twitchy

It didn’t snow.

Spencer Veighweger drew first of the morning. He seemed really, really comfortable. Began by showing his green coffee, discussing its journey, and proceeded quickly into making drinks while rocking out to his own music. I watch him serve Amber a cappuccino with a huge drip running down the side — this is always a really unpleasant part of being a photographer right up on the stage with the competitors. Like any of the tech judges or anyone else, there’s no reaction given, but it’s kinda painful when you see something they don’t. And, uh, photograph it. A solid performance by Mr. Clean.

Sammy Piccolo has won this contest so many times already I have this feeling he’s going to be a lot looser today than he was yesterday. He is. He hand-grinds a little of his espresso for the judges to enjoy the dry aroma: his combination of Brazil and Biloya is promised to have notes of strawberry-rhubarb and blueberry pancake.

Sammy treats his routine like a host situation, repeatedly referring to the judges as guess in his “cafe”. No smiley latte art is poured, and the performance goes much better than the day before, in all its Piccoline traditionalness.

Meanwhile, Reg Barber has turned up today with a monopod and a large external flash. “I got a new flashbulb!” he tells me. “It’s the big one!!”

Anthony Benda discloses immediately at the onset of his routine that he does not use hair styling product, but that Mike Yung’s secret is also Garnier Fructis, which explains why Mike is mistaken for a Danish pimp as frequently as Jay Caragay. Anthony’s espresso shots supposedly have a “spritzy effervescence”, with a sweet finish of strawberry-rhubarb (he’s using the same Brazil component as Sammy, whose blend from 49th is almost the same.)

Anthony is slowing down his shots today in order to increase the body and balance the acidity, or at least these are parts of his pre-show trivia question session. (Anthony also gets points from this observer for helping Jay kill judge-scoring/stage banter time by engaging him about his dinner at Au Pied du Cochon, rather than egging him on towards off-colour jokes and hooker stories that would be fine in a bar or restaurant but are totally out of place at a barista competition, even if Jay already goes to bars and restaurants with most of the sixty people watching. Ahem. Anyway.)

His routine seems to go smoothly, but his shots aren’t as good as the day before, and he knows it. Nonetheless he’s pretty comfortable up there — describing his coffees confidently, making fun of Alistair on the fourth machine, expressing sudden shock that Deaton Pigot, who is tech judging him, speaks with a funny accent, etc.

Anth is followed by Le Chad Moss, who bobs his head throughout most of his performance, explaining things in what was either thought to be a clear or patronizing manner depending on who you asked. Chad steamed each cappuccino individually, then served each to the judges (ladies first) with “That’s for you! Please enjoy.”

Chad had arguably the most interesting, and odd, signature drink, which involved a rose-hip-dark-chocolate-dipped sugar cone, filled with warm lingonberry sauce suspended over the shot of espresso. Moss then elevated each shot of espresso (using his hands…) up to the tip of the cone so that the espresso would “open the aperture of the sugar cone”, causing some of the lingonberry sauce to drip down, through the chocolate, into the drink. Very kinetic. Very strange. Its subtleties were lost on me as I grabbed one away from the bussers… perhaps the aperture was already past its prime by then?

Phil Robertson had no end of trouble with his headset yesterday and has opted for a clip-on mic today. It feeds back enormously at the very beginning of his routine, and he (and Sebastian, in the audience) are both kind of visibly anxious. he pours his cappuccino milk in stages, and seems to pull the routine on track nicely until the very end, at which point time becomes an issue. Phil seems like he could be a great contender, and is eminently likeable. Maybe next year.

Back in the audience it is privately revealed that Anthony’s Oreo drink is garnished today with faux “nos compliments” generic-brand chocolate and creme sandwich cookies. A travesty.

Joel May seems to feel strong but as he’s pouring out his signature drinks at the end, has to redistribute the liquid a bit and acknowledges the faux pas. He’s over time, but calm and well-spoken in his post-performance interview with Jay, reminding me how engaging and articulate so many of these competiors can be when they’re not super-focused and/or shaking and/or sweating and/or freaking out in some time vacuum (which, by the way, in Canada, lacks a handy visible clock for the competitors or the audience to see by…) So many of these guys (and yes, they are all all all guys) would make great diplomats for Canada in 2009.

There is a latte art throwdown in the staging area while the judges and data enter-ers attempt to wrangle more sense out of the results than on the previous day, and suddenly the awards are rolling out, Krups products and Nuova Simonelli lanyards to all the entrants, bottles of wine to the judges (guess who traded his for a bottle of Dru? Well, who didn’t…) and the Stanley-Cup-esque Reg Barber-forged tamper trophy goes…well…goes back…to…Sammy Piccolo.

The spread was close:

6th: Anthony Benda, 517 points
5th: Phil Robertson, 527.5 points
4th: Chad Moss, 551.5 points
3rd: Joel May, 555 points
2nd: Spencer Veighweger, 562 points
1st: Sammy Piccolo, 569.5 points

…and for Miss Congeniality, voted by all the other baristas…Anthony Benda (p.s. go visit Cafe Myriade, 1432 Rue Mackay, south of Maisonneuve, in Montreal on Monday Oct. 27 starting at 8:37am.)

See you next year in the Reg Barber Coffee Amphitheatre, kids.

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