Intel In House

Last weekend, Intelligentsia held it’s first Los Angeles In House Barista Competition. For me, the night was inspiring. There were 7 competitors, of which 4 would be moving on to compete in the Western Regional Barista Competition. Silver Lake, Venice, and even Millenium Park stores were all represented. Naomi Vaughn came all the way from Chicago to represent as an out of region, in house competitor.

I witnessed some seriously interesting presentations. There’s something about a competitor who has never seen a competition before that just seems to keep them free to be him or herself. My favorite presentation had to have been Jeff Gershik, a barista from Silver Lake. Jeff has an intense personality… and he showed just that to his judges. His opening line was simply, “I get board easily.” He then went into talking about how his short attention span leads him to like extreme things. Which, then moved into talking about how is coffee, a Ethiopia Yirgacheffe, was extreme (as in bright, acidic, floral, and unbalanced). The moment was so brutally and beautifully honest.

I opened the competition. My body decided to remind me that it’s competition season, and therefore I need to treat it that way… It’s been awhile since I poured hearts like the ones I did… It’s also been awhile since my hands shook that much. (Hydration is key, kids.) My coffee was a washed bourbon from Finca Santuario in Cauca, Colombia. It was pretty tasty that night. Though, I was still familiarizing myself with it… and therefore probably could have given it a couple more days to rest.

When the coffees had been presented, and the cappuccinos poured… The other competitors and I all waited for the results in typical fashion (with whiskey in hand). First place, and the first spot in the WRBC went to Mr. Devin Pedde. I had the honor of taking second. Third place, went to Ms. Nicole Mournian, and fourth place belongs to Mr. Gabriel Combs. The four of us will be preparing over the next few weeks to rep our shops hard at the WRBC. I’m stoked for this team, and I know we’re going to have some fun together…

Signs of Success

I’m very much enjoying the conversation going on here. I have thoughts, arguments, and all kinds of ideas going through my head. Most of which have been stated in one way or another on the linked page.

The first time I heard about Double Shot, it was when they were in the middle of the fight to keep their name. They stood up against Starbucks and won. I was stoked to see an independent shop stand up and be heard.

The next time I heard about Double Shot was a the USBC in Portland last year. Someone pointed out that I needed to take a picture of the guy wearing an “I’m not Intelligentsia enough to win” t-shirt. I found this to be very funny…

I hate a lot of things… I hate the Yankees. I tend to hate the Lakers (My ice cold feelings are slowly melting away). Something about Michael Phelps rubs me the wrong way. I’m really not a fan of Starbucks…. Well, the Yankees are unstoppable. The Lakers are pretty spectacular to watch. Michael Phelps mortality is questionable… and at the end of the day, Starbucks employees are going home with steady paychecks.

I don’t hate Double Shot.

2010 Season Opener (of sorts)

Barista competitions. A safe topic. This Friday, I will be competing in my first ever ‘in house’ barista competition. The company I work for is lucky to have enough people interested in becoming competitive baristas that for anyone to compete the road starts here. Interested competitors throw their hats in the ring. The rules mostly remain the same as the World Championships. The difference is that competitors have 8 minutes to serve an espresso course and a cappuccino course. The setup time is also cut to 8 minutes.

The top five competitors will be backed by the company, as they prepare and compete for the Western Regional Barista Competition. Any of those five who place first, second, or third in the regional, will then continue to be sponsored into the United States Competition.

I’ve been hesitant to compete this year. I felt so great after last year… Accomplished and happy. But I feel I can get better still. It’s taken some time to get truly excited for the season, but I’m feeling better about it as the first step gets closer.

More New York

Looking back, I’m relatively impressed with myself. I spent only three real days in New York and managed to get to seven coffee bars. Now, coming across the country, I had heard many strong opinions about different coffee spots. In my head, I had formed different hypothesis for different coffee bars, but I kept an open mind. Ready and willing to enjoy anything…

The second full day, I managed to get to 9th St. in the Chelsea Market, Cafe Grumpy in Chelsea, and Third Rail Coffee. The Chelsea Market seems like a place where I could spend hours. With a resource like that, there is no excuse for any New York barista not to compete. I was really struggling to hold myself back from buying all kinds of little plates and wares. Just wandering gave me ideas for table settings and drink preparation.

