Thanks to the lovely and enticing Jenni Bryant for holding my notebook while I type these notes in, by the way.

Competitor #10: Justin Teisl


There is a long judge’s delay before Teisl goes on, and I’m really hungry. But I can’t leave. Time to dig into these smoked dates!

Like in Milwaukee, Teisl is using a custom blend — but it’s a different one from before, which necessitates a new signature drink as well. Instead of the peach-assault, JT is sporting an “Espresso Manhattan” (props to our Empire State.) Like the other out-of-regions whose scores won’t allow them to place in the finals, he doesn’t seem as tense as he otherwise might. He makes some scowly faces as he pours his cappuccinos — and I later catch one of the judges not even eating their maraschino cherry in the signature beverage. C’mon, guys! (I ate it myself backstage. Who doesn’t eat a maraschino cherry, anyway? People who hate life?)
Time called at 15:00 exactly.

Competitor #11: Jeremy Sterner (Cafe Pronto, Annapolis, Maryland)

Jeremy has some kind of burnt sugar sticking out of his signature drink glasses. It looks like bacon It isn’t. He pours his cappuccinos — I see some lavender and vanilla beans and some kind of rice being cooked — and then I retire to a sandwich Mimi from Gimme! was kind enough to connect me with. My drive is waning a little here. I do my best.

Competitor #11: Rasheedd Jabr (Coffee Labs, Tarrytown, New York)

Rasheed is playing Tribe Called Quest and I’m still eating my sandwich. His signature drink involves chocolate discs of some kind with rosetta patterns in a contrasting white chocolate. The music cuts out at 14:00 and he asks for crowd noise…but the room is still a bit low-key at 2:30 in the afternoon. Calls time at 15:13. Everyone is going over today. At least the playing field is level.

Competitor #13: Chris Deferio (Carriage House, Ithaca, New York)

There is a deep pause between Deferio’s introduction and his hitting of the red button. We all reflect for a moment.

Instrumental guitar sets the pace for incumbent NERBC champ Deferio. He’s into smoking wood, and comes out of the gate with chopped hickory-smoked vanilla beans heating up for his signature beverage. Chris’ table setting is also burnt wood — i.e. with a woodburning pen, in an intricate design. Very rustic these Ithaca types. Chris’ capps look good and the audience kicks into higher-energy gear at the same time as his soundtrack.

wood shots

His signature drink is a two-parter titled “A Walk in the Woods” (dude loves wood, get it?) It involves cream infused with blue spruce and maple. But is he gonna go over time? At one minute left he gets visibly worried — but his all he has left to serve are his espressos, and his shots are up. Pour!

The end of his presentation is photo-finish.

“It’s been my pleasure to go on…” [14:56] “…this walk in the woods…” [14:58] “…with you.” [14:59] “Time!”


Competitor #14: Benjamin H. Wilkinson (The Publick Cup, New Haven, Conn.)

Sigur Ros playing, Benjamin says something about having “sold himself” to coffee. I wonder for how much? Time runs out quickly and he rushes through his signature drink — a lucky purple shamrock sits on top of the espresso machine, that it’s my favorite plant makes me calmer as I watch him kind of freak out at the end of his routine, Wilkinson only relaxing once he realizes he’s already blown his time. Signature drink, served at 15:46, involves blackberries, chocolate and pepper.

Competitor #15: Elizabeth Manriquez (Espresso Bueno, Barre, Vermont)

Elizabeth pouts a lot at her steaming pitcher. People shouldn’t give away their disappointment so easily. Pours four really foamy capps. I disappear outside onto State Street for awhile to get fresh air until some guy that looks like a standard hippie college town burnout starts screaming to someone on the street about the existence of god.

I miss competitor #16, and wander in during #17, Ary Laudeman of Heavenly Cup Coffee in Painted Post, New York. There are red tapers burning, Indian music playing, and she’s doing something with cumin. There’s an immersion blender. There appears to be a salad on the table.

Competitor #18: Peter Droste (Hotel Delmano, Brooklyn, New York)


Peter Droste (“long O, long E”) is here to compete for the underrepresented Brooklyn — he’s a barista and a bartender, and his drink shows it. (As, perhaps, does his coiffure.)

You can tell he’s a little nervous, but he’s clearly practiced well. Cappuccinos cause a little bit of a problem — the cups are wide-mouthed, the milk a little thin. He pours them tableside and serves them in pairs, moving on quickly to his espressos. Heats up the cups. The audience has calmed down a bit, but the hardcore people are still here. Some people have even woken up from their naps.

Droste’s signature drink is a variation of a gin fizz: egg white, orange flower water, rosewater, cream, grapefruit juice for acidity. It’s a two-stage preparation involving first mixing, and later making a meringue, in cocktail shakers — the audience cheers like mad, presumably because these do not shake liquid everywhere in the process like they did when I saw Droste practice. It goes over awesome. His timing seems to be on, too, except…oh no, it isn’t. At 14:58 he’s hustling to get the glasses to the judges’ table. Sigh. The fizzy drink is delivered with a twist, and time is called at 15:59.

