Analogies and T-shirts.

I’ve come to the realization that I’m in a new stage of my career. Priorities come and go from time to time and I’m acknowledging a big change in my ‘coffee doctrine’ and belief. The part of me that is growing up is the boy who started in coffee. He’s the guy  you could run into in many coffee shops… The outward signs say he’s probably some sort of punk (i.e. the piercings, tattoos, band t-shirts, and so on). He’s got keen eyes and they always tell what he’s thinking… about you, your order, and the things that are coming out of your mouth. He’s constantly judging people and scrutinizing their daily coffee shop repertoire. He’s the kid who’s passionate about coffee in all the wrong ways. Espresso to go, fuck off. Nonfat, fat chance. Decaf, go to hell.

The difference is that my focus has changed. I’m finding that I’m less concerned with what people are drinking at the coffee bar and I’m more concerned with what they’re drinking at home. If any of the punk-teenager still leaks out on bar, it’s probably because someone is asking me to grind a pound of coffee for them. You could call it my ‘new’ espresso on ice. More than ever, I’m excited to push more and more people into making better coffee at home.

I want a series of t-shirts. Want is the key word because they’re probably a bit too passive aggressive for my customers to take them the right way. My first t-shirt would probably have a picture of a home grinder in the center… Orbiting around it, I would have silhouettes of brew methods (i.e. table top siphon, chemex, french press, eva solo)… The caption on top or on the back would say something like “It all starts with grinding fresh” or something relatively cheesy. Baratza, if you’re out there, I’m practically writing your new marketing campaign for you!

This also brings up a question I’ve been pondering for awhile… Which is the way to go? Do you only sell coffee equipment that is ideal or do you bend on a couple points for the greater good? To be specific, I was wandering through good ol’ Costco the other day and stumbled down the home appliance aisle (One of my favorite). What did I find? Well, a Capresso home coffee grinder. flat burrs (Not great ones either). Selling for a mere $29.99. Now, in our retail store, we sell the Capresso Infinity. We pimp that shit hard at $100. Still the price is a bit high for some of our customers who are a bit ‘concerned with the times.’ Do you sell the flat burr grinder that isn’t ideal for $30, or do you stick to your guns and only sell the quality stuff… while grinding dozen of pounds of coffee for people a day?

For me, the result is in the cup. I think I lean toward freshly (inconsistently) ground coffee as opposed to the stale (even) ground coffee.

Intelligentsia is working on a home brew kit, or something like that… I’m excited to see what comes out of it. Think of how much easier every baristas life would get if people were making good coffee at home! Okay, maybe it’ll make some baristas lives more complicated, but if that’s the case, then maybe they should pursue a different career path. Either way, how much easier is it going to be to sell high end coffee if people can appreciate it. I think anyone who is in this industry can attest to the fact that most people who get hooked on a good sweetened latte can easily get that person drinking stellar 5 oz. capps if the barista just does their job well and builds a strong customer relationship. How much further can it go if you can get that customer drinking amazing siphon coffee on their Sunday mornings! It’s worth working toward and getting excited about.

I hope you can follow that and it make sense. With all that ranted, I’ll go now.

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Returning from the USBC 2009.

I can’t even begin to tell you how grateful I am right now. First of all, simply for the time to write this post. Life is finally slowing down… Prior to the slow down, I am simply grateful for the outcome of the United States Barista Competition. I could not be more proud of the myself and the gentlemen that I was surrounded by in the final round. If you saw me during the finals, you might know how nervous I felt. My stomach was turning and twisting. Prior to competing I felt fine. Relaxed actually. Something about performing, doing my best, then watching everyone else- so flawlessly- doing their best, was the worst part of the whole weekend. Looking back on the situation, that nervous feeling was only a sign of how rivetting the final round was…

The new United States Barista Champion is Michael Phillips. Heading into the event, I’d be lying if I told you I thought I’d be writing that this year. However, nothing excites me more than being able to congratulate Mike. If you missed his presentation, you missed something truly remarkable. Mike used a coffee from Bolivia, and not only did he present the coffee well, but he showed the world that he is a great barista. Mike’s presentation involved shifting variables and using his coffee in ways that I’ve never seen a barista use coffee in competition before. For his espresso he pulled his coffee in a manner that would give it one flavor profile. Then Mike changed the flavor profile of his coffee to use in his cappuccinos. This could cause potential complications in his performance, but he did with poise.

I’ll keep this short for now… Before I go though, I must send out major ‘Thank You’s to several people… Including my Los Angeles teammates, Devin and Nick. Both have excellent eyes and opinions for competition. We do well in competition because we have each other… I’m amazed by the people who think we do well simply because we work for Intelli. I hear accusations like it’s because of the money, the equipment, or the time… No, friends, it’s the teamwork and our ability to be completely open and honest with each other that keeps us improving.

Much thanks really needs to go out to Doug Zell, owner and CEO of Intelligentsia. Doug’s vision for the company and what he wants it to be is what makes Intelligentsia such a great company to work for… and he’s done nothing but given us all a place to grow, learn, and flourish.

My girlfriend, Monica, is amazing. She designed and screen printed the menus I used in the competition. She is incredibly supportive and her patience is astonashing. She was that helping hand before each run-through… making sure everything had that perfect shine, and then she was there helping me at the washing station… Making sure everything was clean to either pack or move to the next round.

Kyle Glanville, Deaton Pigot, and Stephen Morrissey are all to blame for aspects of my presentation. Kyle is relentless in his critisims. He’s dastardly brutal and has had me to the point where I thought I was going to put in my two weeks notice… But everytime I bounce back and his ideas and thoughts sink in, I walk away as a better barista. Deaton has a keen eye… his feedback was encouraging and he never let us slip on our technical skills. He’d just tell me that my machine wasn’t clean enough… even when I was just pulling shots and messing around. Nick and Devin have been more open and wiling to acknowledge their help from Stephen Morrissey. I still feel like it’s something that I should be keeping quiet, but it’s true… Stephen is amazing. Just as a World Barista Champion should be. His ideas and opinions are inspiring and he’s got a lot of them to give. He’s loud and obnoxious at times, but in the end, he’s a great, more than helpful friend. Stephen came to give us a hand… and did it on his own dime. I can’t say how grateful I am.

Alright, that turned into a lot… I’m going now.