Last night I went to my first ever barista throwdown -- PDX Tamp Your Face off! I didn't know what to expect but a local vegan baker gave me the word and I was there. It took place at Blend Coffee Lounge just a few blocks from my house so a neighbor and I walked over at around 8pm.
I don't know if you know but a really big coffee competition is brewing in Portland next week -- the United States Barista Competition. It's at the Convention Center Thursday through Sunday -- March 5-8 -- and is free and open to the public. I'm definitely going to head over for some of the action. The winner from the USBC, which is held in a different city every year -- Minneapolis last year -- goes on to compete in the World Barista Championship in Atlanta in April. Those are the big beans.
So what about last night? I thought I'd take some photos but it was too crowded. Blend isn't a big coffee shop -- or excuse me lounge -- and it was pretty much 10-deep all around the coffee bar. Every once in a while I could see some girls moving around and smiling behind it. I assume that they were pulling espressos, frothing milk, tamping coffee, but honestly I couldn't see much. There were a bunch of pizza boxes in one corner -- mostly eaten, and a lot of folks drinking tall boys and holding up cell phones to take photos. I saw a few people sipping espresso from little paper cups but we didn't stick around long enough to get one.
It felt like a basement show without a band. And our shoes didn't stick to the floor. The baristas were the band -- kind of quiet, although they did have some highly functional percussion. I think if we'd elbowed our way to the front it would've been much more entertaining but that's shitty so we didn't. My friend put it nicely -- "We could stand around and listen to other people's conversations for a while..." We did check out the collection of beans on display from all sorts of local roasters before we left. There were some there that neither of us had heard of, along with several that we had. There were also some roasters that made a trek for the event -- one from out in the Gorge.
Since the USBC competition is in Portland this year, local baristas are ramping up, along with local roasters, with these after-hours espresso slinging gatherings where they can practice for the people. I guess the first throwdown was at one of my favorite Portland spots -- Little Red Bike Cafe.
I'd go to another but I'd be sure to show up early and wear my Inspector Gadget arm so I could get some of that perfectly pulled coffee.
Oh and there were also some silk screened chocolates from a guy named Dane. That's right, silk screened.