The top twenty baristas (espresso coffee makers) in Britain have been found, and will all be heading for the UK barista championship in London this coming weekend.
The champion British barista will go forward to the world finals in June, which for the first time are also being held in the UK.
Curiously, the countries which might be expected to do best in espresso, such as Italy and America, rarely figure high in the world placings but Britain has done very well, and of the last three world champions, two were from London and the third was a Dubliner based in London. It is now said, with some justification, that London is the new coffee capital of the world.
In competition, baristas have to serve perfect espressos, perfect cappuccinos, and impress a judging panel with a 'signature drink', a non-alcoholic coffee cocktail of their own devising.
Baristas from coffee shops all around the UK entered for this year's contest, and those who will compete next week at the Hotelympia trade show are the twenty highest-scoring entrants.
Seven of the top twenty contestants are from London. The cafés Kaffeine and Dose Espresso, two of the top venues from the new wave of 'cool' coffee shops, are there, and so is Monmouth, the café and coffee-roastery in Covent Garden, which was a pioneer of modern-day coffee.
The UK's other main coffee capital, Edinburgh, is represented by two of its own star cafés, Artisan (which, like Monmouth, roasts its coffee on its own premises) and Kilimanjaro.
Something of surprise is that Wales and the west have come to the top in appreciable numbers, and the Coffee # 1 café chain of Bristol and south Wales is the only company to have two entrants in the finals.
One of the new breed of celebrity chefs, Nathan Outlaw of Cornwall, has one of his staff in the top twenty.
The line-up is:
1: Neil Le Bihan of Exchange Coffee, London
2: James Phillips of Dose Espresso. London
3: Dale Harris of First Choice, London
4: Will Corby of Black Mountains Coffee, Wales
5: John Gordon of Gorilla Tampers, London
6: Jonathan Sharp of Kilimanjaro Coffee, Edinburgh
7: Estelle Bright of Kaffeine, London
8: Jose Melium of Jika Jika, Bath
9: Scott Griffiths of Monmouth Coffee, London
10: Megan Barker of Artisan Roast, Edinburgh
11: Trevor Hyam of The Plan Café, Wales
12: Carl Fleischer of the Opposite Café, Leeds
13: Nancy Scott of Coffee #1, Bristol
14:Gordon Howell of Café Harlequin, York
15: Lynsey Harley of Drury, London
16: Steve Dyson of Cafe2U, Barnsley
17: Gary Whiteley of Blakeley's Coffee House, Halifax
18: Liina Nutman of Coffee #1, Chepstow
19: Simone Guerini-Rocco of Peros, High Wycombe
20: David Jones of the Nathan Outlaw Seafood & Grill, Wadebridge
The semi-finals will be held at the Hotelympia trade show at Excel on Sunday 28th February. The final will be at the same venue the following day, 1 March.
By Ian Boughton