Brewers Cup 2020 | Cont.
MATTEO D'OTTAVIO | SENIOR BARISTA SPITALFIELDS
Part 2 of Matteo's Brewers Cup 2020 Championship experience. Read part 1 here.
Now the real work begins…
After a long and stressful day, we set off on our 6 hour drive back to London. It wasn’t long before the Watch House competition team started turning its attention to the Semi-Finals. This time with a bigger task, the Open Service. Which coffee would I use? What about the water? Which brewing method? How would I construct the speech? How will we improve our compulsory game? These are just a few of the questions we started to analyse.
Two weeks is a tight time window to prepare for the Brewers Cup Finals, so the most important thing is time management. We first divided tasks between the team and then worked independently before bringing all our parts together. Having the full support of Watch House helped a lot. The scheduling of my shifts and getting some time off a few days before the finals were key factors for planning my training.
These two weeks were very intense. First, I focused on brewing 3 coffees at the same time, trying different types of pouring, splitting the brew in 3, 4, 5 pours and trying different variables to achieve consistency. It’s really important to brew 3 coffees at the same temperature, strength and extraction.
The selection of the coffee was exciting; we had 5 amazing coffees on a cupping table. I wanted to be intensely focused during selection and I couldn’t decide at first. Two days later after trying different roasting profiles, we chose the Ninety Plus Lot 1997 because even on a table of exceptional coffees, this lot stood out as extraordinary.
The time was short, I could count the days left on one hand. I knew that I needed to manage the time as best as possible. Apart from working and sleeping, I spent the rest of my time in the training room. Anxiety, stress and tiredness started to increase, together with the excitement. We managed to put all the pieces of the puzzle together just the day before the semi-finals and after organising all the materials and the final logistics, that evening, I realised I was ready for the London Finals.
Above: Matteo's showing off his skills at the UK BRC 2020
The day of the semi-finals was hard. First, there’s a briefing with the organisers at 8am, followed by the compulsory practice at 9:20am, my first open service stage at 11:30am, the compulsory service at 3:30pm and then, finally, waiting for the results at 5pm.
As soon as the briefing finished, we dialed in the coffee for the open stage service and wrote down all the sensory information for the speech. The practice for the compulsory round went well; I felt comfortable, we had a plan and it worked well. As soon as we finished the practice, I switched my mind again to the open service, rehearsing the speech and memorising all the flavour notes.
Open Service is the element in the Brewers Cup competition in which competitors have 5 minutes to set up the stage and 10 minutes of competition time to present, prepare, and serve 3 cups of coffee, each brewed individually in front of 3 sensory judges and 1 head judge, all while delivering a significant amount of key information!
In the compulsory round, judges evaluate the coffee only by its taste; in the open service you are judged also for the presentation, which includes many factors. Preparation is key, all the little details are important (i.e. workflow, eye contact, how you give information to the judge etc.). Every single half point can make a difference in the results.
Mentally, this was really hard. Trying to control the stress and tiredness while at the same time staying focused on the routine, brewing accurately, and keeping my mind positive. I will never stop saying how important it is to have a team with you in the backstage helping you dial-in, organising the logistics, keeping you on schedule, keeping you calm, triple checking your equipment. A competition is really an exercise in trust. A coach with experience, especially for a first-time competitor, is so important, not only for the technical part but also for the mental one. Ryan has been an excellent coach. On competition day, so many things pass through the head of a competitor and sometimes you lose concentration. Having a coach reminding you to drink water, for example, seems banal but can have a huge impact on the overall concentration.
It was my first time in front of judges but not my first time on stage in front of people and cameras because of my past in music. I felt comfortable on stage. I was prepared and focused. I thoroughly enjoyed the 9 minutes and 59 seconds of my routine. I was lifted and happy about the overall performance, even if there were things to improve.
After Open Service, I switched my mind again to the compulsory round. I think this is the most important round in the semi-finals because if you reach the final you will bring that same score added to the score of the final round. I was very happy with my 3 brews after finishing the service at 7 minutes on the dot, proud of myself and confident for the final. Before the announcement to see who was reaching the finals, the team and I were already thinking how to improve in case I reached the final round. After the announcement, I was happy that I’d reached the final at my first competition, but we also saw the possibility of winning. I was tired, yes, but I wanted to give everything for that next 24 hours. The fact that I would be the last competitor on stage for the final gave us time to improve points of my routine to make it better.
Above: Matteo presenting his open service
The next morning, we met at 9am and started to get ready for the big day. We decided to go all-in, making last minute changes to the speech adding in more terroir and general seed to cup information. We knew I couldn’t miss a detail in order to become the champion. After some practice runs, we triple checked the competition box, made sure all was sparkling clean and headed to the venue!
When we got to the venue, we started to dial in the coffee, but it just wasn’t tasting to its greatest potential. I felt incredibly low at that moment. My morale went completely down. I was happy the day before with the coffee and at the most crucial moment, the final, it just wasn’t there. Not the right acidity, nor the right flavour and body. I started to panic inside. We made the tough decision to change our recipe significantly for the stage, meaning I would have to memorise both this and a new set of 30 sensory descriptors! After a few trials, we managed to find the perfect recipe. At that moment I was relieved, more determined, more confident. I knew I could not let my team and myself down and I went on to the stage full of energy.
Many things are important for the open service but before the performance even begins it’s crucial to make the judges comfortable in front of the table and to make yourself comfortable on stage. That is the real game changer. All the stress and tension go away, you know that if you are confident, comfortable, and well trained you can deliver an excellent performance and have chance of lifting the trophy.
I arranged the stage exactly as I wanted it, even putting a wooden pallet underneath my feet because I found the table too high for comfortable brewing. After the final routine I was uplifted, tired and emotional. All that hard work was coming to an end. I was already satisfied and proud of myself and the team no matter the result. At the moment of the announcement, I was also anxious, because I knew that I had an actual real chance to win. The SCA UK organisation came out, they called all the finalists behind the stage and we were ready for the result. They were going to announce only the first three places. Third place, Youjin from Origin. She was a tough competitor with an amazing coffee and was competing for a company that has been leading in competition for many years. I thought inside “Ok. Two positions left, maybe I can make second”. I would still have been happy, bringing a trophy home. Second place, Diana from DRWakefield. She was also a very good competitor, very experienced in competition, and also an SCA Judge.
At that moment, my heart started to beat hard and fast. “Is it possible? Is this really happening?”. I knew that I had a chance to become the UK Champion 2020. First place was announced. The only thing I heard was “winning the gold trophy, from Watch House…”. I couldn’t keep the emotion inside anymore. It was done. I was the Champion! I started to cry and covered my face with my hand trying to hide the big tears. But I couldn’t stop, it was impossible to contain the crying. All the team came together with a big hug, it was an incredible feeling. They were tears of joy, stress, tiredness, anxiety, fury, and many more emotions. I released everything I had inside from months of training, hard work and sleepless nights. And when, finally, I managed to calm myself down, I took my hand off my face, opened my eyes and realised I was holding the golden trophy - his ticket to World Championships, Melbourne.
Above: The emotional release - Matteo with his well deserved golden trophy