Massive Fail!

As posted on twitter earlier this year, I had intended on entering the UK Barista Championship's Northern Ireland Heat, this Wednesday and Thursday in Hillsborough and as posted last week on twitter, I had changed my mind. The reason? As much I would like to think otherwise, not working in a retail environment is a serious detriment to a barista's skill set. Everything from speed, workflow and consistency can all suffer from lack of practice and as mentioned in this post title, my latte art, especially, is a massive fail.
Brasilia Belle Epoque
In the coffee shop environment I previously worked in, we used the machine below, a Basilia Belle Epoque, 2 Group. Although suffering from relatively small boiler size due to the vertical design there was enough pressure to run both groups and steam milk at the same time, for a fairly consistent period of time. Even though it was recommended here that it should not be used on a busy site, we rarely experienced problems.

Now at home I use a different setup, a Fracino Little Gem, 1 Group which I will admit is a pretty basic Prosumer machine and frequently has trouble with pressure, even still when you have the right workflow it is possible to brew and then steam without any detriment to the flavour of the cup. One major difference in this setup, that really doesn't help is the steam wand on the Fracino. I don't know if it's just me, but combined with my lack of practice, I don't seem to be able to get the same spin on the milk, regardless of which type of jug I use. And as any experienced Barista will tell you, its the spin of the milk, while stretching and steaming that creates the necessary texture to mix the milk and espresso and create impressive latte art. Latte art, which off-late has been disastrous on my part.
I've seen latte art created when using domestic krups machines, means I really doubt it's impossible, but it really goes to show, just how much your experience on a particular machine contributes to what you can do with it and with this year's UKBC having switched to Sanremo machines. Come Wednesday, I'll be at Hillsborough, unofficially reporting on the regional heat and will hopefully get to speak to a few of our local baristas and ask them how the changes this year have affected them to what lengths they have went to level the playing field. Maybe if you are good at what you do, the machine won't make a difference, in which case, hopefully I'll pick up a few tips.

Andrew Gribben @grib