It’s Day Four here at the London Coffee Festival, the final day, the day the new UK Barista Champion gets crowned. We’re down to just six competitors, and there are a lot of familiar faces here in the UKBC Finals rounds; five of the six are Finals vets, with Jesse Dodkins being the only barista to make his first appearance on the last day (though only in his second year of competition, his presence in the Finals felt almost inevitable after his very impressive political-themed routine last year).

We’ll be here all day to keep you updated on all the barista championship action, recapping every beautiful detail of each performance here, and live tweeting on @SprudgeLive all the hot action as it happens. Get psyched!

Our coverage is made possible by direct support from Urnex Brands and Kitchenaid.

CLAIRE WALLACE – BREW LAB

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The theme today for Ms. Wallace was “Quality”, specifically what she calls her “3 Pillars of Quality” – Sustainability, Processing, and Taste. To represent this theme, Wallace competed with a washed Red Bourbon varietal espresso grown between 1600 and 2300MASL in the Huye Mountains of South Rwanda. Roasted by The Barn in Berlin, the espresso has flavor notes of roasted cacao, a red grapefruit acidity, and an orange sweetness.

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“This espresso reminds me of biting into a fresh segment of grapefruit,” Ms. Wallace told the judges.

There was a real *WOW* moment during Wallace’s milk course with her bespoke milk, her own blend of seven parts full cream from Jersey cows’ milk and three parts skim. This gave her 4.5oz milk beverages flavors of galaxy milk chocolate and orange peel, with a long cashew butter finish.

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For her signature beverage, Ms. Wallace used components to represent her 3 Pillars of Quality: the Rwandan espresso represented Sustainability, a graprefruit simple syrup for the (washed) Processing, and a roasted cacao nib cold brew foam as a stand in for Taste.

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Much like yesterday, the performance today from Claire Wallace came easy, even though we know it very much wasn’t.

JESSE DODKINS – ORIGIN COFFEE

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Control was the name of the game for Jesse Dodkins, manipulating variables to create delicious drinks of every ilk. And it all starts with the espresso. For his performance, Dodkins brought an Ethiopian coffee from Sidamo, the single estate grown Nefas. But to get the most out of the Nefas, Dodkins create a 50/50 blend of two Nefas roasts, giving the espresso a red grape acidity, black cherry sweetness, and a cacao bitterness.

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For his milk course, Dodkins served a 4:1 ratio beverage with a precise 1cm of foam. Control. Notes of toffee, butter choux pastry, & milk chocolate punctuate how the Nefas can change under the steady hand of a quality barista.

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In the signature beverage, Dodkins’ flavor profiles were reminiscent of those in the espresso course; it is “[his] expression of the Nefas.” A plum, red bush tea, and lavender infusion combine with a soy cream foam and Madagascar vanilla smoke to give the drink a yellow plum acidity, red plum sweetness, and cocoa bitterness with a velvety mouthfeel.

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It was a veteran-level performance from the first time finalist.

DON ALTIZO – BAXTERSTOREY

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“There are several crucial steps in the coffee journey. At every step, there’s a new set of hands that try to impact and improve it,” starts Don Altizo’s finals round performance. Altizo provided the judges with note cards to help the judges follow along as he takes them through his El Salvadorian coffee’s journey.

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Grown at 1300-1650MASL, the Rouge Bourbon varietal underwent a fairly unique drying process, being initially patio-dried before moving to raised beds for the remainder of the time. This technique is more common is the drying of raisins and allows for a longer maturation. The result is a sweeter cup, with notes of dark caramel, Afghanistan red raisins, and dried white mulberry. But in milk, these flavors transform to white chocolate and melted fudge.

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For his signature drink, Altizo highlights the unique drying process by incorporating boiled golden raisins that underwent the same drying as the espresso. Along with black mulberry and espresso, the entire concoction gets blended with ice and served chilled.

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We got a chance to try Altizo’s sig bev, and to this unrefined Southern American palate it tasted like a less spiced Lucas candy, which is to say, delicious.

Dale Harris – HAS BEAN

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Dale Harris of Hasbean drew an enormous crowd for his afternoon routine. Calm, cool, and collected, Harris had been here before, and it showed. Harris used a washed Bourbon from Finca Escocia in El Salvador roasted by Hasbean for his three flights of drinks.

