In early March, our Manager of Quality and Training, Jill Hoff won the Canadian Barista Championships in Victoria, BC. Jill will represent Monogram and Canada at the World Barista Championships in Melbourne, Australia. We asked Jill to share a few thoughts on her monumental win.
This year marked my fifth year as a competition barista. In 2015, I competed for the first time not really knowing what to expect, or if it would be something that I would continue beyond that competition. What I learned from that first experience taught me so much about myself as a barista, about the importance of competition in our industry, and it gave me a small window into what the coffee community looks like. That was five years ago, and I haven’t looked back since.
For anyone who is not familiar with barista competition, let me give you a quick summary. You have 15 minutes with a set of judges and in that time you must serve them 12 drinks. The 12 drinks include: an espresso course, a milk course and a signature drink course. The espresso course and milk course have set parameters, but with the signature drink course you can be as creative as you want, using ingredients and techniques to create something that works cohesively with your coffee and your theme simultaneously. You must make and serve all drinks while displaying professionalism, mastery over your coffee, great service, excellent technical skills and somehow tie this all together with a theme. This theme can be anything, ranging from origin stories, to new innovations, personal coffee stories and everything in between. It is no small task, and something that takes more time, hard work, practice and thoughtfulness than I would have ever expected.
This year my competition routine theme was connecting flavour experiences with memory. This is something that I have been fascinated with for some time and with the coffees that I had available to me this year, it was the perfect opportunity to present it.
For my espresso course, I used a washed Gesha variety from Elida Estate in Panama and the memory connected to this coffee was one from the producer, Wilford Lamastus Sr., as he talked about the first time he had ever tasted that coffee on his cupping table. I think it is important in our industry to acknowledge that these types of coffees were not always being produced on farms like Elida. And just like us, the consumer, the people who produce these coffees also once experienced them for the first time, and it is really special to hear those memories and connect them to the cup.
For my milk course, I used another coffee from Elida Estate. However, this time I chose an anaerobically fermented Catuai variety. This coffee reminded me of my first “ah ha” moment in coffee. It had a similar flavour profile and was processed in a similar way - so the memory attached to this course was one of my own. I brought the judges back to the moment in time, five years ago when my mind was changed about how coffee could taste and shared this special memory of my own with them.
For my last course I combined both coffees from the two previous memories to create a “new coffee” that the judges would enjoy for the first time together. I used ingredients that grew on the Elida Estate farm alongside these exceptional coffees and had the judges serve each other. This act of service reinforced the experiential part of drinking this new coffee, which is how flavour ultimately gets stored in your brain and creates memory.
It is serendipitous that this set formed on the idea of creating memories has become an experience that will be embedded in my own memory.
On March 15th, in Victoria BC, after five consecutive years of competing, training, learning and working very hard, I was named the 2020 Canadian champion. This was a moment that I had thought about in my mind, but I am not sure I ever fully understood how it would feel in that moment. There I was, waiting for the results with five other baristas who had invested themselves into their routines, all of whom could have taken the top spot. I could not believe my ears, I had done it, I won! It felt completely surreal and, to be honest, still feels that way.
If there is anything that you should know about barista competition, it is that no one does it alone. No one successfully competes without the support of other people. No one wins alone. Dreams become reality because of the people who push you to become better. The journey to this win was filled with people who allowed me to learn from them, who watched sets, listened to speech after speech, encouraged me when I cried, and never, ever let me give up. Monogram placed first and second, and this is something that I am extremely proud of. Ben (four time Canadian champion, three time finalist at WBC, my boss, mentor, coach, teammate, and friend) and I, successfully worked together as a team and finished 1st and 2nd - there could not have been a better result.
Now, as we wait for the world to get back to a state of “normalcy”, we have the opportunity and pleasure to prepare for the World stage later this year. I plan to use the same theme as I did at the National competition, however, with a new harvest of coffees from Elida as well as integrating some new elements into the set. I am very much looking forward to developing my presentation over the months and sharing the journey with you along the way.