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Evangelos Koulougousidis competed in the 2022 UK Barista Championship. He recently gave Brewed by Hand some insight to his competition mindset and the technical details behind his routine. Continue reading to hear about his competition kit and recipe!
My competition started in 2020 when I finished the previous one. I remember getting off the stage in 2020 and I was like “I have more to give.”
I knew that I could make espresso taste even better and had to look deeper into the preparation of it. COVID happened and I had the time to taste more coffees and play a bit. Then, in November we did our first origin trip, with Watchhouse, to Colombia and Panama.
That was my first origin trip and then I met a producer there, Pocho Gallardo from Finca Nuguo, and he explained to me how he processed his coffees and what his vision with his coffee is. That really inspired me to “Okay, if I'm lucky enough and he wants to work with me and share this coffee with the world, then I need to be relentless; I need to be very accurate with making espresso.” So, he actually pushed me. There’s so much flavour in those beans I need to make sure I give justice to them and showcase those flavours.
It's really interesting and I'm very fortunate that I went there because it's always been a dream for me and I imagine for a lot of baristas.
We visited Pocho’s farm back in Panama and he was explaining his vision about what he wants to get from his coffees. He told us that he wants to showcase the potential of the farm, the potential of the coffee. He managed to get to the flavours that he feels are the best of his farm, with 4.5 days in tank, anaerobic fermentation.
He doesn’t just put the cherries in the tank and then dry them, he does something more to it. He puts all the ripe cherries in the tank, let them ferment for 4.5 days in anaerobic condition, and then he separates the tank in two different lots. He takes the top half and the bottom half. Let’s see why: Pocho realised that the cherries at the top crush the cherries at the bottom with their weight.
That makes the cherries at the bottom to ferment faster than the cherries at the top. From tasting these two lots individually, we found that we get more purple and red fruits with more intense acidity. Also, the cherries at the top, ferment less, and we found that we get more florals and sweet yellow fruits. So he separates the whole lot into these two lots, and then he dries them individually for 8 weeks.
And then he does something truly amazing. He not only cups these two lots separately but he then blends them together in specific ratio, in order to make the coffee that captures Nuguo the best.
So back in Panama, Pocho took us to this cupping table to taste these individual lots, and then he made the blend that captures all the flavours that highlight his farm. And for me, it was so delicious. It was the best coffee I’ve ever tried, so right at that moment I knew that I wanted to compete with that coffee in the UK Barista Championship. So we took the beans and we went into a coffee shop in Panama to try it as an espresso. But the espresso turnt out to be overly acidic, with thinner texture and it felt like the magic we tasted on that cupping table was lost.
So right on that moment, we took ourselves on the challenge. How can we make this espresso taste like the one on the cupping table? So, as a barista, I started with changing the parameters that affect extraction. Dose, time, yield etc. But unfortunately, nothing of this worked. So, we knew that we had to changed our thinking. So we went back to the cupping table, to those two individual lots and their unique taste characteristics. And we came up with our own blend that will highlight all these nuances, in an espresso. We ended up using 2:1 ratio of top to bottom layer, to bring more sweetness to balance that increased acidity of the bottom layer, and make a complete flavour profile. So, in this way we created a blend from this one lot, that highlights all the flavours that capture the best of Nuguo whilst making a super balanced and round espresso.
So, the idea of ‘’making my own blend back at the farm’’ was born, and we wanted to present that in the UK Barista Championship.
It comes back to what we said in the beginning that in this competition you have to make the best espresso possible, and to make those best coffees, you need to have equipment that you can trust.
And that goes back to the Felicita scales that we use for our competition. It is a kit that you can trust because it’s so reliable. You press the button you want and the scale responds instantaneously. No lag or delay. And that’s super important for a competitor as we are under such an immense amount of stress onstage and relying on the right equipment is key to a great performance.
So, it's really important that you use this great equipment, this great kit on stage, but you also train with that during your practice back in the lab. That's why we're very grateful to Brewed by Hand because they lent us their equipment and they just they didn't just give us the equipment on the day because if they gave us their equipment, we would never feel confident using it.
It's the same thing as the Loveramics Brewers Tasting Cups. It's better to use the cup you can trust and you've practiced with 1000 times because you know how it works.
One other thing that was very interesting about my competition this year was the espresso cup we used. After trying 10 different espresso cups, with different shape, size and thickness, we ended up using the Loveramics Egg Espresso Gunpowder cups, as they enhanced the texture and mouthfeel of my Nuguo espresso, compared to all the other ones.
We used the Loveramics Egg Espresso Gunpowder cup because the profile of my coffee has all these interesting flavours that you get from a natural and anaerobically Panamanian coffee which is red and purple fruits, which was really was enhanced by the cup.
We created the coffee blend back in Panama, so when we brought the coffee into the UK, we started experimenting with roasting. So, we ended up with a roast profile that as espresso was giving this roundness and the balanced acidity that we look for an espresso but also the flavours that we tasted back in Panama. We’re like “wow, that's the best thing we've ever tried.”
To bring these flavours out as an espresso, I had to taste a lot. I started with a ratio of 1 to 2 up to 1 to 3 in order to find where the best balance of flavours and textures lies in. So, I started with a dose of 18 grams in the basket (as this is the size of the competition basket), and then adjusted the yield based on the balance between acidity and sweetness to make sure that there is enough sweetness to complement the cup, whilst the acidity will highlight the tropical flavours of my coffee.
