waking up to daylight savings time in another city is a challenge. i spend about 15 minutes sunday morning reloading, reloading, rechecking various internet websites that claim to know the accurate time in milwaukee or chicago. i am paranoid that i have woken up late, so rather than hustling, i just do this over and over again to reassure myself i haven’t. i haven’t. time to get to d-world. the lake is bright blue today as the sun is finally, for the first time since i got to milwaukee, coming out.
finalist no.1: ryan knapp (madcap)
ryan takes the stage more cool and collected than before. smooth smoothman pours a v60 of his burundi coffee, pulls his espresso shots, and has his way with the mooville milk. his cappuccinos look great — they’re moving their hips like “yeah”. maple creme anglaise/berry signature drinks are presented and it’s all like no big thing, ryan’s just making some coffee, telling you about it, making it look easy and awesome.
finalist no.2 charles babinski (intelligentsia)
charles is gonna lay it down to you here, judges. in fact, he’s gonna lay down a little himself: c-babs opens his routine by actually leaning onto the judges’ table and resting for awhile. he’s got some 411 to drop on these guys: winter sucks.
but you know what doesn’t suck? the arrival of fresh crop central american coffees, which herald the thawing of chicago ground and the livening of palates, and to charles, this time of year (come early in 2010) is a “calendar moment”. he has me and the judges convinced we’ve got to start having more moments like that ourselves. charles prepares his el salvadoran finca matalapita with lots of dancing interspersed, and makes promises of sweet lime, juicy green grape, and cranberry tartness. his coffee’s “counterpoint” tilts on an axis of kraftwerk and black tea, a v60 of los guyabos brewed for full calendar integration. dude is done at like 13:00 and has time to clean the hell out of the drip tray and still tell the judges they are both spectacular and awesome. love this guy.
finalist no.3: colin whitcomb (alterra)
brush in his back pocket, colin is READY TO GO and he is EXCITED TO BE HERE and we are excited to watch. his costa rican herbazu coffee is a combination of caturra and villa sarchi beans, pulp natural processed. the dry aroma, says c-dubs, is “like that first day of spring when you smell the pollen in the wind”, although i assume with less sneezing. he explains the herbazu business method, and assures the judges that although it “might seem like a carnegian scheme to get others to invest in their coffee”, it’s actually a fabulous model. this is probably the first time i’ve ever heard anyone say “carnegian scheme” in a barista competition, and it makes up for colin’s failed promise to compete with a bust of shakespeare on top of the espresso machine.
finalist no.4: trevor corlett (madcap)
trevor is the only finalist using a blended espresso today, a honduran and a guatemalan blend if you remember all the way back to friday. trevor’s pace seems slow (or is it just his mellllllow patter?) but the coffee’s flowing well, four gorgeous tulip cappuccinos among them, and the signature drinks of fig reduction in sugar-rimmed (no one’s mentioned rimming this year yet, have they?) glasses come out just right. i’m not sure what kind of crack trevor is smoking time-awareness-wise, as much like his prior competition round, dude spaces out after 15:00 and is still rattling off flavor descriptors until he finally notices the clock. no matter, at six seconds over he can still call time gracefully.
finalist no.5: michael phillips (intelligentsia)
“i have to go fast”, he says, and not just in speech but deed: there is a lot to do here, and going over time is a luxury even Mr. USA himself can’t rely on. mike’s intent here is to demonstrate the increased connection between baristas, roasters and farmers as coffee evolves, and i start to wonder what the weight of the first-person story has within competition — both mike and lucey are able to tell us about personally visiting the farm that produced their coffee, and how that relates to their decisions in how to present on the competition stage. mike pulls his hopper-swap off without batting an eyelash, to relieved audience applause (even more than you get when you don’t explode a cocktail shaker onto the head judge).
beautiful cappuccinos are served to the judges ladies first, which i expect from corlett but not phillips…okay maybe i expect it from phillips too…and then mike confesses that he “doesn’t really get to experience full naturals” day to day at work in his cafe, and excitedly shares the range of processing methods in his routine. mike then literally manages to pull time completely out of his ass and finishes his elaborate routine a minute ahead, clocking in at 1:30 faster than yesterday. what?
the sky has turned very purple and the lake very blue as we ready ourselves for the last competitor and regional title-holder, scott lucey.
finalist no. 6: scott lucey (alterra)
backstage an hour or so ago i heard scott and jenny G talking about “ouchless” bandages. it’s some kind of bad tiding, as during prep time scott’s hand slips while tamping and makes a hell of a knuckle gash, make it two hells of two knuckle gashes, wasting both blood and valuable preparation seconds. his routine — criticized by some the day before as being too similar to last year’s — starts breathlessly and at a higher pitch, but suddenly it transforms into that kind of easy fluid fun that people love watching him for. (i’m going to go on a limb and say this happened right around the time that ray of sunbeam started falling across his decorative texas red grapefruit segment just so.)
lucey introduces again the nelson melo colombian. “our customers here go NUTS for this coffee. it’s a WASHED coffee!” and explains that though he used the same last year, the coffee itself has seen a year of improvement (and the inclusion of another varietal). the aromatics are “vivacious with energy!” and so is the routine, as scott gets more and more comfortable, letting his friends in the audience know the shots are pouring good. he’s much more relaxed than yesterday, describing the coffee’s sweetness as fig, date, cola, with an aftertaste so pleasant it’ll stay with you right down I-43 on the way home. the melo farm itself, which he has visited as recently as this winter? well it’s the most “organic” place you ever saw. you stick a machete in the ground and ALL YOU GET IS WORMS. sign me up?
and then the unreal happens, and after 12 minutes and 20-some seconds of sparkle, i mean, how do you even write this in words, you just gotta see it, like in your worst dream of stage fright, everything is going great, and let’s say in your dream you’re making coffee and the coffee tastes great and you’re funny and you’re in your hometown where everybody loves you and you’re making a drink of your own invention that you totally believe in and you’re wearing purple gingham for god’s sake and the light on the lake is just so and everything is falling amazingly into place and then YOUR LAST FOUR SHOTS OF ESPRESSO TAKE FLIGHT, tilting, tipping, falling onto th prep table and the ground, teetering one and then all four, not into the base of an esuardo liquido but the base of your violet-colored vans. oh, fuck.
but ya know what a pro does? they blink for a moment, look at the ground, wipe up what they can, and pull more shots. “a mistake has occurred”, he says as he dusts his heart off and puts it back inside his chest cavity. “i make a lot of mistakes at the cafe i work in, and as a trainer, i love mistakes. the secret i tell people is to keep rolling with it.” he rolls right through the final spanish-language liquid swords, finishing 41 seconds over time with an individual thank-you to each judge. oh, fuck. but what a graceful recovery: there’s nothing quite like it, and when i comisserate with one of lucey’s bosses outside moments later we can’t believe it happened, can’t believe the recovery was so graceful and contextualized into his role as a coffee teacher and ambassador so well. as lincoln puts it, “talk about servant leadership.” yeah.
and then, after more lake air, and more pacing, and some nibbles of cookies in the back room, it’s time all too soon for the final results. again, it’s a difficult thing to have six-way loyalties (but so much better that way), hard to watch friends against friends, and harder still to know one person will probably leave disappointed today, with bandaged knuckles and flying espresso flashbacks. but c’est la guerre: the winners are announced and they are all such good ones. in third place: charles babinski, a calendar moment for him for sure. in second, mitten rep trevor corlett — guess you had time to burn after all, buddy! — and in first place, mike phillips, not that there was any wagering taking place, but if those drinks tasted half as good as the presentation looked, you might’ve put your money down double.
see you in anaheim, friends?