It has been sufficiently long enough since the end of the WBC to do the proper things of thanking and congratulating those that are due…

First off, congratulations to the 2009 World Barista Champion Gwilym Davies.  For anyone who has meet him the only thing surprising about his winning is that that it goes against the pessimism we all have about good people getting to the top.  He is the definition of a genuine person and from what I saw is certainly a skilled coffee professional not to be doubted.  I wish him all the luck and fortitude of strength he will need in this coming year to try and maintain the good life I know that he prefers.

A close second to congratulating Gwilym is doing the same to the other 50 competitors.  As is always the case some folks were obviously better prepared than others but the overall caliber was certainly impressive.  I sadly did not get to see as many performances as I would have liked and am basing all of this off of tasting coffee back stage and talking shop with everyone, but in those experiences it was easy to see the over all passion.  I left the weekend wanting the chance to go work in a dozen different shops to see a true picture of these professionals in action.

With the congratulating done I now need to say thank you to some folks.  I am unquestionably a lucky man when it comes to the support I have in my company.  Doug Zell is pushing forward a revolution in the way a company should treat its staff with how well he supports and invests in us.  Thank you for that.  The rest of the Intelly machine from our roasters to our production team to our west coast all stars to my “nose to the grindstone” Chicago shop comrades, thank you for putting up with and helping along all this hoopla.  One fellow in particular, Charles Babinski deserves singling out due his enormous effort invested.  When I trained he trained, when I stayed up rethinking each step he stayed up thinking about what I might have forgotten, when I got sick he got sick.  This last month he proved how valuable a coach and team mate could be.  Thank you sir.

Being on home turf I also had the support of an entire country it seemed.  My folks made the drive from Michigan to be there which was certainly special to be able to share something like this with them.  So many coffee icons I have looked up to ranging from my favorite barista Scott Lucey to the dozens of other folks I have learned from over the years were there cheering me on and offering to help in anyway I needed.  Two folks in particular here however stand out… Everyone’s favorite photo blogger and international coffee reporter Liz Clayton came aboard the 2009 US barista team as our official press ambassador.  She also got us food, drove us around and pretty much kept the team together in times of weakness.  This woman is fantastic and you should all love her.  The other person is Atlanta’s very own coffee superstar Danielle Glasky of Octane.  With her busy schedule of being a barista buddy for 3 countries, running multiple workshops, working shifts at her bar, throwing parties and winning a global latte art throwdown she was still able to find time to fill in any blank we needed.  Danielle is the future of coffee and anyone thinking otherwise best be ready cause shes gonna school all of us one day soon.

There are some really neat things just on the horizon for Intelly and I am hoping to get a chance to be involved in them.  If and when something worthwhile gets “declassified” I promise to put it here first.  Here is to an exciting year folks.

Thanks everyone,


No really, it happend…

March 27, 2009

Okay so I am narrowing the gap… only 5 months since my last post.  I can say however that the clip of the last 5 months has been higher than any in my life so far.  A short recap is in order…

November 08 – Intelligentsia Chicago had it’s annual in-house competition.  Blood, sweat, tears and the like were all spilled with the end result being a nice cast of new baristas getting their first taste with a few old hats sneaking into the top slots.  Jesse C., Talya S. and then myself placing 3,2,1 respectively.  We all went on to comprise the Chicago regional team.  This is also the month I saw my amazing friend and peer Talya move into the position as manager at my shop… Stellar.

December 08/January 09 – I worked like mad trying to figure out the 5 million details of how to pull a store anchored in the past through a remodel that push it to the edge of the future as I knew it.  Switching espresso machines, figuring out how to order/make/use ganache, learning how to dial in 6 coffees every morning, changing the way the customers in my shop order and what they expect when they receive their order and then transferring all of this knowledge to 15 other people…  Nothing in my life to this point has asked more of me than this remodel did and there is little else that has been as rewarding.  I highly recommend the experience to anyone who has the chance.

February 09 –   The Great Lakes Regional Barista Jam managed to sneak into this month.  It is hard to imagine that the skill level of the golden days where names like Matusak, Sather and Riddle were givens in the line up for the GLRBC finals could be matched, but this year I feel like the talent was there.  Talya, Jesse and myself all threw our hats into the ring regardless of how much time we had on hand and went against the best in the region.  Talya and myself, still a bit winded from the remodel did not show perhaps as well as we might have liked but were able to at least see good friends be rewarded for excellent displays of skill.  Husband, father and new shop/roaster owner Trevor Corlette broke into the finals and earned 3rd, Jesse (first time competitor) delivered an awesome 2nd place finish and a man more deserving than any I could imagine, Scott Lucey finally took the crown he has worked diligently for over the past few years.  This was not a field that just anyone could walk onto this year and that makes me smile.

