An evening of snow into a morning of blooming crocuses and noon hardly ever felt so early (again, I’ll blame climate change here) as we roll in to the NERBC finals after a 28-day, three-state romp through one of the crowdedest rooms in Manhattan.
It had been a little while since I attended a barista competition (last year’s Great Lakes regional, a district now renamed to no longer celebrate only the coffee-making empires along Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior) and I had forgotten what it might be like to see someone make ice cream using only a ziploc bag of ice and their hands, or have the science what is “excreted” from coffee demonstrated using vinegar, finesse, and a Soda Stream.
It wasn’t very long ago that New York City was a just-being-born coffee place: Café Grumpy had only opened their second store in 2007, and Ninth Street Espresso was still making up its mind as to where it might creep west of Avenue A. Gimme! Coffee was one shop, monitored early in the mornings by a guy with a gruff voice, and someone on the street told me to check out this really cool new spot, “Cafe Collage”.
Fast forward now to 2012, the end of the world, when not only are there a bazillion specialty coffee places in New York City, but restaurants paying attention as well. There is more than one food journalist in this town with a *specialty* in writing about coffee. And so it stands to reason that, despite the talented throngs of baristas throwing their hats in the ring from Connecticut, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Boston, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Vermont, Rhode Island and West Virginia (okay, maybe not all of those states showed up), five out of the six finalists are from right here in New York City. How awesome is this?
I loved watching Third Rail’s Jordan Barber (from Oregon to New York to Copenhagen back to New York again—hey, if you’re gonna get sent back from Denmark without a visa, you could really do a lot worse for Plan B) compete using [mystery coffee] *without any audio*. Despite the technical difficulties (and a lazy kettle leaving him stranded to serve cold Americanos), Jordan appeared absolutely unfazed. But even more interestingly, the audience was captivated. Despite lack of any video screen projecting what was happening deep in the action, and despite Jordan’s mic not working, and his soundtrack skipping to boot, the standing room only crowd remained transfixed at the swiftly moving hands and steady gaze of a coffee professional at work. You guys, if we’ve finally managed to captivate a crowd who can neither hear nor really see someone making espresso beverages, I’d say our industry has finally won.
More to come today, friends.