It seems pointless to coffee-blog anymore now that there’s a sprudge out there, but hey. I went to Iceland!!!!!
Now that I’ve had a week or two to towel off, I still miss the Nordic Barista Cup and everything and everyone that came with it. Iceland itself was as unreal a land as I’d hoped: outer space terrain, stylish, geeky-chic, sweet and weird people left and right, hot water coming out of the ground, a thriving culture of swimmers and knitters, and the best hot dogs I’ve ever had. Oh, and the horses are shorter. And it is constantly raining, but only a little bit, so persistent that you stop noticing and you look up the road a piece and think “gee, it’s raining up there and not here!” and then you realize it’s been raining on you, too, and you should really put away your camera.
The Nordic Barista Cup was long-mumbled-at-me by some of my friends to be the “premier” coffee event of the year, and while I think that suggests more glitter and red carpetry than it contained (other, ahem, than Tim Varney’s Elton John impression), those people may have been right. What makes the Nordic Cup special is that it’s contained in such a strange little vacuum, so intimate and involved, a true gathering of people being inspiring and nerdy and curious all sort of trapped together in magical circumstances that have as much to do with why we’re in coffee as they have to do with anything else at all.
And though it’s true that I would have liked the experience to be more coffee-focused for those of us that were attending rather than competing or judging, that those elements were supplanted by things like synchronized swimming and high-speed Aeropress competitions, by impromptu dance-offs and arts and crafts fairs….I mean. Yeah. This is for sure a better way to stimulate and entertain a community than serving cappuccinos in a black shirt against a black curtain to four people who are pouting. Right?!
But beyond the amazing and innumerable moments of fun and hilarity (I’m talking to you, back of the bus), the biggest coffee treat of my trip to Iceland was what I got to take away. This trip — and I owe my thanks, which should not be appearing as late as the fourth paragraph, to Espresso Parts NW for sending me over there to keep an eye on things — was my first real look at the way coffee happens outside of this continent, and to get to visit cafes (from the more mainstream to Sonja and Imma’s adorable kaffesmidja, the latter quietly unmarked but always full of people) and bring home coffees from these crazy Scandanavians was a fantastic adventure itself. (They roast a little lighter over there than in the States? I’ll say!!)
But back to the Nordic Cup, there’s really nothing to prepare you for the joy of watching countries celebrate their national pride by wearing outlandish costumes, holding cupping challenges and auctioning each other off as dates. That this was all done in-between scuttling across the Icelandic countryside in buses, and hosted by a pompadoured Mexican man who would do things like introduce Cup of Excellence’s Susie Spindler as “XXX rated” was really only gravy. Fishy, malty-sweet Icelandic gravy…
The teams themselves were incredible, each judged as much on skill within competition (I do believe it was Sweden who built the best grinder and roaster out of spare parts…) as what was repeatedly dubbed the mysterious “X” factor. (“Like when you are in love,” explained our adroit emcee Jose.) For me — though the technical prowess of Norway and the flair and teamwork of Iceland and the steadfastness of Finland and the longing gazes of Sweden were clear — there was never any doubt which team would win an “X” factor contest. Denmark, Denmark, Denmark, I knew from the beginning there was no way to top the spirit of a team with straw hats and bathing pantaloons and such killer dance moves. You guys are special, truly. Also, Morten, thanks for giving us that entire pizza in the middle of the city square at 3:00am.
And like any good adventure, the only way to wean yourself away from it is with another, so I did what anyone would do and flew straight from Reykjavik to Seattle, saw a concert three hours after getting off the plane, toured the Pacific Northwest, and high-tailed it back to CoffeeFest. Spending the weekend seeing friends and family, and adopted family, stateside (while overseeing people try to identify the aroma of “basmati rice” vs. “clove-like” vs. “cooked beef”) was exactly what I needed. Watching awesome friends new and old brutalize the Northwest Regional Barista Competition was righteous as well! Too many good people across both magical trips to count here, so let’s cut to the chase…you’re all so lovely, but is it okay if this time around I miss Klaus and Varney the most? (Mp…I guess you can come too.)