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.

Baby its cold outside

February 25, 2008

Okay, that is a lie.  It is actually not that bad outside right now, a touch overcast but not bad.  HOWEVER, when I wrote this post in early January it was horrific outside.  So unpleasant in fact that I could not bear to drag my laptop somewhere with an internet connection and actually post something.  Life has now however changed, the sweet sweet company of the cable man was a pleasure we enjoyed a week or so ago and when he left we had highspeed in apartment access
and glowing smiles.  So this means there will be some more frequent updates and this one lonely post from the last wo cold months… enjoy

Created January 6th…

The past five days I have gotten up at or before 6 in the morning only to put on 4 layers of clothing and bike 5 mile in -6 degree weather… this has been a little wearing on me.  I would get back from work tired and cold, not feeling like going any further than the 10 feet from my front door to the convenience store below to by lime, lemons and tonic water for the evenings beverage of choice.  Winter was starting to take on an unappealing tone for me.  That is until tonight when I realized (with the help of knowing I have a day off tomorrow) that the only way to not let winter get you down is to fight it by venturing out into its midst.  I so I did just that, I went on out into the cold cold night and proceeded to walk directly to my favorite cocktail bar just down the street, the violet hour.  Within moments of walking in the door, winter in Chicago began to seem not so bad.  This place, for those who don’t know, makes the most culinary, well balanced and perfected drinks in the city.  It was here that I first learned the True beauty of a Mai Tai and soft brilliance of a hotel nacional.  In as such I have been aching to go back and try the Mai Tai again to see how my signature drink for the competition (an espresso based version of the Mai Tai) compares.  Michael is that one bar tender there that I see most frequently.  He is an unending well of knowledge and inspiration for the pursuit of the perfect drink.  He mixed me a version similar to the one I had there previously only with a little more heft.  He floats a higher proof rum on top and works with bitters and garnish to make this one is far more orange-centric.  I poked and prodded him for a few questions on how to translate my coffee version better and then ordered another drink.  This one La bohimita, is going to be on the next seasonal menu and is a rum and ginger mix with a heavy hand on the ginger.  Very tasty but not for the weak of heart when it comes to ginger.  All in all a good step out with a few more tricks tossed in the bag, now I just need to perfect them by the time regionals come around.

As a birthday gift of unparalleled proportion, my fantastic room mate Megan, took me to this hidden Gem out the burbs called Hala Kahiki.  Some of you may not know this, but I have a minor fetish for Tiki drinks and culture (if you take minor to mean immense) and this bar was the best by far.  No Cheesy knock off here and no poorly made candy drinks either.  The drink menu is immense and contains most every staple along with a few more obscure concoctions from the Tiki Pantheon.  Between the two of us we had a Mai Tai, a singapor sling and a scorpion (took the honorable of being the fairly designated driver)  my only beef being the lack of  good mugs for the drinks to come in (i believe the store has some but it was closed at the time)that and the long drive.  If this were any closer I’d be a regular for sure.  recommended for those in the club.

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.

I was supposed to spend this nice empty Sunday catching up on the fours days of Seattle that have yet to make it into the blog.  Instead it seems as if I just played around with my machine all morning while listening to NPR and making a horrible mess.  Cant really say I regret it….


Today is the day I make the mighty venture North, me and my trusty steed…

I start off at the Denny st. Vivace to get my mind right and plot my course. Using my well defined google map I decide to try and hit the two Zoka stores, Tom Thai for lunch, lighthouse and maybe a Vita. The path north is a daunting collection of hills and busy unfamiliar roads. One of the Vivace employees tries to dissuade me from biking by suggesting a less effort intensive bus option but I am not swayed. I bundle up, adjust my schnazzy new bag and hit the road. The ride is actually rather nice and not even all that confusing. I cruise down and pump up hills, shooting across the bridge and landing the U district in good time. Hunger has made Thai toms my first stop but I was to quick for my own good and had 20 minutes to kill before they opened. I slide across the street, pick up a shirt at a thrift store and find Toms ready to feed me when I am done. I know this is a beverage blog, but I feel that Tom’s needs to be included. This small whole in the wall shop restaurant is fantastic. There is not much seating, it is very crowded and noisy, and possibly the best pad thai I have ever had.
After this extremely satisfying experience I make my way to the Zoka University store… more hills… I cannot believe the tenacity of the single speed bikers in this town, I would have died without gears on this adventure. I have not even locked up my bike in front of the shop before Lindsey, the trainer for Zoka, pops her head out to say hi.