We wandered up to the Ninth Street bar and I ordered an espresso. The espresso was solid. Very consistent to what I had tasted the night I arrived at the original store (9th & C). However, the experience was a bit lacking. The baristas seemed to have no desire to engage the customers. That topped with the way my espresso was slammed onto the saucer and sorta shoved my way, I just expected more. It’s not that anything tasted bad, but everything I had heard about New York had pinned these guys as the best. Once again, not bad, but underwhelming.

The next stop was Grumpy. This was my first stop where I knew the brewed coffee wasn’t going to be coming from an airpot or a fetco brewer… At the same time, people I had talked to had some stuff to say about how they were brewing their coffee on the Clover. I was ready to put it to the test. There were 4 available coffees. 3 that were roasted in the new Grumpy Roasting facility in Greenpoint and 1 that was from my friend, Matt Higgin’s at Coava Coffee in Portland, Or. I’ve been curious about Matt’s coffee and missed my chance to taste anything while I was last in Portland, so I chose a cup of the Coava Kenya. It was delicious! …and I mean, remarkably delicious. Sweet as ever, beautifully acidic, and well balanced for a coffee from Kenya. Being relatively familiar with brewing coffee on a Clover, I can say that the brew tasted flawless.

During my visit, Grumpy was only offering one espresso, and it was the Heartbreaker blend from Novo in Denver, Colorado. One of the baristas, Amanda, told me it’s a blend of Ethiopias and a Costa Rica. The espresso tasted very sweet and balanced. There were some lovely floral tones to the back end.

All in all, the experience was rad. Not to mention I got to see Renee who moved to New York awhile ago after spending some time at Ritual in San Francisco. Renee was one of the finalists in the Western Regional Barista Competition and may be one of the nicest people I know. It was great to see her.

Finally, we made our way to Third Rail Coffee. Third Rail is using Intelligentsia coffee. I ordered an espresso and a short americano. Both were solid. Couldn’t complain about the drinks at all. I was amazed at how much was packed into such a small space… Not in a tacky manner, either. The layout was smart. I enjoyed it. Here, we ran into Colleen from Grumpy. Pre-Grumpy, Colleen spent some serious time at Ritual. Now, she’s the green buyer for Grumpy’s new roasting adventures. We ended up talking for a solid hour… and somewhere in that, Amanda, who had served us at Grumpy in Chelsea, wandered in and we all got to catch up. It was one of those moments where the people just made everything taste a bit better.

By the end of the day, I was caffeinated and set. It was nice to be able to taste coffee at multiple places and have everything taste fairly good. Nothing was bad…. I’ll leave it at that for now, and save the last two spots for later.

Another Short Stint on New York.

More thoughts and explorations… It was on the plane back to Los Angeles that I realized why these trips are important to me. It’s travel, and seeing other coffee bars that keeps me wanting to get better at what I do. It’s the experience I get from being a customer at a new coffee shop that makes me want to tweak aspects of how I am to customers and how we offer our service. In Los Angeles, we are most of the coffee culture. We don’t have other shops to visit, and we certainly lack a barista community outside of the Intelli staff. It’s makes it very difficult to slip outside of our umbrella to take some things in.

One fine example was on Tuesday night we wandered into a bar called Little Branch (which is some-what of speakeasy). We being my girlfriend, Sam, and our friends, Jessamy and Max from Los Angeles. I really couldn’t have asked for better travel buddies.

We struck up conversation with the bar tender and all too quickly mentioned we were from Los Angeles. He immediately asked if we had been to the Varnish, which is another speakeasy-ish bar in downtown Los Angeles. I told him yes, but mentioned that there are a couple places which I think have better cocktails. He immediately shut down on me and gave me a look like I had no idea what I was talking about… Lesson learned. I cannot even begin to count the amount of times I’ve done this (in reference to coffee shops) to customers traveling to Los Angeles from NY, Portland, Minneapolis, and a handful of other places. This is why it’s important to remove myself from my everyday circumstances.

Okay, more to come later today, but I think the farmer’s market and breakfast are calling me…