On the final day the final journey to the PSKK was spiced up for Karl and I, having to haul our luggage along with us, as we were due to head to the airport in the early afternoon. Our expectations for the day were low, especially as so many activities were yet to be fit in. Oddly, everything suddenly seemed to run with a level of organistaion that had not been seen up to this point. Day four ran like clockwork. Our first task was to make coffee in 30 minutes for anyone around the trade show who was willing to buy a coffee from us. To achieve this, we hijacked the sound system and put on Girl Talk’s excellent mash-up album All Day. It was welcome respite from the unique brand of euro-trash techno rubbish that had been playing around the competition area for the past 3 days. I mean, there was a guy sitting at a sound desk for the 3 days playing that shit. Incessantly.
Whatever money we made was to be added to the tips from the previous day – money ultimately going to a Leukemia charity. I have no idea how much we made, but it was most welcome and fun cranking out drinks at an espresso machine. Immediately afterwards the table quiz made a miraculous resurrection. It was trivia time. We did surprisingly poorly on this one. It’s not often that a question can be wrong, but somehow it was achieved here. Only two days previously at this event, to everyone in attendance, Andrew Hetzel repeated Mark Pendergrast’s observation of the coffee commodity value myth. You know the one, that states coffee is second only to oil? Andrew even went as far as to state that the real ranking was probably about the 50th or so most traded. Imagine our surprise when the multiple choice answers were all numbers much smaller than 50. So we got into the realm of trying to predict which version of the myth they were looking for us to agree with.
Our next duty was to present 3 photographs we had been tasked with taking the previous day. I’m pretty sure the only stipulation was that they had to have something to do with coffee. Luckily Karl had been taking lots of shots anyway, and we filed through them all in the hotel bar the night before, following our cramped Lada journey. Three photos picked, Karl added a bit of sparkle sparkle, a bit of razzle dazzle, then set them up on a slide show with Kayne West providing soundtrack. The photos were actually quite nice, and you can see them on Karl’s Flickr here, here and here.
Finally we presented our coffee – the culmination of the whole competition. We had our aeropress dialed in with our mojo. We had a vague idea of something we wanted to say. We winged it. I have no idea how well we did in this event. But we were happy to be over the finish line. By this time the scoreboard revealed that the UK were going to win barring a spectacular cock-up in the final round. In fairness to them it was well earned, they took to each task with a feverous zeal. For instance, their coffee had a branded packaging. I have no idea how they came up with it, but it was there. For the photo round they made a giant demitasse snow sculpture and posed around it – and that didn’t even make their final cut. For the briefest of moments I wondered why I couldn’t muster up similar enthusiasm.
This, by the way, was all before 1pm. Had the 4 days been run with this efficiency we might have solved some of the world’s problems. Karl and I had to leave before the final results were announced, to catch our flights. In the end we finished fourth, the supremely enthusiastic UK taking the top-spot, and the unfortunate Finns getting the wooden spoon. Overall though, it was an opportunity missed. There hadn’t been an ETCC since 2008. Since the world went down the tubes. The world is a very different place now, and I don’t think many people any longer have the luxury of taking 3 or 4 days away from work for something so meaningless. It’s not even the frivolity, frivolity too has its place. It’s that the event was neither fun enough to be considered a completely non-serious, social excercise, (few of us consider badly organised tedium much fun), nor was it well-organised enough to be considered important and valuable from a learning / experience point of view. It could be one or the other, or better yet it could be both, but it was, all things considered, a clusterfuck.
Ultimately the buck stops squarely back at the SCAE. It is their competition. There is no one at the SCAE who currently seems to give a damn about this competition. If it is to go forward, and I would argue a case that perhaps it should not, but if it is, there must be a clear direction. There should be resources, financial and logistical afforded to whomever is hosting the event. There should be a document entitled – “How to run a European Team Coffee Challenge”. The events, all of them, should have a modicum of logic. The ball’s in your court SCAE.
*photo nicked from Karl’s Flickr
I do hope to return to Russia under different circumstances. There are clear signs of a serious coffee scene in development. I don’t want my comments here to be taken as some sort of ruling on their community, they are not, merely this event. I want to return and go to the places people reference when they talk about good coffee in Russia. We didn’t see any of them. Nick our guide, has offered to take me on a much more worthwhile Russian coffee experience. I am grateful for the very excellent company. On a purely personal level, perhaps even on a Stockholm-Syndrome level, there were lots of good times had. In the end, we can always hold on to the memory, of that giant, never-ending raw scallop.