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What I Took From BGA Summer Camp

With another BGA Barista Camp in the books I am again walking away eager about what lies ahead. 

Much like I stated in my last blog about Spring Camp, I continue to be impressed by the instructors, workers and volunteers that put on the event and the attendees who use these three days to push the limits of their knowledge and training.  The two mesh very well.  However, my biggest impression from this camp can be summed up with the commonly used term “variables.”

One of the many reasons for my love affair with Specialty Coffee is the cohesive dynamic that transcends the industry, regardless of whether we’re partners or competitors. 

As a camp sponsor, this has only become more apparent as I’ve gotten to spend time hanging out and connecting with all the other camp sponsors…whom, in theory, are there to compete with each other.  Yet, as is the case with the many baristas attending we forge relationships, share best practices, seek out more education and leave better than when we arrived. 

As we connect we get to hear the wealth of knowledge each has in their segment of the industry: brewing equipment, grinders, coffee and (of course) water.  Listening to and learning from these guys always gives me a greater appreciation for what it takes to make great coffee…managing all these “variables”…which happens to be the task at hand for the baristas.

The SCAA’s “Coffee Brewing Handbook” talks about the six essential elements that make a good quality beverage.

Once the desired coffee has been identified, then it's all about controlling the six elements of coffee brewing: Coffee-to-Water Ratio, Coffee grind size, Operation of brewing equipment, Brewing method, Water quality and Filtering medium.  In layman’s terms - Coffee, Water, Equipment and Operational control (i.e. a Barista).  The nuances and complexities of each variable are quite expansive, and honestly make my head hurt.  Nonetheless, baristas do not have to be experts in each but rather just a good manager of their interaction. 

Like with any other profession or hobby, as we repeat the process our skills and understanding of the variables involved grow and we being to push the limits.  When on a golf course, I try to remind myself that I just have to focus on finishing the hole and not bending the ball around the tree while drawing it back to the pin on the green like I watched Rory McIlroy do with ease at the Master’s.  Instead, my goal should be to work within the parameters of my game, choose the proper clubs, practice consistent technique and invite feedback from my playing partners. 

Ted Lingle said, “Coffee brewing creates the illusion of being a simple process.  In fact, it is a very complex interaction of many variables, all of which must be tightly regulated if the resulting brew is to become a delicious beverage.”  Thankfully the industry invites collaboration and connection.  For every complex variable there are many people who have abundant knowledge on that topic and are very willing to share it with you.  Camp depicts this truth well.

Photo Cred: Anastasia Chovan

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