Following his incredible win at the UK Coffee In Good Spirits championship, Paul Ross is preparing to represent the UK on the world stage on 12-13 June in Budapest. Here we chat to Paul about World Coffee In Good Spirits and what goes into preparing for a competition of this calibre.
For anyone not familiar with Coffee In Good Spirits, can you tell us a little bit about the competition?
Every year the SCA UK run different coffee-related competitions, one of which is CIGS. They are national events with competitors coming together from around the UK to have their drinks judged. Coffee in Good Spirits aims to find the barista/barman with the best coffee cocktails.
Why did you choose to compete in Coffee In Good Spirits vs other coffee competitions?
I love the spirit of competition and think it is great to challenge yourself in a different situation. It seemed like an obvious choice to tie my love of cocktails with my love of coffee.
What does it represent to you?
For me it shows that the sensory skills that we learn as baristas are applicable to more than one area. It brings a slight sense of validation for the things I have learnt in my career and has pushed me to understand/learn new skills and techniques.
As the speciality coffee industry matures, coffee cocktails seem to be taking more of a front stage in bartending. What do you think the future is for coffee cocktails?
I think that it fundamentally comes down to the understanding of flavour and the appreciation for craftsmanship. Both bartenders and baristas are aiming to create the best possible drinks and in doing so continue to push boundaries, often challenging the norms. As the coffee industry develops it opens up a world of opportunity for bartenders to explore new flavour profiles and make coffee cocktails that are far removed from the regularly-seen espresso martini.
Tell us a bit about your sig drink and the concept behind it? How was the idea born and what did it take to bring it to life?
My cocktails this year have been created from familiar flavour profiles and food memories. Without always realising we all have food and drink associations in our heads so when we taste something we think back to a time that we had that flavour before; a sense of nostalgia. This is exactly what happened to me when I tried the coffee; it reminded me of baked apples and sweet cakes, which are the flavour profiles I am trying to recreate. It probably took a couple of months to plan it out and execute it in a way I thought best represented those memories.
How did you construct it; what came first, the coffee or the spirit(s). And how did you choose the coffee you brewed with and construct the cocktail to complement the characteristics of the coffee?
This time the coffee was the basis of the drinks. As we do with all our coffees, we cupped them analysing what characteristics we liked the most and noting characteristics we didn’t like so much. The Hartmann Geisha stood out for me by being fruity, floral and sweet. It was interesting, different and definitely something I could use to bring character to drinks.
Did you choose to brew with filter coffee or espresso and why? What are the challenges faced in preparing coffee based cocktails?
In the World CIGS all the competitors must use both, which provides a challenge. It means that two different approaches need to taken, however we used the same process. We brewed the coffee both ways and thought about the different characteristics and played to its strengths, whilst also bringing up its weaknesses.
Without giving too much away, how much will your World routine differ from your UK routine and why the evolution?
At the World event there is another round, the spirit bar round, which involves rolling a dice to choose one of 3 spirits and then preparing a drink with the chosen one. This is probably the biggest difference from the UK event, as all competitors have to prepare for all eventualities. Other than that, the UK finals routine has been tweaked, the ingredients tested over and over again and flow adjusted.
What goes into preparing for the world stage?
It is the next level of learning and teamwork. Ever since I worked in coffee I’ve read books, blogs and followed competitions, however until you’re situation it is hard to comprehend the level of work that goes in to creating what is a relatively short routine. Although you push yourself every day to learn new skills and perfect a routine, it is a team effort & I’m fortunate to have great people around me. Whether it’s sourcing, coaching or dealing with me talking about cocktails all day all of my colleagues have been great & I couldn’t of done it without them.
Best of luck to Paul. To follow him representing the UK in WCIGs 12-13 June:
Image credits Bruno Vincent, SCA