March 09 – Sooooooo.  There was a meager amount of time between the GLRBC and the USBC.  For a second or two there it appeared that I might not be able to even attend the USBC.  Luckily for me fate grabbed me with force, shook off my disappointment and replaced it with a solid fire to try and redeem myself.  With the good graces of Intelly I used the week of training time I had to make a few tweaks, found a way and a place out there and packed my bags.  It was a whirlwind that still really hasn’t stopped yet.  I met amazing people, tasted amazing coffee and did my best to deliver what I could once given the chance.  Turns out it worked and I received what is probably the greatest honor that can be symbolized by a large silver trophy in the shape of an apron… I actually won the USBC.  It is to this point the most stunning and unexpected moment of my life.  The number of people who made it possible are vast but a few really stick out.  Talya and Charles, my Chicago anchors who supported, propped up and pushed me all the way through… Marcus Boni for being the first person to say there was no way I was going to get away with giving up after the GLRBC, a person who is constantly always amazing in general.. and last but not least Doug Zell.  In my life he has changed roles a few times going from coffee celebrity I read about on blogs to scary boss/company owner I avoid in the roasting works to competitive coffee maverick pushing boundaries where ever he can while taking along who ever is willing to push with him to the latest role of a good friend who knows when to give me the space to brush myself off and then the support to push further.  For all of these people and all of this success a lucky man am I.

Thank you everyone.

PS  hopefully some of these sections will be expanded in the not so distant future….

to good to be true

March 19, 2008

And so it goes… after much practice, training and worry it is all over.  The GLRBC has come and gone.  I am now left with a weathered body, a strong sense of needing to perform well in Minneapolis to explain how I placed ahead of so many other excellent baristas and an amazing work of art that signifies a level of accomplishment among my peers that I hardly can believe.  Endless love to all of the Alterra crew whom put together the event (Lucey and Tiesl in particular)  all of the other folks who bled rivers to get ready to compete, the volunteers, judges and general support the whole weekend through,  May the GLRBC hold this standard  for years to come.

PS more posting to come when I regain consciousness.

2 weeks and counting

March 2, 2008

Full run through day at the training lab happened this morning.  All seven of our Chicago team hopefuls put their most well prepared foot forward and represented.  It was a fairly simple affair consisting solely of barista team peoples who played all roles (bus, tech, judge)  It was interesting on a whole variety of levels.  Seeing the various strengths and weakness in each person was curious… Charles and Goodrich had wonderful banter.  Deanna moved like a machine while Alex was very complete overall.  The simple act of playing each of the different roles I think helped me more than anything.  Being able to stand outside of a routine but still be that close and pick it apart can really aid one in seeing their own faults.  I don’t want to give away anyone’s thunder so I’ll refrain from details, but several of the signature drinks were easily better than what  I feel I came with last year (my own drink this year included)  Polishing is still needed by one and all, but things seem to be in the right direction.  Stay tuned.

Game On GLRBC!

February 25, 2008

March 14, 15 and 16.  Those are the dates for the Great Lakes Regional Barista Competition, the GLRBC for those in the loop and the “glerbic” for the phonetically inclined… I am preparing for this with the traditional fever one finds two weeks before any form of professional competition.  This translates into squeezing into the lab every second I can, fervently tasting different incarnations of the blend I am using, musing about/working/reworking my signature drink and locating all of the final touches of table settings, cups and equipment.  A bit tiring but exciting overall.  This year the GLRBC is being hosted outside of Chicago, a first for the event to my knowledge.  Our good friends to the north, Alterra Coffee, are providing the infrastructure and good times.  This year, aside from the venue change, there is also a big change for the Intelly lineup.  The founding forefathers known as the Fulton street killas are all gone onto other things, scattered like leaves… Matt Riddle, Ellie Matusac, Amber Sather, Steven Rogers…  None of these folks, who in the last two years were not only the power houses of Intelly Chicago but also industry favorites for high placement at the USBC, will be at the GLRBC his year.  Our crop of soldiers this year are all fresh to game aside from myself and it has been exciting to see what they are coming up with.  We have a healthy swath of baristas coming from each of our stores and 2 head trainers from the roasting works.  In previous years the Intelly competitors have pretty much done their own things with maybe a run through thrown in before the big day.  This year however, the vibe has been different.  Under the guidance of our training head Amber Sather, we have had an in store comp, signature drink work shopping and a full run through day.  Our roasting works trainers, Andy and Alex have also come through with some real efforts by working with our in store staff and training with them in the lab.  All in all it’s a whole new game with an entirely new team, but not weaker in anyway.  Its pretty daunting seeing the competition that’s coming from inside my own company, even more so when I think about what Lucey, Tisel and the rest of the region plan on bringing.  Hopefully I can get a little more up in the next week as to how its all shaping up, but we’ll see.  Game on.