I’m pretty tired right now and go dig out those two bags of Ecco Experimental Espresso #2 I brought along and ask the nice barista on the fourth machine if he wouldn’t mind putting ’em in the grinder. I start trying to download photos from my camera, as I seem to have filled three cards. Whoever is onstage is preannouncing what kind of latte art he is going to pour. And I send Scott Rao to fetch me a coffee.

Competitor #21: Anne Nylander (El Beit, Brooklyn, New York)


Anne introduces her drinks as representing an immediate family, a local family and families around the world. I know Anne back in Brooklyn, though I haven’t met her
family — can’t say whether her drinks were accurate representations or not.

Anne — like just about everyone else — is using the locally produced Evans Farm milk. But Anne explains that prior to her competition she actually held a public milk tasting to determine what milk she liked best. She also explains that the farm only has 100 cows.

By the time Anne’s capps are out, though, I’m seriously worried about her time — but all that’s left are the shots. Will it go off?

She’s calm, but seems to be talking about farmers when she should be pulling shots. Serves em up at 15:18 and calls time seven seconds later. In the interview, NIck Cho asks how she is feeling:

“I’ve dreamt of this part,” says Nylander drily. “The part where Nick Cho talks to me. You were wearing that ridiculous purple tie.”

Anne is happy with her first-time competition performance, but “would have liked to finish on time.”

Competitor #22: Jesse Darrow (Gimme! Coffee, Ithaca, New York)

Jesse’s using Ethiopian music to “match the community vibe” and has one hell of a blender on stage with him. I miss most of his routine due to the long-anticipated arrival of my friend Amber from Toronto, but rush onstage just in time to shoot him preparing his signature drink, which sadly falls apart into a small-scale catastrophe. He forgets about some shots, and tries a gimmicky mortar-and-pestle preparation (beginning at 14:23) that involves pressing some pumpkin seeds and honey and other things into a portafilter to form a cookie of some form…the first works okay, the second both falls apart and sticks to the portafilter…Darrow is visibly frustrated and bummed out, and I wonder if he’s even going to go through with serving his signature drinks or actually just even bail. He takes it like a man and carries on, serving his drinks well into the seventeens. Poor dude.

Competitor #23: Jay Murdock (Cafe Grumpy, New York, New York)

Jay’s been talking about competition for probably six months or more now, and he’s all dressed up and in a sunny disposition for today’s contest. Jay starts by introducing his signature drink which will involve custard (hello!) prepared on the spot. Jay folds his yolks and cream with orange silicone spatulas (Grumpy representin’ — nice touch.)

Jay’s presentation is smooth and relaxed, and he seems very comfortable. He pours his capps into black Terra Keramik cups, which I can never make up my mind about — so masculine, so bling — and yet capps sometimes look really sharp in ’em.

Jay’s music switches to “The Passenger” by Iggy Pop and for a minute I catch judge Rich Westerfield’s eye as we both unconsciously start nodding our heads along on the stage. Westerfield quickly looks away and stops acting like he’s having a good time.

It’s nice to watch Jay stand behind the Grumpy house espresso — Heartbreaker blend, a blend created by my friend Ed Kauffman who is judging today, too (though not Jay, of course). Heartbreaker has been tasting better than ever back in NYC lately. He heats up Cafe Grumpy espresso cups as Thom Yorke starts wafting from the speakers. He starts to get the signature drinks set up with 4.5 minutes left and I think I hear him abbreviate “Ethiopians” to “Ethiopes”. Very street.

Jay’s performance continues to be pretty tight, but suddenly I begin to fear he’s going to violate my personal rule about signature drinks: if you’re going to use a torch, don’t go over time! It’s like whipping out a Flying V guitar for your encore. You had better fucking shred. Time is cut too close here as Jay caramelizes some sugar on top of his drinks, and he misses the ten second warning, going over — but really not much more over time than anyone else. A really good first-time showing.

#24 is Sam Penix of Gorilla Coffee in Brooklyn, New York — but I’m fading fast and have retreated to the balcony seats with the bad kids. #25, Natasha Lebedev from Zoka (!) all the way out in Seattle, has a tight routine, and says something about vinegar having “a bit of a stigma”. Katie Duris, our last out-of-region, from Murky Coffee, is meant to be the last — but we revisit Matt Menzenski from Ithaca Coffee Company, who had a technical malfunction during his earlier scheduled time.

Finalists are announced a little after 8:00pm. In the balcony, Jenny G notices Lucey try to high-five Jay Murdock when Jay’s name is called — but Jay holds up his baby Madeline instead. Lucey opts not to hit the kid, and we all head out for some much-needed refreshment.

3 Responses to “NERBC Day One Part Three: A bit of a stigma.”

  1. oarttocs

    scott rao fetches you coffee? you must be kinda important.

  2. Rich

    Damn, busted.
    How can you not bob your head to The Passenger? Momentary lapse during a long day. But in my defense, I did it with a poker face 😉

  3. wiggles

    sam from gorilla was dq’d on time, but put in an admirable performance with my vote for best soundtrack- she rocked some elvis and wipe out, and her siggy involved maple syrup and yum. thanks for the bloggage

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