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….


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.

The second day started with a bang… or actually a Ka-Pow! This little shop was located in a garage(?) just down around the corner from where I was stayed my first night. The coffee was a fairly mediocre “dark roast special” from Delanno’s (sp?) but the customer service and vegan trail cookie were awesome. This shop is known for it’s “ride the S.L.U.T.” T-shirt (South Union Lake Trolly is right next store) nice.

ka-pow coffee

From here I headed directly to the Vivace on Denny St. to spend the first chunk of my morning. I order and receive a beautiful macchiato and head over to one of the many nice large marble counters that over look the park right behind the shop. The shop layout is great. It has plenty of seating, tons of light and stools at the wrap around bar…. I love bars with stools. There is just something special about them. I however did not want to sully the space with a laptop so as mentioned, I chose the window seating. I received yet another surprise at Vivace today as I realized that they offer NO DRIP COFFEE! Forget not offering any drinks over 12 ozs that are not iced, no drip coffee? No COE? No Micro-lot? My jaw hit the floor. Given how well the Baristas pull I guess they just don’t need it. This will not be the first time that I think to myself “this shop would not survive in Chicago…” I follow up the macchiato with a cap adorned less stellar latte art than the macchiato, continue observing and typing away.

macchiato and pastry

My next stop is to pick up my new bike bag, an all together exciting but fairly quick and non coffee related procedure so I’ll move on. The next shop on the list was Vita on Pike. This is their location with a roastery and café. I liked the space but was over all under whelmed by the quality of the coffee and education of the staff. The espresso was thin and flat and I decided to avoid the drip. The folks were friendly enough and they had a nice display case with demitasse from all over in it, but not much else to brag about.

Rich as this area is my next stop was the new pine st location of Stumptown. And so it begins… The shop is nice, my first visit to any Stumptown, it meets my mental preconceived image perfectly. Done up in total retro hip wood laminate with black cushions and a vintage looking stereo to give it all a soundtrack. I order a cup of the Panama Carmen from Adam at the bar a proceed to peruse. They have a more than healthy selection of single origin offerings with several COE and micro lots in the bunch. I talk with Adam about the various beans, the high price of COE and nuances of opening in a new town. I learn throughout the course of our conversation that Mr. Rogers (previously of Intelly fame and now on team Stumptown) is hanging out at their other location setting up the roaster. I score my first shot of Hairbender in town from Adam and then bike on over to the 12th st Stumptown.

pine st stumptown

The 12th st location keeps up with the aesthetic perfectly. Very clean and simple style with a beautiful Mistral on the bar.

12th st stumptown outside

12th st stumptown inside

Instead of stopping to check things out however I head straight downstairs to find the elusive Mr. Rogers. What awaits is almost humorous its so unreal. It is like wandering into the newest issue of Barista Magazine. Going down the stairs I notice and introduce myself to Duane Sorenson, godfather of Stumptown… When I hit the bottom of the stairs I see Kyle Larson running a cupping in a well stocked training room… I see one of the actual “bikes to Rwanda” bikes leaning in a corner… After this encounter Bronwen Serna as she is practicing for the NWRBC… all together a little crazy.

whats in thos bags?

I also find Steven and everything is good. We talk, make crude jokes and reminisce about old times. I am treated to a cupping hosted by Adam who pulled my shot over at the Pine shop. The offering was prime, two Honduras micro lots, a Colombia COE Esperanza, the first place Nicaragua COE, the non auction lot Esmeralda, a Tawar and an Ethiopian Yirg. They apparently do these cuppings for the public everyday at 3 for those looking to taste a range of some great coffees. The Esperanza was smashing, highly recommended. After drooling over the lab (3 group Synesso, 3 group Mistral, 3 group Linea and 2 vintage 1 group Marzoccos) I leave the shop with Steven to wander around putting up posters for their Saturday party with a few stops to drink beers thrown in for good measure. Nick (Intellys new LA tech) joins up and the evening proceeds to go down in infamy before I bike to my residence of last eve, retrieve my rolling suitcase and bike with it in tow to nicks hotel (seriously)… more tomorrow.

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….