Day Three! Where am I? I wake up in my pal Courtney’s gorgeous River West apartment — steps from Alterra Humboldt, which is good, as her internet situation is dodgy and I totally need coffee. Courtney isn’t anywhere to be seen but I’m really grateful to her letting me crash at her house all weekend. Amazing. Thank you. I’d have left you some coffee if I thought you drank it, CM.

I upload a bunch of Flickr crap and head down to the Third Ward for the six finalists. No sooner have I sat down in the front row to watch Intelli’s Talya Strader compete than do two tiny adorable children walk up to me and say very loudly (and yes, Talya is already competing):

“We bring people chai!!!!”


Awesome. It is about 400 degrees in here today. Talya revisits her routine from yesterday, focusing on coffee as an element of cozy hominess, and spends nearly 3.5 minutes deseeding peppers. I really should have tried that signature drink! By the way, it takes a lot of guts to compete to a song that repeats the line “I’ve made a lot of mistakes” (but it’s rad that she put something on that repped the Land of Lincoln.)

Finalist No. 2 is Justin Tiesl. His routine is sort of swarmed by a media blitz (we’d later see him on the 5:00 news!) what with him being a local and all. My new favorite person in Milwaukee (we’ll call him “Rosetta Guy” from when I met him on Day One) tells the cameraman from the nightly news, “You make a better door than a window!” Later I hear him astutely point out to his seatmate that Tiesl “looks like he’s using San Pellegrino”. Quick! Call back Channel 12!

I feel like there’s a lot of ambient tension as Tiesl gets started; people are all waiting to see if he’s gonna blow this shit outta the water today, and he mostly does — he’s really relaxed, pours fabulous-looking latte art and, like yesterday, even has a little spare time to refill the judge’s waters totally nonchalantly and joke around between drinks. This guy kills me.


He repeats the classy finish of yesterday, calling time at 15:00 sharp to the tune of that ridiculous peaches song, and receives a standing fucking ovation from the audience. In the post-performance interview, Tiesl reveals that not only did the GLRBC trophies he made take more than 100 hours of labor, he had to actually reenroll in the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee just to get access to his old metal lab back. Dude does not do things in half-measures.

Competitor number three is Intelligentsia’s Mike Phillips, an at-ease guy totally ready to make a really complex drink and huge amount of kitchenware look like child’s play. He uses both a lot of words and a lot of ingredients and a lot of gear, but manages to “simplex” the art of his presentation pretty awesomely. I’m almost overwhelmed by Mike but he makes it work. He pours a fifth fake mai-tai for emcee Al Liu and we’re off. I move positions to take more photos and see an Alterra staffer run a pet-hair lint roller over her hair backstage. No one else seems to think this is odd.

Up fourth is Alexandra Switzer (Intelligentsia, surprise?), whose set I’d missed much of the prior day. Alexandra cooked up some fancy chocolate on a hot-plate, and though very poised throughout, seemed to stop talking for at least two full minutes while preparing her cappuccinos. I think she was possibly nervous, or melting from the combined heat of the room and her really awesome looking cooking rig.


Like the complete manic weirdo that I am, I’m kinda doing twelve things at once — so after Alexandra I sneak back over to where I’ve set my computer up to charge and upload stuff. Someone has spilled what appears to be a pound of sugar nearly all over a huge amount of electrical equipment. “Glad that didn’t mess up any of my shit, yo!” I think secretly to myself, not yet knowing this would be a harbinger of worse to come.

Finalist five is Andy Carey (of Intelligentsia…it’s almost like they’re making them in some wacky barista factory). Besides having brought the cutest baby to the GLRBC (Why no award for this? Could Alterra not get an appropriate sponsor?), Andy has brought a smooth routine in which he walks the judges through his idea of a “perfect day”, seen through the lens of coffee beverages.


Weirdly, Andy gets off on the wrong foot factually by suggesting that St. Patrick’s Day actually took place yesterday (Saturday) rather than tomorrow (Monday), going so far as to evoke the naming of his child for said saint. Boy is he going to be surprised when he gets back to Chicago on Monday and finds the river dyed green and a bunch of high-fiving white guys stumbling around Wrigleyville in green sparkling cardboard top hats.

And last but not least is Alterra’s Scott Lucey, dude couldn’t look more relaxed, fluidly moving through jokes and explanations of his coffee. Mostly Lucey just seems kind of excited to be up there, describing his espresso as both “bright and acidic with notes of sour cherry” and “really effin’ awesome”. Though not allowed to curse in his own routine, he encourages the judges to use as much profanity as they like on the score sheets, e.g. “holy s***!” and “f*** is this espresso good!”