On the day I used a recipe of 18grams in, 38 grams out in 24seconds using the EK43 Grinder.
And that's because when I was going slightly under 22, the acidity was becoming a bit more bright, and that would give me more yellow fruits, and that wasn't exactly the profile that was making the coffee best. If I was going around 26, 27, this vibrancy, the acidity was lost, and I was losing also the florality of the coffee. So, I had to be very precise with only 38 grams out. If it was like 39.5 or 40 out, I knew that would be that would be too much.
It's a very interesting process and, if it wasn't for this Barista Championship, I may have not gone to Panama. I may have not tried to think how can I make a coffee from the cupping bowl to taste excellent as an espresso. I would have never put my hands on this amazing lot and then taste, dial in and try to make an excellent coffee even better.
I think this is a journey that on its own is unbelievable.
The coffee scene in Greece is booming. Specialty coffee is the thing in Greece. People are looking for the coffee that is worth the money, right? That's what specialty coffee is about. It's all about flavour. It's all about emotions. All about feelings.
I started as a waiter in a small coffee shop back home, during my university studies, and I remember that at some point, the customers were just bringing their coffees back and they were like, “the coffee is not good enough.”
We were pretty certain that we were doing the coffees the correct way, and maybe they like the coffee otherwise, but I decided to take myself into coffee seminar. I was very lucky that my first coffee seminar was in specialty coffee.
I really thought that I had been making the coffee the correct way, so I thought I knew how to make coffee based on what I was learning down in the shop. But as it turned out, I was doing everything wrong.
After that coffee seminar I was just hooked and I took my degree in mathematics in months. The thing that I love about coffee is it can be very analytical. It can be very scientific and can also be very personal and engaging with people and coffees and media for the people to connect together. It feels like coffee can take you to so many different avenues. You start with coffee and you can go into science. You can go into anything you want and I think that’s an amazing privilege when you work in coffee.
Then, four years ago I came to London. I had made a decision that I wanted to have a career in coffee. It took me a while to find a job, which had been a very challenging time for me, but then I haven’t looked back since. In my first year, I worked for Taylor Street Baristas, an amazing specialty coffee company that helped me learn and progress so much (Thank you Andrew T.) and then I moved to Watchhouse coffee where I’ve been working with them for the past three years.
I think that's a really good question.
My first competition was back in 2019 when I took part in the UK Cup tasters. I remember I signed up for this competition as I wanted to prove to myself and my colleagues that I’m good at tasting. As you might expect, it didn’t go to plan.
I remember that back then I was like 100% the filter coffee guy. I found espresso not so interesting and one dimensional. I found filter the interesting point in coffee, and at some points I still agree. But since I started doing my first Barista competition and having to look deeper into espresso, trying to make it better and better by playing with various parameters; I found that there is an incredible world, the world of espresso. If it wasn't for the competition I never would have entered.
Espresso is 100% more difficult because if you really think what is espresso coffee? It's like a form of filter coffee with a metal filter instead of paper using pressurised water, so it's a concentrated form of filter coffee.
Which actually means that if you divert from the recipe by one or two grams, as it’s so concentrated, that margin is exponentially bigger. So, you need to be very accurate with what you're doing, when you make espresso and I think that fascinates me. This attention to detail to make the best espresso possible.
I think to make the best espresso you need to start with having the best tools. You definitely need to use equipment that is reliable. That's like a great espresso machine, a great grinder, scales that are accurate and consistent and you can trust, and of course great water.
To be very good at espresso, you need to be very good at tasting. You need to have an eye for trying different things; trying different ratios, different water temperatures, different grind size, and having the willingness to search for more.
My advice to everyone who is reading this would be not to settle for ‘’good enough’’. Good enough is never enough when you want to be the best, and that goes back to competition when you want to make the best coffee, the best espresso. You need to be able to look into those details, look at those details and try to make it better. And eventually give justice to the hard work of all the people before us, behind us that made this coffee.
If you think of competing, there's so much to gain and probably nothing to lose. You get better every day; it gives you a purpose behind the bar. You focus on fundamentals and even if the outcome is not the one you wanted, you're definitely much better than when you started.
This year it didn't go very well for me and I felt disappointed, and I felt that I've let my team down and I felt that I let the people who believe in me down, but when I go back and think, “would I prefer not starting that journey at all?” I get so much more as a person, as a barista, as a professional than not doing that at all.
For everyone who just steps on stage and is present there, it is an unbelievable achievement on its own. The reality is it takes a lot of strength and courage just to be on stage and. I think my advice would be for anyone who thinks of competing: reach out to people who have completed before, send DMs. Get in communication with people and you will be amazed by how many people they are willing to help and offer advice or like.
Reach out to Brewed by Hand and ask them if they possibly have any equipment for loan. I’m sure they will be happy to help if they can.
I'd say just do it, then you'll thank me later, but I understand that it's easier said than done. For me it's a journey that’s ongoing.
A big thank you to the people who believed in me and supported me in my journey. A big thank you to Watchhouse for helping out with everything. Because this is a journey that requires support, you need people to help you give you a hand and I know that sometimes it seems impossible, but if you look clearly you'll see there's people out there too willing to help you.
Just grateful to be here, to be honest.
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