USBC Day Two Part One

Ow, it feels very early when I manage to reach the Minneapolis Convention Center, although it is surprisingly closer to my hotel than I thought when I let Mike White try to guide me via skyway the day before. I’m headed to watch Charles Babinksi (Intelligentsia, Chicago, IL) compete.

Charles’ setup is super, super clean and organized, everything symmetrical and well-arranged — only he’s forgotten his knock box on the cart! Ouch. He runs out and grabs one and is well on his way. Charles starts rocking out to his soundtrack and looks like he is genuinely having a good time. This benefits everyone, probably.

Charles continues dancin’ and whiskin’ as he prepares a creme anglaise to be topped with clementine foam for his signature beverage. He has a really good talk-through of what he’s doing as he prepares his ingredients and cooks down his creme — it reminds me a bit of Amber Sather’s explanations, and then I remember she probably trained him.

For the next competitor, Chris Owens is introduced as a sensory judge as “a former NERBC judge and all-around nice guy.”

Bronwen Serna (Hines Public Market Coffee, Seattle, WA) is a former winner and draws a big photo crowd. Her espresso blend has a ton of coffees in it — a Yemen, a Brazil, a Mexico, a Java, a PNG, a Sumatra… did I get all that? She seems super, super comfortable competing. She’s brought a Colonel Sanders doll in surrogate support for Jon Sanders — the doll may have a somewhat easier time at the international border — and is pouring awesome looking cappuccinos in Illy washing machine cups.

Brownen lets us know that she met the cows who made her milk yesterday, and they are Betsy and Susie. Betsy and Susie apparently can really put out. Her signature drink is a Turkish-coffee inspired concoction that involves bittersweet chocolate, sea salt and some Turkish pepper. Unfortunately her signature drink cuts it close at 13:58 and Bronwen is actually speaking to her shots (“come on! come on!”) at the end. Cardamom and sage-blossom (?) milk spills as she pours her sig drinks at the judges’ table, and she’s grating chocolate and saying “whoops!” at 14:48. Despite this the routine is solid and great. Bronwen is over time at 15:15.

(I taste the Turkish coffee thing and it’s really fantastic, by the way — dark cocoa, sooty, peppery, salty in all the right ways.)

I catch the end of Lita Lopez (Groundwork Coffee Co., Los Angeles, CA) as she is handing out samples to the audience in tiny paper cups!

Talya Strader (Intelligentsia, Chicago, IL) is next on the bill. She has some kind of peppers on the judges’ table, and a jar of something colorful marinating on her prep station.

I’ve seen Talya before too, and again I’m impressed at the chutzpah at that Sufjan Stevens song. But it’s sweet to see all the Intelli kids singing along in the audience to the lines about Chicago.

Talya doesn’t seem to talk that much (enough?) in her presentation, but when she does it’s good. Her signature drink involves honey, steamed soymilk infused with peppers, and cinnamon. She’s confident, and finishes early.

Chris Ganger (Ithaca Coffee Co., Ithaca, NY) is on now. He’s a nice guy and a good competitor, but I evacuate before I have to hear that friggin kazoo version of “The Final Countdown” again.

Meanwhile in the ladies’ room, the crowds of children in heavy makeup for the dance competition next door is really starting to freak me out.

Heather Perry (Coffee Klatch, San Dimas, CA) needs little introduction, but it’s the first time I’ve ever watched her compete. I sit with Chris and Caroline from my hometown Cafe Grumpy and it’s nice to be with Brooklynites, not that there is any shortage of those here. Watching Heather is kind of like watching a newscaster prepare espresso. I’m about fifty feet away and it still makes me feel uncomfortable.

Devin Pedde (Intelligentsia Coffee, Los Angeles, CA) served me a my first morning coffee while he was practicing: a shot of his bright and fruity and strange espresso, which he is worried the judges won’t like. He’s infused his milk with fennel for his signature drink, and I can tell by the handwriting in the notes I’ve taken for his routine that I really needed to eat right about then. I’m not taking super good care of myself. Lots of random sips of coffee and not enough food and water. Ut oh.

One of the sponsors for the USBC is Urnex cleaning products, who make wipes. The US Barista Champion will receive a three-night all expenses paid trip to New York City to tour their factory!

I’m really burning out. I wander into the trade show area “for just a minute” and end up sitting in a comfy chair in the Alterra booth, hoping no one asks me how to order coffee or if they can have a free t-shirt. Lucey is on bar right now and places a shot of espresso in front of me — “Oh god,” I say, reaching for it when I shouldn’t have any more caffeine, but totally want to drink it anyway — and he snatches it away. “I know what that means,” he says, and saves me from myself.