Come cappuccino time there’s one thing missing…a tray. Recovering swiftly, sL pours tableside — but loses points regardless. We get a little bit of an advanced lecture on custard science (yesterday was custard history) but no promised shout-outs to Brett Favre. Oh well. He did say “Wisconsin delicacy”, though, which is kind of like shouting out to Brett Favre.

Competition subsides for people to mop sweat from their brows, judges to deliberate, audience members to take coffee and bathroom breaks, and me to revisit my computer only to realize I’ve totally fucked it up and the flash card with every picture I took today now thinks it’s completely empty. I channel whatever Buddhism I have hidden within me and remind myself that just because I had a lot of fun taking all those pictures and that some of them were totally super awesome and that on some weird level I like to imagine that they even have relevance somewhere in the world…it will be okay if they are lost forever. Then I spent the next 20 minutes angrily trying to mount the CF card and hoping to god no one tries to fucking talk to me right now oh my god I can’t believe all the pictures might be gone fuck.

But. We are here to see someone take home a giant bronze portafilter suspended in midair, pouring out bronze espresso in the shape of the Great Lakes. Oh and also to see who will represent the region in the USBC, gain prestige within their craft, and so on. Just between you and me and the lamppost, I had a clear Milwaukee bias, and was having a really difficult time secretly deciding who I wanted to win. I really needed to see Teisl keep possession of one of his insanely amazing trophies. But I kinda wanted he and Lucey to tie, even if that was technically impossible. And all the Intelligentsia kids gave excellent performances. Mike had been the most self-possessed; I couldn’t believe he went through that unwieldy routine so effortlessly two days in a row. WHO WOULD IT BE?

The winners were….

#3 Scott Lucey
#2 Justin Teisl
#1 Mike Phillips

Later I would find out that my telekinetic Nostradamuslike power of futuresuggestion had indeed worked — technically Teisl and Lucey had the same scores, and did tie, though Tiesl had more high numbers overall, bumping him to second. This kinda thing makes me want to secretly reveal how much of a sentimental dope I truly am, but, y’know. I kept it together.


So that was that. After a quick post-GLRBC dairy-loading and a tour of Milwaukee’s finer cats, I am now on the train home at sunset: orange and blue shining through bare trees in frozen lakes, patches of snow on the ground. The most perfectest Amtrak middle west vistas. A guy in the next row is telling his buddy on the phone an immensely long story of his drunken weekend in Milwaukee (he can almost remember all sixteen shots), my pants are completely covered in dirt, my photos from today may be entirely destroyed and I am pretty sure my abilities to reason or hold a normal conversation may be stunted for another day or two. But I have 10 lbs of great-smelling coffee to drown out the secondhand smoke all over my luggage, a dinner date with my dad tonight, tickets to see the Magnetic Fields, and best of all, five or six people I really and truly can’t wait to see again in Minneapolis in a few weeks. Milwaukee makes me proud of cities and coffee and people and the Midwest. Can we have the GLRBC here three years in a row, too?


(mad kitty props to Lulu for moral support while camera salvaging)

7 Responses to “Out of the Custard and Into the Curd: GLRBC Day Three”

  1. bz

    being a words guy, this is my favorite kind of coverage. thanks for seriously slingin’ it. rocked.

  2. Andy C.

    Sorry to nitpick, but the Catholic Church changed the actual celebration of St. Patrick’s Day to Saturday since today (Monday) is a separate holy day.

    The city dyed the river and the drunk guys got their puking done over the weekend. Though, knowing Chicago, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were still doing it today.

  3. liz

    Whoa! Mea culpa, Andy. You’re ahead of me on this one. Now suddenly my outfit of green suspenders and a big pot of money looks pretty stupid today…

  4. Matt Brinski

    This blog needs to be sponsored, syndicated, and reprinted by the Utne Reader.

  5. michael phillips

    Damn fine bloggin’ lady. I was there and still cant recall this much. Thanks for all the hard work and yes… we are for the most part all pumped out of a wacky barista factory…

  6. Shannon Smith

    Thanks so much for the articulate illustration from the GLRBC weekend. I look forward to your updates from Minneapolis.

  7. Rosetta Guy


    Quite an entertaining recap. I’m guessing you’re the young woman from the SCAA what with the Twin Cities reference and all though you didn’t identify yourself.
    My actual name is nate.
    that cameraman was built like a linebacker!! I’m not gonna let some guy just walk infront of the seats I staked out for half an hour just to cover a contest for 7 secs. on the TV news after the fact.

    Thanks for comin down, and I also hope the Cream City can host the regional again.


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