For an ethnographer, it’s always a treat to gain entry in a new group. These past few days, I was given a glimpse, and possibly even some new contacts, into an espresso scene which includes dedicated coffee professionals from diverse regions.
I was acting as a sensory judge for the Eastern Regional competition of the Canadian Barista Championship, right here in Montreal.
Part of this event was blogged:
» Blog Archive » Bravo Montreal!
Though the event was held on Sunday (June 15) and Monday (June 16), I haven’t been able to report back on the experience until today. And I still haven’t completely debriefed with myself about this.
A general comment I can make is that there does seem to be a move toward an enhanced espresso scene in Eastern Canada. And although this recent competition’s first place was given to a barista from Ottawa (sincere congratulations, Laura!), I maintain that Montreal can be at the centre of a coffee renaissance.
Of course, I’m completely biased. And I’ve been talking about this same issue for a while. What is new, for me, is direct experience in Montreal’s espresso scene. Participant-observation in a very literal sense.
As a personal aside: though it’s the furthest thing from what I try to be, some people tend to find me intimidating, in daily life. As a judge, I was apparently quite intimidating, even to people who already knew me. I usually feel weird when people find me intimidating but, given the context, the reaction seems quite appropriate. I had to maintain a straight face and to refrain from interacting with competitors throughout the competition. Though it was a bit hard to do at first, it seems to have worked. And I felt very consistent, fair, and impartial throughout the competition.
Also somewhat personal, but more directly related to the task at hand, being a judge required me to temporarily change my perspective on espresso. Specifically, I had to separate my personal taste from the competition calibration. This barista championship has some strict guidelines, taken from the World Barista Championship. We weren’t judging whether or not the espresso was flavourful or complex. We were assessing the degree to which baristas were able to produce espresso which responded to some very specific criteria. To this ethical hedonist, it was a challenge. But it wasn’t as difficult a challenge as I expected.
Since my approach to food and beverages is based on reflective olfaction, the fact that aromas weren’t part of the judging calibration seemed especially surprising to me.
Obviously, I observed a lot more. And I could blog about my perception of the competitors. Yet because I was acting as a judge, talking about specific competitors would seem unethical. On the other hand, I will have occasions to talk with some former competitors and give them my impression of their work. This should be quite fun.
So, overall, I’m quite grateful to everyone involved for an occasion to get a glimpse into a part of Eastern Canada’s espresso scene.
Should be fun during the national competition of the Canadian Barista Championship, which will be held on October 21 and 21, during the Canadian Coffee & Tea Show. Not sure I’ll be a judge then, but I’m convinced it’ll be a fine event.