What Vegas did for me…

Once again, I’m on break in the back room of our Silverlake store. We drove back earlier today, and had just about a half an hour before Devin and I had to head in to close the bar tonight. I think you can see the weariness in our eyes.

However, moral is high. This trip is what we needed. There’s really no doubt about it. I have to be very honest and say that until we left, including Monday morning, our attitudes have been terrible. I blame much of it on tunnel vision. Our eyes had been exclusively on our coffee bar and the issues surrounding it. Our palates had been completely stuck on our coffee, all the time. everything was getting old and we were stuck on the problems with little hope of solution.

Much has been changing at the bar, and we’ve gained many new people… including a new manager. Getting everyone up to speed had been pulling both of us down. An understated responsibility had been put on us, and we really didn’t want to admit it. Along with Deanna Mustard, Devin and I are the OG’s of the coffee bar, leaving us as the motivators and examples, and we’ve been really bad at it.

Getting away from Los Angeles and being around passionate baristas again removed the tunnel vision a bit. I had a cup of coffee off of PT’s Clover that showed me good coffee is happening elsewhere. I’d kind of forgotten. Now that we’re back, it feels good to be on bar again. I’m reminded of what we are offering… not necessarily an education and gripe session about what coffee is, but simply a quality beverage. I’m getting back to shutting up and making great coffee with a smile.

I hope that in the next week we can turn all attitudes around here in the store. It’s been evident that we’re not the only ones tired. Things will settle more as people move from being new hires to true assets to this coffee bar. Devin would like me to add that he’s no longer telling customers to go fuck themselves… I think he means metaphorically, but I haven’t worked as much with him lately… So, who knows?

I can’t even begin to explain how much of a burden is lifted from my shoulders with this. It just makes me happy again. Now, it’s back to the lab to prepare for the Western. We’ve gotten some great feedback and I’m stoked to see what we can do and where we can go in the next month.  Once again, congrats to the other competitors of the weekend. It was great to see 2 new kids, who have never even seen a competition, step up and try their best. It truly was inspirational. Oh, and if you’re ever in Tempe, AZ, check out Cartel Coffee!

What Happens In Vegas… Pt. 3

Well, Jason Calhoon is the new, and first ever, Southwest Regional Barista Champion. He did very well with a score somewhere around 460. Very nice for never even seeing one of these things. He’ll be a welcomed addition to the crowd in Minneapolis, as he’s a very cool guy who I look forward to seeing more from.

Devin did well in round 2 also. Scoring a 612. Very nice. His presentation came out looking much more comfortable. Drinks looked better, scores were higher. It’s all gravy.

Personally, I did not feel good about my performance, but I did well. I raised my score 15 points. I forgot ice, making my chilled drink, less chill. Our milk also froze in the fridge over night, so we used milk from the event. The problem was my mint was in the fridge and it died as well. Sadness.

The barefoot girls looked good. Monica Hill’s sig drink totally fell apart on her… lame. She instead, served straight up single origin shots… Rad. Well, done.

The other in region competitor is also a cool guy, and he finished just behind Jason Calhoon. He had a respectable performance and we hope he doesn’t go away. The girl from Groundwork looked better too. Her only problem was she never told the judges to drink her sig beverage, and then she called time too soon, leaving the drinks untouched on the table. Beyond that, she was rad.

Well, it’s off to more boozing on the show floor. The bar life section of this show is ridiculous. So many gnarly looking people drinking high octane drinks.  A guy was passed out in the chairs watching the competition for a good while. This all only proves that what happens here, should probably stay here…

What Happens in Vegas… Pt. 2

Finding an internet connection has proven to not be an easy feat in this town. Today, however, I finally opted to pay for a day of wifi here in this crazy convention center.

We arrived Monday night just before 10:00. In other words, we were racing the clock to be at Whole Foods before they closed. Thank goodness, we made it. So, we grabbed some Strous milk, mint, and more and continued on our way to the mighty Excalibur, our homestead for the week. After some ironing action, we passed out after a long day of travel.

Yesterday was a good day. There are seven competitors total. Devin and I, two girls from Barefoot, a girl from Groundwork, and two in region competitors, both named Jason. Both in region dudes are cool and seem genuinely passionate about coffee. Neither has seen a competition before and it’s been fun seeing them go through this with minimal preparation. One of them roasts his own coffee and owns a small retail shop. The other plans to open a cafe in Tucson. Without coffee, he approached the PT’s booth to see if they could lend him a hand. They gave him some coffee and spent a good hour with him working on espresso and walking him through the process.

The Groundwork competitor is a girl who has taken over their training. Sorry for the lack of more precise names, but I’m wiped out and lack a list. Anyway, she is working on a documentary and has been filming everything. She conducted some interviews and has been very interesting to talk to.

The first day of competition was very loose. It was predetermined that we would all have a go on day one and that we would all go again on day two. The in region guys will be competing today for 1st and 2nd. It was so relaxed that we were all able to see our score sheets so we could improve upon things for today.

