The UK Barista Championships are taking place at the end of February right here in the heart of the city at the One Church. With The Plant Room’s Kat Cockram taking part, she’ll be representing Brighton’s blossoming scene in the process. We decided to catch up with the local coffeehead to talk UKBCs, pre-show nerves, the local scene and plenty more…
Hi Kat, can you tell us about your background?
To put it simply, I’ve always worked in coffee – from my first paid job when I was 17 in London, to my current job as Head Barista of The Plant Room in Brighton at 21. I fell in love and I’ve been borderline obsessed with getting as much knowledge and perfecting my skills in all aspects of the industry since.
You mentioned your role at TPR, what are your responsibilities?
My current role as Head Barista involves me training our current staff to perfection, dialling in and sourcing delicious coffees and basically being a badass barista 9 to 5 – it’s an awesome job with an awesome crew.
So, you’re taking part in the UK Barista Championships this year, what stages did you have to go through to get to this stage?
Every competitor has to sign up for a heat, usually there’s about four of them dotted around the country. Within each heat, up to 13/14 competitors have to make two single shot espresso and two single shot milk beverages and serve it to two sensory judges (who will judge your actual service and drinks) whilst having two technical judges watch every move you make. You also have a Head Judge that watches what everyone else is doing and judges the judges and myself. Did I also mention you have to do this all in seven minutes?
If you’re lucky and score VERY well, you could make it into the top 14. These baristas go into the semi finals to compete for the top six spaces for the finals. I was one of the lucky ones and placed 12th in the UK, meaning I was placed in the semi finals for the UKBCs.
I hear this isn’t the first time competing at the UKBCs, what have you learnt from previous attempts?
Third times a charm, right? Practice, practice and practice and also to learn from mistakes and advice. Honestly, I’ve always believed criticism is a way to reflect and perfect, however it’s made me realise how to go for the top places and practice for my sets. Sometimes you might have missed a tiny piece of important information that would cost you 10 points during your set – it’s nearly happened to me multiple times!
What can you tell us about your preparations for the big day?
My set is focussed on sustainability and how we, as baristas, can focus on good coffee that’s good for the planet. I’ve got a really delicious coffee that I can’t wait to use
Do you have anything exciting planned that you can tell us about?
Well you better come and watch at One Church at 9:50am!
On a scale of 1-10, how nervous are you?
If I wanted to sound cool then a four, but in all honesty a solid eight. I have huge stage fright, plus I am against some of the best baristas in the country! It would be foolish not to be nervous.
What will the judges be looking for in the coffee and yourself?
Delicious and perfectly dialled-in espresso and for a role model within the coffee community. They want someone to compete for the United Kingdom at the World Barista Championships, so they want someone to represent what an amazing coffee culture we have. It’s big stuff.
Does the fact that it is taking place at One Church in Brighton add extra significance for you as a Brighton-based barista?
More than you think. It’s my home and I know for certain that a lot of my friends I love are going to come and see me. I want to be the one who’s crowned a champion in Brighton. *sighs* What a dream!
What do you enjoy most about the Brighton coffee scene and where do you see it heading?
It’s the next big scene for sure! There are so many good roasteries, cafes and baristas down here. To be perfectly honest, if I did or someone else did, win and be from Brighton, that would make the scene boom down here. I’m excited for the future!
Do you intend to enter further competitions this year?
Nah, I need a break. No matter how much I love competing, everyone knows I’m a ball of stress and anxiety near comp time. I’m going to hold off on any additional competitions until I’ve won a UKBC – hopefully!
What’s the strangest question a customer has ever asked you?
“Have I ever tried camel milk?” is definitely up there. To be honest I’ve lost count.
What’s your passion aside from coffee?
I love to cook. My boyfriend will tell you it’s probably like being in an episode of MasterChef, whenever I am in the kitchen at home. I like to go extra. Also have a massive love for music and yoga as well.
Do you have any advice for baristas just starting out?
Really jump for all the opportunities you can get! Do as much reading and studying and practicing as you can! Grab your Head Barista and stay after work to work on your tamping skills, read a blog post that Barista Hustle or Mat North wrote. Ask questions and don’t be afraid to be up front!
If money was no object, what one piece of coffee equipment would you buy?
An Ikawa. No wait a Kees Van Der Western Spirit! No maybe the Ikawa. Actually could I get a kitted shop perhaps
Where can people find you?
Probably yodelling at some coffee bar, or stuffing my face with great food. Either way I’m around.
For more information on the UK Barista Championships and how you can attend, visit https://scauk.coffee/pages/ukbc
To follow Kat on her journey through the UKBCs, follow her at @katcockram
For more information on The Plant Room please visit tpr.coffee