My enthusiasm for coffee began in 2014, when I was in my 2nd year of study for a vocational certificate. The college offered me a chance to take part in the two-part Malongo competition.
There is a written examination to test competitors’ knowledge of botany, the history of coffee, making coffee, and all the technical aspects of its use. I really enjoyed this exam. I spent a lot of time studying for it and it was worth it because I finished in third place.
The practical examination consists of several tests such as making an espresso and a cappuccino, drafting a menu in French and English, inventing a "signature coffee-based cocktail" and "cup tasting".
After that, I began:
- investing in equipment,
- chatting to other enthusiasts,
- taking part in tastings,
- going to the Championnat de France de Café
Three championships in three years
2014: while I was preparing for the Malongo competition, I went to my first national championship, in Paris, as a spectator. When one of the competitors dropped out, they offered somebody in the audience a chance to replace her. Strangely enough, she had the same Christian name as me.
I jumped at the chance, even though my score couldn’t count for the competition. You should never miss an opportunity to practise!
2015: this time, the championship was held during the Sirha in Lyon. I hadn’t had enough practice at this point and I didn’t do very well. I hung on in there, though, and as soon as the championship was finished I began practising for the next year.
Aware of my determination, Vatel Bordeaux sponsored me. Thanks to the college, I was able to buy some new equipment and I spent hours practising.
2016: I was in Marseille from January 24 to 26, up against another 41 competitors and determined to win. I did those who believed in me proud by finishing third in the "cup-tasting".
Quite apart from the hard work and commitment required of anybody wanting to take part in a national championship, my love of coffee enables me to meet many professionals. The world of coffee is a small one. People get to know each other very quickly and it’s important to meet other people who are enthusiasts like me. I learn a lot from them.
Judge and competitor
I’m a competitor in the Cup Tasting. We have just eight minutes to find the “intruder” among the eight triangles presented to us. It’s a very technical test – the coffees are all nearly identical. I’ve been practising all year, as soon as I have a spare minute.
In the second test, “Coffee and Good Spirits”, I’m a sensory judge. Competitors make two cocktails using coffee and spirits, one hot and the other cold. I have to judge the presentation, the taste and the balance of flavours.
I’m also a technical judge in the “Latte Art” test, which requires baristas to create designs or images in the milk froth. That takes creativity and technical skill.
There is another test but it’s very difficult. It requires between four months and a year of work and training full time. That’s the Barista competition. Competitors have 15 minutes to make the best:
- Coffee-based cocktail.
I’m not ready to compete this year. I don’t have time for this as well as my studies at Vatel, but perhaps one day …
A hobby that becomes a profession
Thanks to Vatel, I’m beginning to get a clearer picture of how I could combine my love of coffee with the professions for which I’m studying at college.
I would like to develop truly good coffee in luxury hotels and restaurants. I think it’s a real shame to end a gourmet meal with an “industrial” coffee.
For my end-of-year work placement, I’m going to the Hôtel & Restaurant Claude Darroze in Langon. Perhaps they’ll be willing to consider a few of my suggestions?
Whatever happens, I would like to keep up my connections with coffee. My ambition would be to set up a consultancy business and offer my services to hotels. The idea behind the business would be to:
- provide training for staff in the various coffee-making techniques,
- supply all the necessary equipment
- establish a follow-up by becoming their coffee supplier.
France is slightly behind when it comes to the coffee trade compared to other countries such as the USA, Canada, New Zealand or Australia. Last summer, I got a chance to visit coffee plantations in Cameroon. The trip was very educational and it increased my desire to persevere in this sector and perhaps have an international career …
Interview with Marina Bourlon de Rouvre, 4th-year student, MBA Vatel Bordeaux.