Aeropresses were wielded with the ferocity of lightsabers this past weekend as 42 contestants battled it out to be the UK Aeropress Champion. Square Mile, Workshop, and Coffee Hit all collaborated to sponsor and host the event, as well as providing flights and accommodation for the World Aeropress Championships in Rimini, Italy.
Square Mile and Workshop collaborated to create the blend used by all the contestants. It comprised 50% Square Mile Reko (a fully washed coffee from Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia that is “all about the florals and sweetness”) and 50% Workshop Gathaiti PB (a washed from Nyeri, Kenya with “ripe cherry aromatics” and a “white nectarine sweetness”). James Hoffman of Square Mile, James Bailey of Workshop Coffee, and Klaus Thomsen of The Coffee Collective sat as the panel of judges.
Though the competition wasn’t due to start until 3:15 pm (and was delayed until 3:30 pm), baristas were already there when I arrived at 2:00 pm, sorting through the beans to pick out quakers. Some baristas even went as far as to try and distinguish between Reko and Gathaiti beans to ensure that they made a perfect 50-50 blend; others picked out peaberries and made sure their bean were all of similar sizes. As the bar began to fill up, more and more baristas could be found lining the wrap-around marble counter, peering at handfuls of coffee beans. Spectators were welcomed with cups of Workshop Finca la Esmeralda batch-brewed in a Fetco or a foamy glass of Kernel table ale while DJ “Wet Process” spun old school hip-hop tunes throughout the day.
The heats finally kicked off at 3:30 pm, with a whopping 42 contestants to work through. There were 6 heats; the winners of heats 1 – 3 then faced off against each other in a semifinal, as did the winners of heats 4 – 6. The runners-up of the semifinals then competed for third place, whilst the winners of the semifinals battled for first and second place. All baristas made their brews and poured them into Workshop cups which had their names written on the bottom so that the judges didn’t know whose cup they were tasting.
Perhaps it was the free beer, the relaxed atmosphere, or the bank holiday spirit, but baristas tackled the task of brewing a prize-winning cup with varying degrees of seriousness. Some went for unorthodox ways of pressing their Aeropress — Jeremy Challender of Prufrock opted for pressing his with his foot (which I sadly missed photographing because I was refilling my cup of Esmeralda), whereas Edy Piro of Terrone made the best of a bad situation and used one of his crutches to press. Steve Leighton of Hasbean went all out with his preparations, decorating his Aeropress with a red and white Hasbean skin and stamping out filters embossed with the Hasbean logo.
When the coffee grounds had settled, the UK had a new Aeropress champion: Gabrielle von Koss of Square Mile. Oliver Bignall of Workshop came second, with Peter Garcia and Marty Latham of Square Mile coming third and fourth respectively.
Clutching her golden, Adler-autographed Aeropress, a Baratza grinder, and a neon Aerobie frisbee, Gabrielle still had a look of shock on her face when I asked her for her recipe. For her, the golden ticket was: 17 g of coffee ground at 7.2 on the EK47 (an EK 43 mod) found at the Workshop Holborn location; 230 g total of RO water from the Square Mile roastery; 30 g poured and allowed to bloom for 30 sec; then the rest of the 200 g poured, allowed to brew for 30 sec, and pressed for 30 sec.
Even after telling me this, she shook her head, saying, “It was pure luck.” In fact, Gabrielle had only decided to sign up for the competition that morning. With no practice, joining partially on behalf of a colleague to “relieve [them] from a jetlagged competition”, she walked in not knowing what to expect. More than anything though, she said she did it “for the fun of it”. And isn’t that how it’s supposed to be, anyways?
Gabrielle has made great strides in the UK coffee scene in a short amount of time: she withdrew from her MA course about a year ago to take a barista job at Workhouse in Reading. She seized the opportunity to move to London by taking a job at Speakeasy, moving on to Pact, and ending up in her current position at Square Mile. It’s great to see new talent competing and doing well – a trend that will hopefully grow in years to come.