[Playing mass catch-up here now that I’m back from the Twin Cities. Can I really not have eaten anything since brunch at the bowling alley? Ow.]

Nick Griffith (Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea, Los Angeles, CA) is on now. The Minneapolis Convention Center is extremely, extremely dry. As I watch him pour water from the judges I get really, really jealous. I am thirsty as fuck.

Nick is dead calm. Lots of discussion of flavors. He finishes two minutes under time, and pours the judges more water. Water!!!

I go wander the trade show floor again for a bit. I am so thirsty I want to die, but before I am smart enough to find water I find my friend Patty over working the Clover machine in the Cafe Imports booth. A nice Kenyan. I wander over to the La Marzocco booth and ogle some sexy equipment. Kent Bakke, who is very nice, is the CEO of La Marzocco. We interacted thusly:

Kent: “Nice camera!”
Liz: “Uh, nice espresso machine.”

Oh, SCAA trade show booths, land of the awkward pauses… anyway, I believe I mentioned I was dying of dehydration. I should’ve laid down $3 for a Dasani somewhere in the mafia-run convention commissary, but instead I opted for a more grassroots solution: rummage through competition prep room to see if anyone has leftover water from competition. I have basically moved my life underneath the Alterra table anyway, so when I find two open bottles of San Pellegrino with a few inches of water left in each they are nearly immediately consumed from Scott and Justin’s table. Sorry, guys. Like I said, I was planning to tell you.

Nominally refreshed, I head back into the fray: Billy Wilson (The Albina Press, Portland, OR) is on and I’ve never seen him compete or make espresso or really do much beyond quietly sit with his girlfriend, actually. By way of warming up, Billy chats up the judges he doesn’t already know personally — asks them where they work and if they like their jobs (!).

Billy heats up his cups and introduces his Anfim grinder to the tech judges. Billy is pulling all his shots at once like many competitors today, explaining that he’d “rather have the blend sit for 5 seconds here than 25 in the cup.”

I’m curious to taste Billy’s espresso and as he’s preparing these I glance over to gauge the position of the runners who are volunteering to bus the judges’ table between drinks. They don’t actually seem to be in the competition area with me. Odd. Billy notices this as well as he’s about to move on to his next drink — and kind of freezes up and looks questioningly at head judge Marcus Boni. Suddenly Marcus is bussing the demitasses himself, and swiftly passing them away — to me. I want to be super helpful and I put down my camera and start trying to carry away some stacked cups…just poorly and hastily enough to uh, drop one. I have now caused a dish crash in the middle of an already weird competition moment, and Michelle Campbell and I finish bussing the demitasses while I enjoy the fragrance of the end of a really good shot of Hairbender all over my skirt.

Billy’s signature drink is, I think, a chocolate espresso allspice torte? Torte? Did I hear that right? Finalists announced:

Drew Cattlin, Nick Griffith, Heather Perry, Chris Baca, Kyle Glanville. Both Drew and Baca! This makes me so happy and almost kind of choked up, because their slots in the finals are products not just of passion and hard work but of being awesome enough to inspire each other to great levels. These guys drove cross-country for the first time for each of them to get here, carefully importing their modded Anfims and favorite milk from Northern California to the North Star State. One had trained the other, they competed both together and against each other — I don’t know how this works with friends without being hard sometimes (Lucey and Teisl, how do you fuckin’ do it?) but something about these guys’ climb to the finals is super cinematic and love-filled. Right on, you two.

Five of those six finalists are from the Western region, by the way. Maybe those astronomical scores from the WRBC weren’t off the bell curve after all: these people must be fucking good.

No hotel pool tonight but after a little decompression time, Amber and Mike and I head out to meet the Alterra peoples and then move off to the Barista Guild of America party. We are all very tired and a little lost on our way to the party, but luckily run into a disoriented James Hoffmann (“Sorry, I’m a little freaked out, the party had a lot of flashing lights and was loud.”) being very British and retiring from the festivities early.

There is a cluster of people outside (Reg Barber using a whole lot of flashbulb, Willem Boot getting high on the sidewalk) but we brave the smoke machines and Medieval lounge atmosphere anyway in order to, I guess, talk to all the people who are here to talk to all the people too. Though Latourell is hosting his usual Dance Fever blend of fun in the main room, I end up somehow constantly immersed in groups of Canadians, who seem to be making up up an inordinately large part of this conference. Where do they all come from? And with only 30,000,000 people in the country, who is at home stoking the fires? There are a lot of New Yorkers, though, and it’s a vaguely comforting combination of worlds when the New York Coffee Society’s Daniel Humphries does chase us down on the street and tries to discuss Amber’s career, uh, at 2:30am on the way back to the hotel. Eff networking, it’s time for sleep! This is almost done and we are going bowling in the morning!!

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