My run went relatively well. God knows it was a step up from my last competition. The espresso is tasting delicious and that’s the most important part. Oh, and I’m stoked about my drink. It’s very simple, but delicious. I am simply taking a couple chunks of fresh grapefruit and muddling it in a shaker with fresh mint. Then, I am pouring a brew of rose hips tea over that. Adding 4 espressos and topping off with ice… shaking and serving. It’s simple, refreshing, and delicious.

I faired pretty well over all. Devin did well too. We’ve taken some advice on what to do and we’ll see what happens today.

Last night was great too. We had a great meal with Marcus, Nick, Michelle, Phuong, and Brent. It was nice hanging out and just strolling through the casinos. Oh, but the show floor here is amazing. The show is made up of different parts, including hotels, bars & nightlife, food, and coffee & tea. There is an amazing amount of booze being handed out left and right. It’s maddening.

Well, we’re starting up day two. Devin is practicing. I’m last today. So, I’ve gotta chill through a few performances. It’s been fun and I’m glad we’re here…

What Happens in Vegas…

Well, it’s 3:30 in the afternoon on Monday, and we’re waiting in our apartment for Nick Griffith. We’ve been waiting awhile and we really should get going. Vegas bound, kids…

Yesterday, finally yielded a signature beverage that is delicious. I’m excited to bring it to the table tomorrow. A total of six competitors have signed up for this event, including two from Barefoot, one from Groundwork, Devin Michael Pedde, myself, and the lone in-region competitor, Jason Calhoon from Tucson, AZ…. Possibly the new SWR Champion, himself.

Well, apparently Nick is here. Time to load. I’m not sure how smart blogging will be (It is Vegas after all), but I’ll let you know how this interesting event unfolds. Honestly, how much fun could this nonsense really be?

Breaking the Silence.

You’ll have to forgive me for the absurd amount of silence, as of late. I really have no excuse for my lack of new content.

I’m writing this from a very cold Intelligentsia Roasting Works, here in drizzly, Los Angeles. The lack of gas has not only turned our hearts cold, but it’s starting to turn the building cold as well. Then again, it is 10:00 PM and rarely is anyone here this late in this poor of weather.

I, however, have been wracking my brain on signature beverages for the past 4 hours. Monday, Devin, Nick, and I are heading to Las Vegas to join a handful of other coffee professionals, in attempting to put on the first ever SW Regional Barista Competition. So far, I believe Devin and I are the only two confirmed competitors. This weekend has truly snuck up on us, and I can feel the deadline drawing closer by the hour. Then again, I guess that’s why we chose to do this, to light a flame underneath ourselves and to plunge head first into our preparation for the Western Regional.

I had an excellent concept for a signature beverage, and just as concepts often can do, it fell right through the cracks of logic and science. Better said, it tasted terrible. However, I clung to one of my other ideas, and tonight, that too has fallen apart right before me. I’m running out of time.

But I’m enjoying almost every minute of this. I’m about to compete out of region, so I don’t feel pressured to floor anyone with how amazing my drink will be. It’s just a matter of making smart decisions and planning this out well. I think I have a concept that will be just what I need. Simple, somewhat original, and hopefully delicious.

I always love competition preparation. It’s a time to step back, remove the impatient customer, and have a go at it with the best coffees you can find. It’s a chance to clean up my bar behavior and to gain some poise.

However, it can also cause you to focus to much on coffee, just as I have the past 3 days. I’ve lost a sense of balance, and as a result, really struggled yesterday on bar. It wasn’t a matter of me making good drinks, it was a matter of me making the drinks I was being asked for. It was enough to have me breaking down in the middle of a line and really needing to refocus. I think the point that got to me was the order for a large latte with extra milk… Which, upon a couple words of how our lattes work, soy and an extra shot of expresso were added to the details. But that was yesterday…

Also on the list of new life lessons, I’m learning how throwing yourself too far into your work can be damaging to your relationships. I’m impressed now by the Kyle Glanvilles and Deanna Mustards out there. As I have only been doing this for a short time. However, it is my wonderful girlfriend who got to hear all about that large soy latte with an extra shot of expresso… According to her, I need to gain a better sense of reality and maybe lighten up a little. I say the world needs a few people like me… radicals, if you will. Just not the kind you see on the news…

On the bright side, black cat is becoming kind of awesome. Mr. Glanville has been working on the blend and has made some changes that make me smile. I think his hard work is paying off, as the blend is becoming both easy to work with, and beautiful when dialed in properly.

Anyway, I’m going to go try to figure out a drink to present to the judges on Tuesday. Make sure to check in for updates on this competitor-less regional. I mean, really, it’ll just be stories of Marcus, Brent, Michelle, Devin, Nick, and I hanging out anyway… Oh, and Phuong. She’s dropping by as well… Good times will be had by all…