Portland, March.

I’ve been waiting for this week for a few years now. I’m in the Portland area as my brother is turning 21 today… It’s exciting¬† to have my only brother able to join me in my beer-loving-expeditions across this fantastic city. We plan on grabbing some pizza tonight, and then moving over to the beloved Horse Brass Pub. Needless to say, I’m ecstatic.

To be honest, my thoughts on coffee here in Portland, have been somewhat jaded for awhile. In recent years, it’s seemed monotonous. The same blend from the same roaster with the same milk, everywhere.

However, the last years has really diversified the city scene. I have had several coffees from several roasters, and I’m impressed. My day, today, started at the new BARISTA! The soft opening process and training to open a store is something I learned to appreciated as I helped open the coffee bar I work out of… and it was fun and interesting to watch another staff going through it this morning. I had some fantastic coffee in a beautiful space, so how could my day go wrong from there?

Both today and yesterday, I visited the recently opened Sterling Coffee Roasters in NW Portland. Roasting everything on a one pound, San Franciscan, Sterling served espresso off a two-group Synesso. Both press coffee and Clever brewer coffee are offered. Yesterday, I had some Sumatra Blue Batak as espresso and today I tasted a Costa Rica. The space is completely outdoors, baristas dressed to the nines, and the surrounding neighborhood is gorgeous on a clear day. Espresso outdoors never came with such a great experience before.

I’m sure I’ll be tasting more coffee as I venture around this city, but for now, I’m just super grateful to be around my family and to have a break in the middle of (what is gearing up to be) the most intense barista competition season to date.

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WRBC from the inside of my head.

This past weekend is still almost too much of a blur to recap. However, it sure felt good. Until yesterday, I spent much of the year battling expectations put on myself, after being a 2009 USBC finalist. It wasn’t until I became a WRBC finalist that I was able accept that it’s 2010 and what happened last year is already being forgotten. None the less, I told myself I would stop competing the day I stopped getting better, and I’d much rather hang it up than put on a performance where I’m not doing the best I possibly can.

Thus was the battle I faced after round one of the Western. I was competitor number one… Leaving me no other competitors performance to simply enjoy or decompress to before having to go out and deliver something that had to be so memorable it would keep me in the top six for the rest of the first round. I’ve opened finals sets, but an entire 30-competitor event was a bit more daunting…

So, truth be told, things that had me worried…

1. Cappuccinos. Nerves are not an issue. Adrenaline, however, can make the body shake, and I’ve been struggling with this all year, and was yet to regain the confidence to pour anything all that great. I shook my way into some traditional monks-heads, but I know that I am better than just delivering that.

2. Butane Burner. If you caught my performance,¬† you may have heard my signature beverage ingredients and thought, “Holy hell that’s a lot of citrus.” Which, it was… I used pineapple, grapefruit, navel orange, and meyer lemon juice. All cooked together with some prunes and dark muskavato sugar. The key was that I only used 15 liquid grams of each… and 5 of the lemon. The problem was that somehow, my full burner, ran out of fuel. So, what I served the judges was not the cooked down fruit mixture I intended, but rather a very intense mixture of fruit juice.

3. Egg White. Topping my beverage was a mirang foam, made from egg white, tangerine juice, and orange blossom water. I used a funnel to place the ingredients where I wanted them. The issue was that where I placed the funnel after use wasn’t bottom heavy enough, and when I moved my tray back to my prep space, the funnel fell over, leaving a mess of egg white to be cleaned up.

All three of these things were subtle to the audience. I hardly doubt they were noticeable to the camera. But I knew what had occurred and I wasn’t stoked. I was convinced that somewhere in the remaining 29 competitors, six others would keep me from the finals. After all, this was possibly the deepest regional I’ve seen.

It was an amazing relief and a sincere honor to be called as a finalist. In case you missed it, Devin Pedde, Chris Baca, Sara Peterson, Jared Truby, and Pete Licata were the other 5 finalists. Each of them had incredibly strong points to be made during their presentations. Possibly the most interesting for the outside eye was Chris. Setting up an additional table, with seats for two… He called up two people who had never seen or participated in a barista competition before. He then increased his drink production by 50%, serving the additional two people beverages from each course. It was an inspiring moment, that for me as a competitor, was actually intimidating.

Anyway, the finals were intense, with six competitors who were all equally capable of taking home the trophy. It was enough that for the first time, I felt no anxiety waiting for the announcement of the winner. Normally, I’ll cross my fingers and make predictions. Here, there was no telling for any of us who would win. Being called second was a blur. In fact, it’s something I’m still processing. I’m honored and excited. More than anything, I’m feeling motivated for the USBC. It’s confirmation that I didn’t lose all my game in the off season…

I have to say major congrats to Pete! It was great to see him… He’s a tough competitor. Two time, second place USBC, two time Midwest Regional Barista Champion… The second time he won that region, I also competed against him. Also part of that regional was David Herman, who we both had the pleasure of serving, as he judged the finals of this event. So, I guess much of this weekend brought things full-circle for me. It was a wonderful experience I will remember as it gets closer and closer to the USBC in Anaheim.

This post is getting far too long, so I’ll wrap it up. Much thanks to Marcus Boni and the Coffee Bean crew as this was possibly one of the most gorgeous competition stages I’ve seen. It was kinda weird having a professional film crew around. For me, as a competitors who has done this a few times, to have such great audio, video, and lighting all around. Felt kinda spoiled actually.

Really, I write this post to say thank you to Steve Lee for roasting such beautiful coffee. Nick Griffith for being poetic with flavors in a way I struggle. Devin Pedde for ideas, critique, and support when he had his own stuff to work on. I owe much thanks to my lady, Sam, for reminding me that I was working hard and for keeping my life somewhat balanced when I wanted to obsess. I’m especially proud of my other teammates, Nicole Mournian and Gabe Combs. Both grew so much as competitors throughout training… and both had so many ideas and great things to share that helped my performance become what it was. Finally, big thanks to Doug Zell. Competition wouldn’t be fun without the support and competitive spirit of my boss.