University Zoka

I met this classy lady last year at the USBC as she was coaching Zoka’s two barista competitors Kyle and Maqui. We chat for a minute and she then takes me on a quick tour of the shop… which is actually kind of two shops. The main original café is large in a long style layout. The large amount of seating is filled to the brim with students and laptops. Tons of wood, great light and a warm atmosphere are obviously factors in the steady flow of people. Lindsey also shows me their new addition to it that is at the moment separated from the main café by a large sliding door. They only recently got this space and now use it for training and overflow during the peak hours. I am treated to a double shot from Roseanna in the main café and then we all split a French press of an Ethiopia Aricha seven…. Simply amazing.

aricha 7

This cup is in contention for the best of the week so far. It is stellar and lively. Very reminiscent of an Idido Misty Valley but far more balanced, in check and clean. I sip on this as she rushes around preparing a barista jammy jam sort of workshop for some of Zoka’s wholesale customers. I also run into Tracy Allen who is a USBC and WBC certified judge that I had met at past competitions. He graciously invites me to participate in a milk tasting they are holding that day. I kill off a little time before this savoring the rest of the Aricha seven and typing away.
The milk tasting is well approached and informative. A representative from Sunshine dairy leads us through the different factors affecting the quality of milk such as farm practices, pasteurization and temperature. We taste four types of milk, ALL skim! Which, while mildly cruel makes sense after a touch of thought. Like cupping, you want to magnify the flaws to see them more clearly and skim puts the bar right up there. Before it is over I have snagged a few ideas to try with blended milks when I get back to Chicago and a new bias against over pasteurized milk. I linger a little longer in the main café as I get my bearings and then proceed to the Green Lake Zoka (which I believe is their original location).

After a few more hills I am soaking in sweat while locking my bike up in front of yet another coffee shop, deja vu is really starting to set in at this point. Given my late start this morning it is fairly dark out already and the warm interior of the shop is very inviting. I find it to be massive.

zoka greenlake
It is large square layout with the bar along one wall sporting a giant red 4 group FB70. This store also has a clover up and running. I secure myself a double espresso and a cup of a Nicaragua COE finca Santa Isabel. It is a lovely little delicate cup but I still find myself missing that Aricha from the U store. It is very interesting seeing the different ways people take the clover. I would love to see a Clover jam set up where every one gets together and has to dial the clover in for 3 coffees or so and then they are all cupped and scored against one another. The shot I get has a little fuller body than the U store shot but in all other ways is very consistent. The barista Amy (?) humored my nosiness and seemed well versed in the craft. I kick back in a big comfy chair and read an article from the new Barista mag. I coincidentally pick a selection ever so appropriately authored by Trish Skeie (Zoka’s green coffee buyer). Its about helping to train cuppers and coffee graders in Africa and is the sort of feel good inspirational stuff that helps motivate even the most apathetic.
The night is moving on rapidly and I figure I should do so as well. I decide to scrap the Vita stop and head straight to Lighthouse. Interstingly enough they have a Gothot tuck away in back (the same type of roaster we use)

It is a short downhill bike away and I am grateful for that. I am also grateful for skipping Vita as I made it to Lighthouse just minutes before they close. A fellow by the name of Chris is behind the bar and he pulls me one of the best shots I have had all week. The blend (which he knew the details of off the top of his, something I am always grateful to find) was simple, not overly fruity or daring, but a good solid rich shot a;; the same. More than anything he just nailed the extraction effortlessly and you could tell it. We talk for a while and I immediately develop a solid respect for the man. He is utterly out of the loop with regards to the coffee culture drama circle “coffee fest?” but he has been pulling shots for 11 years and has a very solid grasp on what he is doing because of it. Since they are closing, I pack up and head out, another full day of coffee in the bag. The bike back to the hotel is fantastic… all of that going uphill finally pays off as I cruise down essentially one road the whole way there. I take one stop for an interesting photo op. in front of a cable company.

family fun

Once I get back in touch with Nick its all burgers and rock n roll. Then we rest.

