Places and Faces

Drawing a Line Under Atlanta

I met Colin Harmon through this thread on Boards.ie. A group of us were buying some Intelligentsia coffee, combining shipping costs, and Colin offered to have it delivered to him. When I mentioned to him that Fergus and I were heading over to London for a Cafe Crawl and an espresso tasting at Square Mile, he asked to tag along. On the train from Stansted to London he told us that he was entering the Irish Barista Championships. At that point it seemed so distant, so improbable. Six months later, we have returned from the WBC in Atlanta, Colin achieving an amazing 4th place finish. It all seems slightly surreal.

Leaving for Atlanta, I actually didn’t feel we were as completely prepared as we had been for the IBC. The 6 weeks or so between the two competitions was eaten up by some delays, the most prominent of which were getting an Aurelia and finalising the beans. Getting the Aurelia was always going to be a brilliant, if very costly decision. All machines to a greater or lesser extent have their quirks, and it’s a big advantage being comfortable pulling shots and steaming on a machine. As it turned out, the steaming took some time to get used to, I still don’t think the steam tip and boiler pressure are in good balance on the WBC spec Aurelia. I suspect slightly smaller apertures on the 4-hole tip would increase the steam velocity with a small increase in steaming time.

The decision to change beans also made sense. We were happy with the blend for the IBC, but we wanted something seasonal, a new crop. Russell Bailie of Bailies coffee had provided our IBC blend, but the timing of his new crops arriving was going to be too late, so we had to find a new roaster. Our search began and ended with Steve Leighton of Hasbean. Colin and I, had both been customers of Hasbean for quite some time, and we knew he had access to some stellar coffee. Steve was hugely enthusiastic for the project, we visited him once, Colin alone a second time, and over the next couple of weeks we received kilos of coffee, twice, sometimes three times a week. Certain beans came in and out of consideration, Brazil Toca da Onca Inglattera was an early runner, but we found it got a little lost in milk. The Machacamarca was actually ruled out at one point, before Steve came back to us with a tweaked profile, that got us very excited. We were thrilled to be taking it to Atlanta.

Apart from the beans, Steve proved his worth in other ways. The night before Colin’s preliminary performance we were in our hotel, we ducked into an empty conference room and Colin started miming his performance for us. Even at this point there was something missing from his talking points, something to tie it all together. Credit has to go to Steve for his suggestions at that point, and to Colin for immediately absorbing them, so that when he performed them the following day, it appeared as though they were always part of the routine.

I suppose absorbing things quickly makes sense for someone in coffee a year, finishing 4th in the WBC. Indeed, I’m sure I referred to him as a sponge at some point during the week in Atlanta. Colin’s ability to take advice and info from multiple sources, and identify useful from useless quickly is one of the reasons he did so well.

His performances in Atlanta were the best I had seen. He peaked at exactly the right moment.

Despite his performances being excellent, watching them, and waiting for results were hugely nerve racking. Myself and Steve were apoplectic on the sidelines, as were the greater Team Ireland, Colin’s girlfriend and family, as well as Paul from Marco. We knew he had a shot at top 6 after his performance, but after 4 names had been called out, and we fully expected Carl Sara to be called, we had a momentary sinking feeling. In the ensuing fracas, as Colin’s name was called out 5th, there was shouting, man hugs, slapping, and general hysteria. It was USA 94 all over, Ray Houghton had just scored against Italy.

That moment was the highlight of Atlanta for me. In the end 4th place remains a remarkable achievement given the resources available.

The 4th place will fade though, I expect Colin to return, redoubling his efforts, he will finish higher. What won’t fade though was the week, we were a well oiled team for a while. It made little sense, a (relative) newbie barista, a home coffee nerd (me), and a slightly unhinged ( I say that with love Steve) roaster, but it worked. We gatecrashed the party. More than that though, we had the craic.

Requiem for Atlanta (VacPot of Glory) from The Other Black Stuff on Vimeo.

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14 thoughts on “Drawing a Line Under Atlanta

  1. Unhinged is the kindest thing any one has ever said to me. I’m with you for the highlight of the weekend. If you could bottle up the feeling I got when Colin’s name was read out Saturday I’d pay big time for it. In a way its good Colin didn’t win as I’ve no idea what would have happened on Sunday 🙂

    Brilliant Video brilliant post, brilliant man, thanks for a great chuckle David.

  2. Riotously hilarious! For a second when you were lifting the mug to your nose I almost expected to see a red dot on the bottom of the mug.

    Great stuff.

  3. Howard says:

    Nice post Dave, great video too. Congratulations on the whole Atlanta experience. Wondering now if you’ll compete yourself next year?

    Cheers
    Howard

  4. Joe says:

    “It places the lotion in the basket.”

    Great video, very funny stuff.

    Looking forward to catching up on Saturday 🙂

  5. Holy wow… I dont how I missed this link awhile back but dear god… I knew your a special man when we met in ATL David but I really had no idea. I dont need to worry do I?

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