welcome to beautiful milwaukee, wisconsin, where the unique weather axis of melting snow and brewery fumes have sunk a gauzy layer of fog over the city for many days now. those wily souls who navigate via instrument flight rules were able to find their way to lake michigan on friday for the 2010 great lakes regional barista competition at discovery world, hosted graciously by alterra coffee roasters. (thanks to alterra as well for kindly helping this renegade blogger get back home to central time.) also, say what you will about barista competitions, but this one has a sausage sponsor. god bless milwaukee.
the location is both stunning and complicated, as we are located not only on the beautiful lakefront, but we are also…in a hallway. this presents interesting challenges for people who simply want to attend exhibits at the science museum, but perhaps all of them will become coffee connoisseurs by the time they leave, if only by having something spilled on them.
anyway, let’s get on with it.
chris deferio, the coffee institute, muncie, in
chris deferio is no newcomer to either barista competitions, latte art pouroffs, or woodburning supply stores, and it’s in short order that his competition area begins to smell like campfire. deferio promises a “wild sweetness” from his coffee, and starts prepping an orange zest/sourghum syrup infusion for his signature drink…but the pan has been left on the burner longer than he meant it to, and we start the routine with a fragrant cloud of sourghum smoke.
everyone is still getting used to the setting: families keep confusedly walking through the growing crowd of spectators, strollers bumping over cables and cords, and the audio is, let’s just say, adjusting. station 1 is very near the washrooms, which means the XLERATOR hand dryer adds a little ambient noise to the setting…but smoke and xleration don’t slow down deferio. using an ethiopian sidama from the aromia cooperative, his signature drink is named “sweet aromia”, and he finishes today’s first routine with a caramelized sourghum molasses/orange zest, deglazed with orange juice, infused with cream and smoke, and mixed with his shots.
lindsay myers from muggswigz in canton, oh appears to have sawed the front off of her grinder. weird inappropriate sexual jokes ensue in the background.
jesse crouse, intelligentsia coffee and tea, chicago, il
IMAGINE, a competition routine that starts with “imagine:!” and you wouldn’t be dreaming if you were watching jesse crouse. jC paints a careful picture of his colombia cauca coffee’s farm in inza, pulls six shots of espresso (that’s an extra one for each himself and the head judge, to those keeping score at home) and backs his routine up against yo la tengo’s version of the deceptively cheery “stockholm syndrome”.
jesse explains the history and concept of bitters, the nature of the POISON IDEA, and explains that he’s invented his own (non-alcoholic) version of bitters for his signature drink, which involves cane sugar, blood orange and the sassafrassy flavored gentian root. limes are zested, and jesse finishes early enough to clean the hell out of his station.
(i take a little break to wander the discovery world gift shop for a moment…i may have to pick up a deck of Great Lakes Shipping Vessel trading cards later on. i also take a peek into the great lakes diorama, which i highly recommend, along with the dymaxion map and beaver skull.)
oh, check it out, it’s colin whitcomb from alterra coffee, milwaukee, wisconsin, our first local competitor today and perhaps the most enthusiastic of the weekend. colin is not being ironic when he throws up his arms triumphantly at the start of his routine: HE IS STOKED TO BE HERE!!!! and so are we.
colin is using a costa rican herbazu coffee and is also the only competitor to don the official 2010 GLRBC orange terrycloth wristband. the fog rolls in across lake michigan to envelop discovery world as colin blends black tea, orange blossom honey, peach puree, cream, and mariah carey.
last year’s 2nd place GLRBC winner trevor corlett from grand rapids, mitten‘s madcap cofee is up soon after, serving a honduras/guatemala blend again in terrifing aural proximity to the hand drier. in fact, the hand drier wins as trevor’s music bails completely, shaking him up a bit but not enough to deter the serving of lovely coffees. the signature drink involves a fig reduction and a v60 drip brew of the guatemalan with clove (?) and heavy creme infused with michigan cherry concentrate. no mention is made of horse bananas.
(hm, last time the GLRBC was held in milwaukee, team intelligentsia came in costume. did they forget to make custom slankets this year? imagine the freedom to stay cozy and pour with your buono kettle all at the same time. think about it, guys.)
charles babinski is the second of three competitors this weekend from intelligentsia coffee in chicago, il and chicago is a cold, cold place. the kind of place where when winter ends, the dawn of fresh crop central american coffees warms your heart like a custom slanket. charles’ el salvadoran fincamatalaPIta is presented in various forms that evoke its limeyness. speaking of limes, it’s apparently also “graham cracker” flavored cappuccino season at the GLRBC this year, and charles’ capps are no exception. as a counterpoint! to his coffee’s flavors, he brews a v60 of colombia los guyabos, serves that, then mixes a lime custard with taiwanese hong yue tea and espresso. tea is honored. doug palas is thanked. coffee is celebrated.
local coffeeist and photog cody kinart of alterra coffee here in milw., wisc. uses fire to caramelize strawberries to complement the guatemalan flor de rosario coffee he’s using, his routine moving slowly while alterran comrades literally bite their nails. cody’s coffee is farmed by a former german juice factory engineer named horst spitzke. at this point in the day, many of us in the audience are low-energy after the competitor who used 15 straight minutes of sitar music…
ryan knapp of g-rap‘s madcap is friday’s penultimate competitor, using a coffee from masha, burundi. i wish i remembered anything about his routine, but i have a feeling i’ll get to see it several more times this spring…
after day one closes, there is an attempt at friday fish fry action, but the crowds are too madding for me and mine. various milwaukee night spots are toured up until the point a white rap show breaks out and i amble home through the fog. dozens more compete tomorrow, the head-to-head lucey/phillips showdown included. i fall asleep clutching a sparkling cat toy. more tomorrow. more tomorrow.