Day 3

November 8, 2007

     No matter how much I might like to, sleeping in has not been to successful of an endeavor on this trip so far.  I am out the door by 8 yet again with Victrola’s roastery/cafe as the first stop.

victrola outside

A hefty uphill bike from my new digs (nick’s hotel room floor) leaves me eager for coffee (the Tully’s offered with the continental just never seems to make it in my cup…).  I locked up my bike in front of Victrola and look on enviously…  While there are a good many hole in the wall café’s in this town, many places are just flat out huge and this is close to that.  Plenty of seating, high ceilings and good light give the café a wonderfully relaxed feel.  The bar is staffed by a gentleman named Chuck who proceeds to promptly pull me a potent little macchiato.  This is one of the most espresso prevalent macchiato of the trip so far with the thick body of fruity nature of the espresso really carrying through the milk.  After talking with him for a minute or two a few customers approach the counter, I attempt to make some room and while doing so toss about half of the drink on my leg before the demi smashes on the floor… definite cool points (sigh)  I slink away to a table as he helps out the folks at the counter.  As with most places in town so far that have a roastery and café combine, they provide you with a good view of what’s going on.  Large glass windows are in all of the walls separating the café from the roastery, this goes for the training/cupping lab as well.  Before I finish unloading my laptop and associated gear Tom has kindly replaced my macchiato.

victrola demi

We talk some more and he introduces me to Keith, the roaster for Victrola.  Good folks all around they humor my peskiness and even give me tips on a few new smaller roasterys up north to visit.  After plunking away on the laptop for awhile I go up for a double.  Wild, now I know how this carried so strongly in the mach… this espresso is thick potent and wild.  Orange marmalade maybe?  It was one of the most distinctly different so far.
From here I decide to head downtown towards the new Trabant location.  I precede going there with a quick stop at Elliot Bay Bookstore as recommended by a regular back in Chicago.  Wow… this is a beautiful bookstore for anyone looking to kill a few hours, very nice layout.  I however am a man on a mission so my stay is short.  I pick a book I had not seen before written by one of the folks we buy green from, Tim Castle, and head down to the basement café.  The food, nice, a touch pricey but its Pioneer square so I deal.  The cap however was, well.. it’s a good book store with decent food, we’ll leave it at that.

new trabant outside

Trabant’s new store has a great location downtown and for being open only a month seems to have hit the ground running with what it is trying to do.  The two guys behind the Bar, Tom and Z are fantastic coffee heads.  We hit it off immediately and geek about various coffees, clover settings and tamper styles.  Z makes me a cup of this fantastic Colombia COE llano grande that I am all to familiar with from a few months ago when we were offering it.  Spectacular, this and the Esperanza yesterday from stumptown re affirm my undying devotion to that fine tip of south America.  He also makes a cup of a daterra Brazil that is apparently naturally low in caffeine (according to Z, 1 cup of it is equal to 2 cup of a swiss water coffee).  I try a double from Tom that is very interesting.  Tons of blueberry, nice brightness and still a decent body.  I believe this was my first shot of 49th parallel.  Not bad at all.  Somewhere in the midst of this Lorrie McCullaugh and Philip Search wander in and even more madness ensues.  Lorrie and I catch up from last years USBC for a minute and talk about the new shop as well.

new trabant inside

It is set up as an art gallery of sorts, very minimal, white walls, high ceilings and few of a coffee shops traditional trapping… things like a POS, a large menu board or large drink sizes, very nice.  A new vintage lever machine Philip picked up is behind the bar and we slide around to tinker with that for a moment.  It has a curious small basket and uncanny ability to produce extremely sweet milk despite being a potential explosion threat (at least that is the rumor being circulated)  The bar is stocked with a 3 group Synesso and two Anfim grinders modified by Philip with special timers.  I did not get to play with them but Tom and Z had nothing but raves about the whole setup.
Next is Café Umbria.  They are also in Pioneer square and apparently have a roastery somewhere not to far away.  The café is laid out in a very classy Italian style and has the pastry/Gelato selection covered in more style than anywhere I have seen thus far.  Sadly as I feared, this meant that the double espresso I ordered was not going to be the focus of their attention.  The almond croissant was fantastic, the double was thin bitter and disappointing.  Oh well, for those in need Trabant is only a few blocks away anyways.
The next and last stop for the day is Seattle coffee works.  Sebastian, from behind the counter moving constantly, greets me as I enter.  This place is… very unique.  They have around 11 (?) grinders set up to pull espresso and it is all roasted locally.  The man is “in it for the love” defined.  We talk about the various roasters while he pulls me a shot of a single origin Costa Rica that they roasted themselves in the shop.  This is followed by him dialing in a shot of Kenya from Borogrove roasters for my pleasure.  They offer flights of espresso for those able to handle such a thing and will talk with you till the cows come home about coffee, again, for those able to handle such things.
I leave here fairly drained and ready for the hour or so of relaxation I have before Nick and I head out to Can Cans to eat and then hear the musical styling of a 15 year old Johnny Cash… the kid was truly amazing.  The day was great, now I rest.