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Yesterday was a long day, for no one more so than the baristas that competed in the Northern Ireland heat of the UK Barista Championship.

Only eight competitors took part in the smaller than normal competition, but there was certainly no lack of intensity in this fascinating exhibition of their skills and coffee knowledge. The eight competitors, in order of appearance were:

Judith McVitty – Clements, Royal Avenue
Neli Petkova – Cafe Krem, Banbridge
Heather Jamison – Quail’s, Banbridge
Michael McLauglin – Clements, Royal Avenue
Jon Armstrong – Coffee Republic
Rachel Mawhinney – The Streat
Julia McKenna – Clements, QUB Student Union
Luke Powell – Cafe Krem, QUB Peter Froggart Centre

Formerly also from Clements, Royal Avenue

In no time at all the day was over and everyone nervously waited the return of the judges, hoping it would be before the impending close of the building (the organisers were told we had to be out by 5pm). And the top three were:

Neli
First – Neli Petkova
Second – Heather Jamison
Third – Julia McKenna

I want to congratulate everyone who took part, as a spectator, you could really feel the tension on the room as each competitor took the stage and they made it the enjoyable day that it was.

You are probably wondering what happens next on the blog? Well my friend Jessica was there yesterday taking photos, (that’s where I stole the ones you can see here) and she will be uploading and possibly commenting on them too. Once I get those, I will give my review of the top two performances, as I unfortunately missed Julia’s (sorry Julia!), both were very different but watching them redefined not only the importance of speciality coffee, but the importance of coffee itself over the performance, something that in recent years seems to have been forgotten about.

As a topic of interest, Neli and Julia are from cafes in the top five of my Cafe Reviews. Sadly for me, Sinammon in Stranmillis was not competiting, although they were spectating. The standard of the baristas in Sinammon (my highest rating, btw) is such that they really will be one to watch in years to come.

As you can see from the post below I tried my hand at live blogging, which worked for a while, only to be thwarted by Three deciding to perform a “network upgrade” and killing my mobile broadband. Thankfully I did get some great audio recording, which I will be tidying up this evening, from both face to face interviews and a recording of the rooms PA, for the bits that I missed. I’ll be uploading them over the coming week, I don’t want to put up too much as I have a lot to write about, after some really interesting and unexpected conversations about the industry with Se Gorman (Cafe Krem), John (Clements), Philip (Johnson Bros Coffee) and Russel Bailie (Bailie’s Coffee). I also hope to be contributing to Common Grind, so I’ll have to get something to Chris for his next podcast.

Thanks to everyone that let me speak to them yesterday, my interview skills aren’t up to much and apparantly I’m “shy” too, so it went better than expected. I know I sound like a Kate Winslett now, but I also need to thank Sanremo, again I’ll be talking about their machines later, but my short opinion of them, awesome. I spent some time playing about with the third machine at the back, mixing with other Baristas and coffee lovers and after Russel gave the grinder some TLC we were pulling some consistently good shots.

One more thing, my rubbish latte art is my fault and mine alone, this much I have learned, now to tidy that audio…

Photography Thanks to Jessica Odell