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“This is balanced espresso. Medium acidity, high sweetness, silky with a touch of effervescence,” Harris explained. Harris offered progressive flavor notes of “mandarin then caramel on first sip” and “chocolate with roasted hazelnut finish on the second.” Harris instructed the judges to “stir five times front to back” for espresso.

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For his signature beverage, Harris combined agar agar, ground caramelized white sugar, and fresh crushed raspberry juice spray to create a drink that had notes of “dried plum, redcurrant jam, and dark chocolate.” Like the espresso course before, Harris offered exacting instructions to the judges, asking them to stir immediately before sipping.

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Things took a somber tone during the milk course, as Harris explained to the judges that this would be the last year coffee from Finca Escocia, a Cup of Excellence winner from El Salvador, would be harvested. Like many farms in the area, Finca Estocia shut down in 2016 due to the high cost of production and low yield.

To prevent future farms from suffering the same fate, Harris insisted it’s imperative to buy five hundred bags of coffee from farmers and not just five. In order to do that, he said specialty coffee must reach more people. “To bring coffee to the masses means accessibility,” and Harris looked to the milk course to find that mass appeal. 

As Harris built a six ounce milk drink with two percent milk, he suggested that solutions like a lower fat milk in larger espresso drinks can help improve the espresso-forward taste of these crowd pleasers. “The easiest way to help customers taste the flavors of a coffee is through dilution,” he explained. Harris suggested a lower fat milk has the potential to highlight the coffee producers that cultivated the coffee in these high volume milk guzzlers. Harris’ milk drink had notes of “malt, browing sugars, and hazelnut.”

Dan Fellows – ORIGIN COFFEE

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As to be expected, seasoned competition vet Dan Fellows turned in another strong performance today at the UK Barista Championship. Using the Nekisse, a meticulously processed natural coffee grown between 1700 and 2000MASL in Ethiopia by Ninety Plus, Fellows brought a lot of fruit-forward vibrance to the stage today. 12 days off roast, the Heirloom varietal coffee had a med-high clean sweetness, medium acidity reminiscent of blood orange, and a medium-low cacao bitterness that had notes of fresh strawberries, 60% dark chocolate truffle, a lingering tropical finish of passionfruit.

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These flavors moved into strawberries and cream, milk chocolate truffle, and caramel as part of Fellows’ exactingly prepared 4:1 ratio milk beverage, made with 45°C milk. “I think it’s really important we approach our milk courses with the same precision and quality [as espresso],” Fellows told the judges.

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For his signature beverage, Fellows capitalized on the tropical flavors inherent in the Nekisse. A brew of cacao, passion fruit, and freeze-dried strawberries was served with chilled espresso, caramel molasses, and cream, and finished off with the smoke of a passion fruit tea to enhance the aromatics.

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It was a clean run through that wouldn’t surprise anyone if it landed Dan Fellows at the top of pack today.

Jana Slamova – BAXTERSTOREY

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It’s back-to-back finals appearances at the UK Barista Championship for Lana Slamova, who delivered one of the livelier performances today (thanks in no small part to upbeat Trombone Shorty-driven soundtrack). Choice was today’s theme for Slamova, but the thrust of the presentation was collaboration between barista and customer.

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The judges, Slamova’s “customers”, were given a choice of two coffees during the espresso course – a washed Colombian and a black honey processed Brazilian, a new varietal known as IAC125 that is only in its third harvest. Today, they opted for the Colombia (during the semi-finals the Brazil was selected), with notes of candied lemon, gently roasted almonds, and raw Italian honey from honeydew flowers and a marzipan aroma.

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For the milk course, Slamova served a 90/10 blend of the Colombia and Brazil coffees. Served in a 4:1 ratio, they offered flavors of candied cherry, honeycomb covered in milk chocolate, with a hint of vanilla.

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The final course, the signature beverage, saw a combination of the Colombian espresso, honey syrup, rooibos, raw cocoa butter, and an almond extraction with a reminder that “the best ideas of customer service have come as a collaboration between the provider (the barista) and the customer.”

For information on the Finals announcements, go here.