Milwaukee’s finest

October 19, 2007

This weekend came with the promise of a real life honest to goodness Milwaukee latte art throw down hosted by none other than those Altera coffee masters, Scott Lucey and Justin Tisel… All I had to do was get up there. I began early Friday morning, waking up at 8 throwing some junk in a bag and then heading to the roastery for beans. After picking up a mini coffee stash and quick cup I hit the road. I heard dozens of people say 2 hours from Chicago to Milwaukee, I here to call em’ out. I took an hour and a half with construction delays and no real directions. Not bad at all as far as drives go, I find myself at the first stop, Altera coffee’s roastery/shop on Prospect. As per tradition I show up early. Early according to who? Not really sure, but it felt early all the same for my first day of vacation. All the same this place has a wonderful feel. Adhering to a principal they follow with a few of their shops, the building is a rehab of something or other that now holds their roastery, training lab/cupping room, offices and a decent sized café. Exposed brick, hardwood floors, high ceilings and nice natural light give it a feeling that makes sitting down to savor a good cup an almost inevitable conclusion. The shop is upfront and where you enter, but the transition to the roasting/production area is virtually seamless with only a small counter and row of stools between curious customers and busy roasters. After lingering and looking around for a moment I moved to the counter and procured myself a double with a cup of Sumatra to chase it. The shot was nice, living Chicago and working at Intelligentsia, I pretty much exist in a black cat mono culture and thusly appreciated it for simply being different among other things. It was a solid 2 oz shot with nice crema, a pleasant sweetness and medium to light body. Before to long mister Lucey himself spotted me and the adventure of Milwaukee truly began. A short exchange at the table I was scattered about lead to a quick tour of the roastery and then off to see the city. Excellent host and guide that he is, Scott drove in his trusty Honda, accurately describing the surroundings and demographics of wherever we went. The first stop was Roast, a small shop using beans from anodyne (another Milwaukee roaster) and pulling shots from a 2 group Linea with naked portafilters. The owner was on bar and talked shop with us for a bit while simultaneously steaming, pulling shots, signing for UPS orders and handling customers. The only thing wasn’t doing was eating the poor neglected lunch he prepared for himself on a nearby table. We eventually realize the man could use a second to eat and leave him to it as we headed out to cruise by the new location for Altera’s “head quarters”. This is a massive building being built from the ground up to house all that’s new and wonderful (roastery, training lab, offices, café, bakery, etc, etc…) From here we went to Altera’s lakefront shop. Wow… this shop is in a reclaimed pump house of sorts and is half café, half museum, part time summer concert venue… it has a massive patio with nice landscaping and (as expected) a beautiful lakeshore view. Inside the place is a buzzing full service café with coffee, food, gear and the like. We quickly do a tour and find ourselves at the counter waiting for a shot from Jenny, one of Altera’s top Latte art rockstars (soon to be seen in Seattle’s Mill rock). Not to slag the first shot I had at prospect, but this one was decidedly better. The crema was dark, the body had more heft and an enjoyable upper end with a nice splash of acidity. Now at the point of being over taken by hunger and still with no contact from the Elusive Justin Tisel, we decide to head on over to Koppa’s. This is an amazing little grocery with a fantastic deli stashed in back. Food and friendliness aside this place has a mini lounge complete with arm chairs, Atari and your token Midwestern deer head.


Truly fulfilling and shockingly affordable… We take our good food score back to Scott’s apartment (also Jenny’s) and devour it before she arrives with her own food stash. From here we make contact with Justin and agree to scoop him up for a stop at Espresso Christoph followed by a quick bit and beer before the Latte art throw down at six. We (scott, jenny, Justin and myself) head over to the Jefferson location of Espresso Christoph where we meet up with James, the manager and resident coffee nerd. I am both nervous and excited as they pull with black cat. Some changes in the blend lately and it being pulled some where far far away left me unsure as to what to expect. I was definitely reassured as it came through wonderfully (actually on par or better than some of what I have had in our stores) James shows up and gives us the highs and lows of this new shop in the downtown district and we hassle him into possibly showing up latter for the throw down. Next is food and beer. The spot is Comets, a nice little “café”(?) that was out of the first 6 things Justin picked off the menu (which is surprisingly full of vegan options).


He eventually found his true calling in the vegan meatloaf. In a flash the food and beer are gone, we have a thirty pack of award winning beer (as discerned from the small blue ribbon on each can) and make are way to the Jam spot.

strating the show

Altera’s training lab is decidedly cozy (small when filled with 10 to 15 people) but well equipped with a 2 group GB5 and nice variety of cups. As appropriate we are there first but soon followed by an increasing stream of baristas from Alterea’s wide selection of shops. Before long James and one of his Baristas, Yoni, show up. Its officially a party by this time. A talented roster of folks
Are lined up as things kick off. 5 minutes practice 5 minutes for real is the format, photos taken and the contender then picks best. Sam, Collin, Alex, Boots, Jenny, the list goes on and on, all thrown down. Some nice stuff manages to creep out even with all the nerves, heckling and PBR.

justin's trio

I even tossed my hat in the ring however poorly. As the event progressed the thirty pack neared extinction and drastic measures had to be taken. I convinced the wonderful miss Boots Mcquirk to run me to a liquor store where I could find the missing ingredients to some much needed Mai Tais. We make the run, come back and the shaking starts.

signature drink ingredients

This where things get hazy… Not so much to my surprise, I found that Milwaukee folks can drink me under the table with ease. Normally one or two rounds of these drinks puts my usual crowd out of the race, tonight however we manage to put one hell of a dent into two new bottles of rum. Rock… As one might expect the contest finished (placing to be determined at a later point via email selected judging) but the madness did not, a blind fold was found and a whole new game began. As predicted by our immense skill, no poured hot milk on there arm or stuck a hand in the grinder. Eventually enough is determined to be enough and we clean the joint up before taking off. I am guiding to a nice comfy couch by my kind hosts and fall out immediately. Lucky fool on vacation that I am, I’m given the luxury of waking up at 10AM with a hang over some bewildered lady who sort of lived there look on curiously (Justin’s room mates girlfriend and I woke up around the same time) however at least a few of Milwaukee’s finest (Scott and Jenny included) had to work morning shifts that day… I’ve been there and I feel ya kids, true troopers.
I swing by Prospects for a slow morning of drinks, dinking on my computer and talking when they slowed down for a minute. Truly a fun trip chalk full of inspiration and good memories. If you know these kids, pay em a visit, if they swing through your town, pull em a shot.
the future of coffee


2 Responses to “Milwaukee’s finest”

  1. HPatt Says:

    Hoping you guys have heard the first prize in Seattle is $5000.00


  2. oneshotfortheroad Says:

    Yeah, I’m guessing every one is clued into that already by the simple fact of how quickly it filled up. i tried to enter in late September and they had already picked forty people out of a field of fifty something. Its gonna be live!

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