By the way, I forgot the most frightening thing anyone has said to me so far this conference:

“I’m from the Ugly Mug. What are you doing Sunday night?”

Hopefully that guy won’t find me today!!

Back to the competition… Mike Philips (Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea, Chicago, IL) is up. I feel like he’s tighter than at GLRBC. He doesn’t. His coffee is two Brazil pulp naturals and a washed El Salvador. It tasted good this morning when I was asleep. I mean asleep standing up in the convention center.

Phuong Tran (Lava Java, Richfield, WA) smiles throughout her routine. Milk sprays over the edge of her small steaming pitcher — “this can happen,” she says. But you can just correct it, she continues. “It takes skill.”

It turns out the sesame-ink letters she’s been calligraphy-painting on judges’ bowls are the judges’ first initials. If she weren’t so charming and actually going to pour the espresso in over top of the sesame as a flavor, this would be cheeky as all heck. But it’s nice.

Back behind the projection screen I run into Bob Yellin. “It’s like asking who’s better? Picasso or Rembrandt, when you’re competing at this level,” he says.

Justin Teisl (Alterra Coffee, Milwauke, WI)! I really like hearing a Milwaukee accent say “burdock root”.

JT’s music is really great. It starts with some Mum-y/Sigur-Ros-y thing I know but can’t remember what it is, then kicks up at just the right moment in competition. He’s really in flow and when someone is really just cruising through a routine I don’t know how to take notes — at least pictures are easier. I’m starting to absorb ambient tension/excitement for my friends. I don’t even think it’s the caffeine.

I eat some food and try to get some nerd time in while a couple of competitors go; back intime to watch Scott Lucey (Alterra Coffee, Milwaukee, WI) who has changed his music back to Jay-Z and other things that I think will bring the energy more than his soundtrack the other day. He gets up there. Things feel right. It’s on!

Scott has to dump his first two capp shots, but today he is really comfortable (or acting it) and even this seems kind of done in a casual and friendly manner.

When Lucey is at his best he really connects with a room in a way that goes well beyond the sum of judges and audience: he addresses the room with this really serious politeness while still being weird and funny and somehow really welcoming and engaging. You don’t really feel that separated from the stage floor or the remove of the performative environment while watching him compete. I’m guessing this is the same reason he tends to generate a little bit of cult status: there’s this mixture of passionate earnest decorum and total informality that people feel so comfortable with and want to be around. Total Midwest, in every single one of the best ways.

“Here comes the signature drink!” declares Lucey, deploying Colonel Custard again — the judges will taste notes of sour cherry “in a good way” in the espresso, and as they are drinking Lucey has a full minute to clean, thanks everyone completely sincerely, and ends with “That felt good. Time.”

Ryan Willbur (Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea, Los Angeles, CA) is really, really comfortable. Snoop Dogg’s “Sensual Seduction” changes to something else — and Lucey shouts “Rock!” and “Go Ryan!” from the adjacent station during his cleanup time. Ha.

Ryan introduces his coffee and returns one capp to the prep table to wipe down. A lot of this kind of thing is happening today.

He introduces his signature beverage with, “As much as I wanted something to drink that was relaxing,” and explains why his isn’t. I’m certainly not relaxed and I didn’t even have any.

I take a little break from watching competitors intently and discover the online chat going on with the live video stream. This is totally psycho. I’m sitting 40 feet around the corner from James Hoffmann and Scott Lucey, talking to them online in a chat window next to a live video feed of the event we are actually AT. I am such an absolute nerd that this is actually tremendously appealing. I gotta stop. I give the computer over to Anne Nylander and grab my camera for Baca.

Chris Baca (Ritual Coffee Roasters, San Francisco, CA) is so good and fluid I don’t even really pause to write or take myself out of the moment. I know his espresso is GOOD. I am getting really tense wanting so much for so many of these amazing baristas — and human beings — to win. The tension coming off the stage and within me is combining into a kind of freaky froth — plus I’m tired. Baca remarks that his favorite thing about his cherry lime cheesecake signature drink is the “textual diversity” of his drink. Naturally once these hit the bus tray the drinks have been reduced to tiny homogenous drips. Rats.

2 Responses to “USBC 2008 Day Three Part Two SEMIFINALS: It takes skill.”

  1. scottlucey

    Thanks for the sweet sweet words Liz.
    I’ll be sending you your battery in the mail… shoot. Sorry I forgot.

  2. JIm

    If my wife is reading, I’d like to clarify that I wasn’t “that guy”.

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