Better late than never

January 4, 2008

Yes indeedy time does fly.  Seeing as how I never managed to get around to wrapping up my Seattle crawl I’ll throw in a brief bit here…  Competition at the North West Regional was fierce, a ton of familiar faces all ready with their game faces on, you can read about it here, here and here.  Both nights of day one and two were followed by rockin’ parties, night 1 by Zoka at the site their new roastery will be and the second night at the new stumptown roastery. Both events hosted a round of the absurd latte art jam…  a pigs hoof?  Good times, good times… the third day brings the best of the best in the northwest with the final ranking as Billy Wilson, Maki Campbell and Kevin Fuller in 1st, 2nd and 3rd respectively.  I ran station maintenance all day all three days working with some stellar folks.  I recommend volunteering to anyone who has the chance as it will give you a better appreciation for all the folks who make it happen.  The Mill rock was also going on this whole time with a good chunk of my peeps involved.  Altera’s very own Justin Tisel and general Midwest rockstar took home 3rd out of some ferocious competition. All in all it was a non stop blast and really educational.  Heres a few pieces of incriminating evidence.


this is the truest face of getting ready to go on stage I have ever seen


Maki flanked by the ladies of Zoka


Miss Manoogian on the home turf


Mill Rock MC and 2nd place world barista champion… Heeeeaaather Perrrryyyyyy (thats my best Nick Cho impersonation right there)

Day 5 (belated seattle post)

November 20, 2007

Day 5 – I had to take a break sooner or later

After 4 days of non stop pushing to see as many café’s as I can, I decided to take a breather before coffee fest goes into full swing spend today taking it easy at a few near the hotel.  I go yet again to the Denny st. Vivace and relax with my morning macchiato and read another article out of the newest Barista mag…

Coincidentally enough, this one is by authored Erin Meister and photographed by the midwest’s very own Scott Lucey who hosted me in his home town a few weeks earlier.  It focuses on the job of Barista trainer and uses as a reference multiple times… Vivace’s very own David Schomer.  I curiously look around and see David sitting in the conference room to my left, I begin to think that this is getting to be a little bizarre.  Anyways, it is an interesting article that, along with all of the quality shops I have been to on this trip, only serves to reinforce my belief that everyone can afford to step it up a notch with their training.  I get a little work done and then proceed to take my only photo of the day.

lil bug

I found this little guy crawling on my hand.  Cute huh?
After this I am off to pine st. Stumptown.  I enjoy an Americano an kick back.  After a little while Duane, Kyle Larson and Billy Wilson wander in.  Kyle in all his gracious slides me over a nice pressed Panama from a Geisha Varietal.
Later this eve all of the kids start showing up.  First is Ryan Wilbur, Intelly LA up n coming hotshot who has been around coffee block a few time already.  Ryan, Nick and I head out for beer and food at the Elysian room where one and all has gathered.  Mill rock competitors, NWRBC peeps and general fest folks are all around swilling beer and catching up.  The party moves over to Linda’s and eventually tapers off as one n all get ready for Friday when it all hits the fan.

Inhouse competition

November 5, 2007

Okay, so Now that it has come and gone I finally have a minute to write a little something about the in-house competition we held this last Saturday at the roasting works. I had planned on an in depth run up with relevant pressing insight about the rigors of training, the pressures of being evaluated by your peers and of the turmoil involved in setting up such a thing. Well, once reality hit, I ended up spending most all of my time working real life bar shifts, training myself and getting ready for a monster trip to Seattle (along with a small amount of non-coffee related personal obligations). Its been busy. Thankfully, as my latest installment of near hits, it all went smoothly.
We had 7 baristas participate in the event, four of whom were brand new to the competition scenario. Everyone involved managed to pull off pretty stellar rounds. We had two trainers, 1 bar shift lead and 4 front line espresso slinging coffee warriors. The format was similar to BGA standard only we held off on the sig drink, just espresso and caps with 10 min. setup and 10 min stage time. There were a few close calls but in the end everyone made it under time. There was a morning round and an afternoon round with an average of the two scores being what determined the final ranking. I love that even with several new and nearly new competitors there was still all sorts of positive things I picked up from their routines. Each barista having a strong suit, be it hilarious and engaging personality, flawless cap latte art or freakishly rapid precision, made this a very diverse and close comp. The spread in the end was around 60 points between first and last, which if you are privy to knowing what comp scores normally are is a really tight field.
Overall the comp was a smashing success in my opinion. The skill level was head and shoulders above last year, everyone was solid and I feel like it gave that good spark of reinvigoration to folks that you always hope these type of events will deliver. Kudos to all, now time to set sights on the GLRBC host by the Midwest’s very own Alterra Coffee.

Stay tuned for Seattle….

found flickr….

So the season ramps up again… Fall is here, the temps are dropping, the Southeast regional has just gone down and the Northwest is a hairs breath away. In the middle of these, our Chicago Intelligentsia In-house competition is coming up in early November just before the NWRBC. For being the time of year when everything living seems to be fading away there is far more activity then one would expect let alone be able to comprehend. This is also going to be my first holiday rush season in the stores, something tells me it will be a little less demanding than it was when I was in production no matter what horror stories I hear. Any which way it is the exciting type of busy that I thrive on. My two current goals being to prepare for the in-house competition and get everything lined up for my week long “trip to mecca” style Seattle vacation. I have already set about creating the ultimate google map with the locals of countless must see shops and roasters dialed into it. Things I have…

– a few solid Midwestern comrades to cause trouble with upon arrival.

– a plane ticket. (round trip)

– a few vaguely defined couches to sleep on.

– a couple weeks worth of tips stuffed into a sock.

I don’t really know if I could be any more prepared right? This is good though as I have to dump a fair amount of time into training for the next two weeks so as to start this thing off with the right type of bang. Training post soon to follow…