– by Jade Jennings, Training & Development Manager, Victorian Barista Champion 2016
TAKING THE LEAP
I competed for the first time back in 2012 where I placed 3rd in the Vic’s and 10th overall nationally. But it was now 2015, I had taken some time off to have a baby and I was back at work.
As a barista trainer, I’ve always enjoyed watching my students learn and improve their skills. So as we were coming into competition season again, I started to develop this unsettling feeling, especially when I was training.
I began to ask myself, if I had to compete again, could I actually do it? Have I stopped learning? Have I stopped improving?
I knew what I needed to do. It was time to take the leap and put myself through the pressure – I needed to compete.
I remember feeling pretty overwhelmed, despite the fact I had a clear concept in my head, selected my coffee, and created a dedicated work space with my own grinder and machine. I just didn’t know where to start when it came down to practicing.
Do I start with a script and arrange my movements around this, or do I structure my script around my movements? How should my coffee taste? What are the descriptors? What’s the best recipe? How should it be roasted? How does the recipe change when roasted differently? What do I want to achieve? What do I want the judges to walk away with?
I was completely overwhelmed.
And we all know when you feel overwhelmed you stop working efficiently. I found myself flipping around from one thing to the next and procrastinating. One minute I’d be making espressos, then working on my script, then thinking of signature drink concepts… and that was all in the space of a morning.
I finally reached breaking point so I reached out to our competition guru Craig Simon (Simo). “I need you to help me with my competiton strategy.”
Simo arrived with a smirk and said, “Q: How do you eat an elephant? A: One mouthful at a time!”
He was right. I was trying to do too many things at once. I had no game plan and no discipline. This wasn’t going to help me on the day so, I began to break things down into more manageable tasks.
I set myself goals each day and ensured they were realistic to achieve.
I set aside time to just work on my efficiency. I’d start with one component or sequence and repeat it over and over, whilst timing myself. I stuck to Simo’s rule ‘Don’t move on to the next sequence until you can do all aspects correctly three times in a row.” If you do it correctly twice but on the third time mess up, you have to start again. This ensures you don’t re-enforce bad habits.
I also had bigger goals that needed regular attention, such as my script and signature drink. These are aspects that I found easier to just chip away at. So I kept an evolving list of concepts and script phrases that would bubble away in the background.
JUST MAKE IT BETTER
This phrase is something we tend to throw around a lot at work (another ‘Simo-ism’) and I admit, it’s frustrating to hear, especially when you’re the one making the coffee and trying so hard to achieve perfection. I heard this so many times when working on my recipe, and what I found most frustrating was I just wanted someone to tell me what I was doing wrong so I could fix it.
However given my experience in the industry, I know that unfortunately they haven’t yet invented a program that you can upload to your brain (a la The Matrix) where you just know how to perfectly extract each and every coffee. You need to experience those really low points where you simply can’t tatse any more espresso and get to the point of saying repeatedly “I hate coffee”. But somehow you go back for more, because you have the drive and passion to keep going until you hit the sweet spot. The spot where you finally do make it better. And that’s when it’s all totally worth it.
STOP WANTING TO WIN
We all want to win. We would all love the opportunity to represent our country at the highest level in our industry. But when you make winning THE focus, you lose sight of the bigger picture.
I didn’t want to feel like it was worth nothing if I didn’t win. So really, my goal couldn’t be simply to win.
I wanted to use the process of competing as a focused commitment to learn and improve my skill set. So when I reflect back now on this period, I’ve achieved what I set out to do and how can anyone be disappointed with that?
In the lead up to Nationals I had the amazing opportunity to invite Pete Licata and Holly Bastin to my corner.
I’ve known Pete for five years. We first met in Hawaii after he won the United States (U.S) Barista competition in 2011.
In 2013, I was Pete’s Barista Buddy to support him as he prepared to win the World Barista Championship (WBC) in Melbourne. I’m proud to say I introduced him to the Tim Tam slammer (Google it!). During this time Pete and Simo met and their mutual passion for coffee sparked a relationsip that saw Pete and Holly train Simo for the WBC, Rimini, Italy in 2014.
So, in 2016 it kind of felt like things had come full circle and working with Pete seemed like the natural next step.
I picked Pete and Holly up from the airport on the Sunday before comp. We had lunch at Kettle Black, where we bumped into the 2013 Netherlands Barista Champion, Zjevaun Janga. I know we all say it, but, this industry is so small!
After way too many coffees and some great food, Pete wanted to get straight to work, taste my coffee and tackle the beast that is the dreaded signature drink.
That week is such a blur. The learning curve was like nothing I have ever experienced. But from the moment they landed to the after party, Pete and Holly were a much needed calming yet purposeful influence. I had many brain meltdowns but I would do it again… as long as I had them with me.
ENJOY THE MOMENT & HAVE FUN
I remember walking off stage on the day of the semi-finals extremely disappointed. I wanted to go back and do it again. I wasn’t happy with my milk, my shots ran down the side of my jugs which threw me and I fumbled through my conclusion to finish with 40 seconds to spare. I was kicking myself. If I had just paced myself and stayed in the moment I would have shown better control and wouldn’t have rushed my ending. I had time! I made a promise to myself – if I managed to make it through to the finals I was going to redeem that performance. I remember talking with one of my managers, Ben and he said “You just have to not have the weight of the world on your shoulders. Look at Simo. Any time he did really well, it was when he went out there and just had fun!”
It hit me, I needed to enjoy it. No matter where I placed, the finals were going to be the last time I would ever do that presentation. I didn’t come all this way to stumble on the last hurdle.
Lucky for me I did get through to the finals. I paced myself, I stayed in the moment and most importantly, I truly did have fun. I felt like it was just the judges and I in a room. I walked off stage knowing there was nothing more I could have done and I was truly proud that I had achieved what I had set out to do.
JUST DO IT!
Now I know, that unsettling feeling was me feeling too comfortable and itching for a challenge. And when we don’t challenge ourselves, how are we expected to grow? Anyone considering competing, my advice is just do it. You simply can’t compare the self-growth you get from competing with anything else. It’s such a valuable training tool and the doors that open up for you afterwards are endless.
Just do it!
After competing in the Australian Barista Championship, Jade was lucky enough to visit the farm that produced her competition coffee and to meet the inspiring woman responsible for leading the way in specialty coffee in Rwanda, Epiphany. Here are some photos from her trip.