can live with that.
This year, the World Barista Championship dovetailed nicely with the UAE Latte Art Championship and the Ibrik Championship. I'm not going to go into details about the Latte Art rules, but suffice it to say there were some delicious designs. Almost too good to drink! The Latte Art Champion for the UAE will be winging his way to Gothenburg, Sweden, to represent the country in the 2015 World Latte Art Championships there. The delightful Frederick Bejo from Al Qubaisi Group steamed to the win.
And as for the Ibrik Championship - well, an ibrik is literally the traditional metal jug that Turkish coffee is brewed in. The Ibrik Championship, it follows, was all about the art of traditional coffee making. And our young champion - Karthikeyan Rajendran - will be flying to Athens, Greece, to show off his skills at the World Ibrik Championship. Yes, there is such a thing.
All in all, it was a fantastic experience. The crowd was great, the coffee sublime. And those baristas get better and better every year. Here's to the next one!