Illustration by Alabaster
Barista Training Camp, Weekly Series, Part 4: The Tech Scoresheet
BY ASHLEY RODRIGUEZ
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE
Tech scores are more important this year than they were last year, and they’re daunting given the different competition format for the U.S. Barista Championship Qualifying Event. With four sensory judges and two technical judges, tech scores have always been important, but not necessarily where a competitor needed to spend a ton of time practicing on. But as the Qualifying Event reduces the number of sensory judges, tech scores have become a much larger factor in your overall score. One in every four points possible will come from your tech scores.
Doesn’t seem like a lot, but think about it this way: This weekly series is only focusing one of 10 articles on technical scores. Why? It’s partially because each section of the technical scoresheet mimics every other section, so if you can be mindful of waste in your espresso course, you should be mindful of waste in every other round. But it’s also because the technical skills you need to master this competition should be in continuous use. While you might not be drinking your espresso everyday or making a signature drink day in and day out, you need to be practicing the methods of preparation required in competition for every single drink you prepare from here on.
Lucky for you, most of the skills evaluated in the competition are skills you ”a skilled, trained, and veteran barista ”already have. The order of operations of espresso preparation are laid out in order for you on the technical scoresheets. Flush the grouphead? Point. Clean the portafilter sides before inserting? Point. Ideally, you should be practicing these tasks anyway ”they should be second nature. And again, lucky for you, these points are a yes/no evaluation. There’s no room for quibbling or nitpicking ”either you do it right or you do it wrong. You get the points or you don’t.
That’s the biggest difference between the scoresheets from years past and the scoresheets for this Qualifying Event in February that this 10-week article series was designed to prepare you for: A lot of categories were either changed from a 0-to-6 “point evaluation, to a yes/no rating, or they were taken out completely. Before, there were a possible 71 tech points a competitor could earn, and now there are only 53 ”and most come from a simple yes or no check. So basically, the best advice I can give you is to identify those actions, and do them. Incorporate them into your daily routine, and don’t look back. (And psst! All that will just help make you an even better barista.)
So then let’s go back to the scores that are still evaluated on a 0 “6 scale, because these will be the ones you’ll have to actively think about:
”Cleanliness of your workstation at the beginning of your routine/clean cloths
”Acceptable spill/waste when dosing/griding (during all three rounds)
”Cleanliness of your workstation at the end of your routine/station management
I think we can safely ascertain that cleanliness is important. Some of this category is pretty straightforward and is outlined in the rules, but some of it isn’t totally clear, and as you watch competitor routines online (which you should still be doing!), think about the idea of cleanliness and how baristas have made decisions about the tools they use and where they place them. If you watch footage of the 2015 USBC, you’ll notice that a ton of competitors bring their grinders all the way to the edge of their tables. Why? Because Laila Ghambari Willbur did it the year prior, which helped her keep her station clean and would make it difficult to judge how much espresso she wasted if she did produce waste. As espresso shots are running, you can see almost every competitor taking a paintbrush and cleaning their stations. Many competitors wear plastic gloves during their prep time so as not to smudge their service wears. For a long time, I thought most barista competitors used matte steaming pitchers because they were aesthetically more pleasing than the metal, but watching Laila with her white matte pitchers, I realized not only were they cleaner looking, but the coating would also hide any dribble or spills of milk if she did accidentally spill while pouring.
2014 USBC Champion Laila is a great example of someone who nails tech scores, for a number of reasons. If you watch her USBC finals performance, she’s very meticulous about her towel use. First, every towel has a home and a specific location, and second, she has extra towels in case of any spills or mishaps (she notices a dribble down one of her cappuccino cups, and has a rag on her just for that). She’s also incredibly organized with her things, and every object she uses has a purpose and a home. This isn’t hard for her because she has so few things on her stage. Her signature drink is simple, her set-up is clean, and everything is laid out incredibly neatly and with purpose. And she finishes her entire presentation with plenty of time to clean and wipe down her station without feeling rushed or hurried. How did she do it? My guess is that she practiced her routine over and over, and noted every single object she needed throughout and where it needed to be. She never hesitated to grab a rag, a spoon, or a brush because she knew what she needed and where it would go.
So that’s cleaning during, and if you’re careful and intentional, that should cover most of the clean up you have to do after you’re done. But what about before? You have 15 minutes before you start your routine to dial in and set yourself up, and it’s easy to forget to reset your station and make sure everything is spotless for your actual performance. If you’re nervous about dirtying objects, bring a separate set of glassware and rags for your prep time. Have someone help you clean and shine all the stuff you’ll use for your routine, and then after you set it all up, don’t touch it again.
And then there’s espresso waste. If you look closely at the bottom of the tech sheets, you’ll see a numerical breakdown of how this category will be scored. So how do you get a perfect score? Don’t waste any espresso. How do you do that? Trust your grinder. Baristas the world over will groan that doserless grinders are notorious for dispensing inconsistent doses of coffee, but since you’re only serving two judges and not four, it doesn’t matter as much if your dose is off. Ideally your grinder will produce the exact dose you want, but if it doesn’t, it’ll pay for you to know your coffee well enough to anticipate that, and pull your shot accordingly, as opposed to wasting.
If your coffee is delicate to dose and will be wildly off if changed at all, think about an EK43 grinder. Watch Michael Harwood’s performance in the 2015 USBC, and study how he pulls an EK shot. Obviously, there are other advantages to the EK, but one that actually translates to points is that they allow you to dose the exact amount of coffee you need. Automatic 6? Yes, please.
Obviously, there’s a lot of work one needs to do on the other categories, but by nailing down and mastering the technical aspects of this competition, you’ll be sure to sweep a huge portion of the points available. The skills evaluated on the tech scoresheet really only require a bit of planning and a lot of muscle memory. Practice making and serving coffee the way you would on stage, and remember that every movement, every decision, requires a hard look ”what will you need, how will you keep it clean. And hopefully with those two things in mind, the tech scoresheet will just be an easy way for you to rack up points. There’s no reason it shouldn’t be.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ashley Rodriguez thought that she’d take a break from teaching middle school science and putz around in a coffee shop for a few months. She ended up digging it way more than teaching (and was vaguely better at it). After spending 5 years making coffee in New York, she now works for Sightglass Coffee in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter at @ashcommonnam and be sure to use the #roadtoqualifiers hashtag when talking about this series online.