Phuong Tran (Lava Java, Ridgfield, WA) is doing some calligraphy with sesame ink in tiny bowls when I return to the competition area. A little while later, Owens and M’lissa and I nominate Drew Johnson as the possibly the nicest, coolest guy at the convention — and therefore the most suspicious character around. We have our eye on you, Johnson.

Speaking of Drews: Drew Cattlin (Ritual Coffee Roasters, San Francisco, CA) is up now. I am really excited to see Drew, because he’s easily in the top 5 awesome people named Andrew here at SCAA. Plus he’s good at ping pong.

Drew is rocking an Irmakoff-timer-modded Anfim grinder, and as the trade show is now in full swing at 3:20, there is a huge crowd gathered to watch him tamp to Daft Punk and Notorious B.I.G. He pours his capps tableside — using Clover Farms milk that he and Baca actually drove out from the west coast. The milk is fucking delicious: butterscotchy cappuccinos come out of those cows combined with Cattlin’s natural-processed Brazilian and Yirgacheffe blend.

Drew bends allll the way over his portafilter when he tamps. His station is clean and well-organized, he’s calm and polished, even his cups are arranged in nice triangular arrays: this contrasts nicely with hip hop, radical espresso, and Drew in general.

Signature drink is based on an orange creamsicle inspired by a vended treat in sunny Dolores Park. Drew’s got orange zest creme anglaise goin’ and serves his drinks like he serves his capps: to the judges in 2, 3, 4, 1 order. Huh.

A note on stiff muscles: if you are worn out at a barista competition, ask a barista to give you a neckrub. They are strong people, these.

A note on sensory judges: if you see someone wandering around eating a saltless saltine, they are probably not vegan or in total desperation (my first two guesses). They may in fact be a sensory judge.

Last up today is Jay Caragay, who apparently had been waffling (get it? breakfast drink joke) on competing for many days now, and is closing off the preliminaries with a bang. He takes the stage. “Hell’s Bells” crescendoes. Here we go.

Jay appears to have borrowed Bronwen’s cappuccino cups. And her Colonel.

Everyone wants to see showboat Caragay — I’m now sharing the photo pit with Zachary Carlsen, Erin Meister, James Hoffmann, and that nice SCAA fellow with the very long monopod I keep getting in the way of. Jay serves water to the judges with a Minneapolis-centric joke referring to the purification rituals of Lake Minnetonka. (Barnett is grinning, and I can’t tell if he knows it’s because that’s a reference to the scene in Purple Rain where Prince tricks Appolonia into showing her tits.)

Jay is a great performer but a bit of a shaker. He spills milk on two (!) capps. The second one he just swaps out a saucer for, as he’s doing these tableside. Score one more vote for bringing extra ceramics.

Then, “while these guys are enjoying their drinks…or perhaps they’re not,” Jay suggests the audience take a moment to enjoy the vicarious presence of the newly re-fathered )on Lewis, who cannot be here. For a minute I think Jay is going to pour a perfectly good pint of Rogue “Dead Guy” ale out right on the convention floor — but )on’s not dead, just at home. Jay tells the audience to pass the beer around, and they do. Even Matt Lee takes a drink.

Jay prepares his “Breakfast in Bed” drink a little short on time now, and when eh calls for a confirmation on the clock, hell kinda breaks loose. Melanie Westerfield tells him there are four seconds left, but somewhere in the fracas misunderstands him to be calling time when he isn’t, and suddenly the drinks are served but everything breaks down into Michelle Campbell and Melanie and Jay and the head judge trying to figure out what the fuck happened and when. Is he four seconds undertime or fifteen over? Can the judges start to drink their drinks? This debate goes on awkwardly onstage until someone suggests they cut Jay’s microphone (!) and eventually the judges drink and Jay tells a story about those same cows Betsy and Susie and all is well. At least for now. Finalists shortly.

3 Responses to “USBC 2008 Day Two: That’s not Lake Minnetonka”

  1. bz

    schnaikes. are you twizzled?

  2. Chemically Imbalanced (espresso-jogged screeds) » usbc: chip shots

    […] who leaped into the round of 25: her spro is somewhat microcosm-esque. (yes! another gratuitous homage to the barista-poet in absentia!) a smidge of the stuff left at our place last month wowed this […]

  3. Lance

    Great narrative! Good times!

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