It was hard to decide what to blog about this time. Since the last time I blogged five days ago I've been out to Dave's Killer Bread (met Dave), Bob's Red Mill (brushed shoulders with Bob), Ken's Artisan Bakery (talked with Ken), to the United States Barista Championship in Portland, to Seattle to meet with my editor and visit friends over the weekend, and to the Farmer-Chef Connection in Oregon City today. The volume has been a little mad -- all of the interviews, facility tours, networking with chefs and farmers -- but I've promised myself that in a week or so I'll clear two to three days and create a hermitage. I'll write and nothing but.
For now it's coffee. I just drank some so I have the fuel to write about it. It turns out that I saw two of the USBC -- United States Barista Championship -- finalists in action this year. I showed up mid-day last Thursday and got to see Devin Pedde (5th place) of LA's Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea and later Mike Marquard (6th place) of Kaldi's Coffee in St. Louis. Intelligentsia rocked the USBC house just like Slumdog Millionaire at the Oscars with four out of six awards including first place -- USBC champion Mike Phillips of Intelligentsia Chicago.
I'm sad that no Northwest baristas made it to the crema but hope that Portland baristas don't need an award to know just how amazing they are.
Some standouts from my first day of USBC:
Devin Pedde infused Earl Grey tea, dried persimmon, cherries and brown sugar into water in an ornate Belgian vacuum coffee brewer and spooned that into cups to mimic and tease out the flavor profile of the espresso that he topped it with.
Mike Marquard lit tobacco leaves next to shots of espresso with whipped chocolate and covered that with glass domes in order to "smoke" the shots and give an olfactory hint to the coffee flavor to come.
Kevin Fuller of Portland's home team -- owner of Albina Press -- whisked Stumptown espresso with homemade caramel, topped it off with cold pressed grapefruit oil steamed milk, and served that with sidecars of fresh squeezed grapefruit juice. Graham crackers were involved too but I must have been clearing my throat when he said how.
Each barista had 15 minutes to set-up, and 15 minutes to prepare espressos, cappucinos and a signature coffee drink for each of the four steely eyed sensory judges. Hooked up to microphones they described their techniques, their coffee, their coffee shop/roastery as the technical judges swarmed around them taking notes and watching their every move. Not to mention the hand-held and mounted TV cameras and the two huge screen TVs televising it all in real time. I think the event was live-streamed -- maybe it was broadcasted on TV as well.
I had a great time sitting in the audience drinking free coffee, listening to the baristas' music (each chose 15 minutes of music to coincide with their slot) while watching the action. And I was very happy that the flood lights weren't aimed at me. No matter what kind of false security I've been known to gain from superhero servings of coffee and espresso I would never put myself through that. Conversing with an emcee is the stuff nightmares are made of.