Monday, February 23, 2009

a post from my brother

Taste of the East Coast - Square Mile Coffee Roasters Wednesday 18th Feb 2008

Barismo - Boston, MA
Espresso Blend: Poker Face NERBC Blend (note: i just got a note from ben kaminsky at barismo, and it was their linnaean st. blend, not the nerbc blend)

Plowshares Coffee - NYC, NY
Brazil Daterre Sweet Blue

Gimme! Coffee - Ithaca, NY
Panama Hartmann Honey

Mystery Coffee (oooow the suspense!)


one doesn't get many chances to indulge ones love of all things espresso here in grey ol' london town very often (yes we do know what coffee is thanks, we don't all just drink endless cups of tea you know!), so when i found out about the 'Taste of the East Coast' espresso tasting over at square mile coffee roasters my espresso starved synapses were tingling in anticipation.

a short ride on the tube to bethnal green, east london and square mile can be found in an industrial unit under the arches of an old railway bridge. i should probably mention at this point that the other exciting thing about going to a tasting at square mile is the fact that its run by 2007 world barista champion james hoffmann and his girlfriend anette moldvaer...bonus! great coffee served by one of the best baristas in the world...what more could this coffee-geek ask for.

right, down to business...

the aroma of the barismo offering was full of caramel, praline and dry tobacco.
slightly surprising was the hint of mint and lemongrass up front, but this initial freshness blended effortlessly into the bitter dark chocolate, toffee and syrupy blueberries that i was expecting.
a nice citrus acidity, specifically lime, and a buttery mouth feel made this an excellent coffee to start the evening with.
bring on the next one...

the only way i can describe the plowshares espresso is as dark stuffy working mans club.
a darker crema that the espresso from barismo was the colour of the stained wood panelling on an edwardian tall boy.
the nose was full of tobacco smoke, liquorice and malted hops.
dark cocoa and hazelnuts were lifted by a hint of vanilla to give a nicely balanced cup.

the expression on james' face while he was dialling the grind in for the next offering suggested to me that this was going to be something a little exciting...i wasn't wrong.
the espresso from gimme! coffee was as bold and assertive as the exclamation point in the middle of their name suggests.
the aroma, with its sack fulls of caramel, cocoa and pipe tobacco, really smack you in the sinuses.
cherries and almonds almost verging on marzipan provide the sweetness to the cup, while a hint of ginger and bergamot provide the acidity that brings these complex flavours together.

so the forth and final coffee was a bit of a mystery...
apparently some of the other roasters that were supposed to be sending coffees over for the event either forgot, got the dates wrong, or their offerings got lost in the post.
so despite the fact that it wasn't technically an east coast coffee, we were treated to one of the first tastings of a sample bag of a single plot etheopian yirgacheffe that james and anette are looking to use in one of their future blends.
a really citrus nose didn't prepare me for the full on fruit assault that was the cup itself.
strawberries in syrup, cherry brandy and blueberry jam dominated any other flavours that might have been hiding in there.
the only concession was the faintest hint of pipe tobacco which cut through the sweetness of all that fruit and stopped it from being sickly.

my favourite?
despite the fact that the coffees from barismos and the sample bag from ethiopia contained all the right elements for a cracking espresso, i couldn't help but fall in love with the espresso from gimme! coffee.
maybe it says more about me than the coffees themselves, but the self confidence of the gimme! coffee cup, the "this is me! take it or leave it" attitude just put a massive smile on my face...and hey, that's all life is about really isn't it...trying to find as many of those moments as possible.

bradley fairbrass

greatlakes regional barista competition aka liquid swords

right now i'm sat on the floor behind the competition area. the finals don't start for an hour and i'm killing time by watching the final round of the latte art competition....its always confused me as to why the winner of the latte art competition wins $5,000 for making something look nice. and the winner of the glrbc, or any barista competition, wins very little in comparison, for so much more time and energy.

its been an exhausting few days, judges certification on thursday morning, a 10+ hr day of tests and calibration and i don't even know what, it seemed harder than last year. maybe i was just less prepared. or maybe the test actually was harder. or maybe it was a little of both. who knows?
i saw some old friends, and met some new ones. this is what these things are really all about for me. meeting people who share common interests. other people who get geeked out over, seemingly silly things. the new single origin guatemalan espresso from intelli. the new brew system that so-and-so are using in their cafe. the new direct trade coffee from stumptown. people who understand when i say, this is what i want to do with my life. i don't want to get a 'proper' job. they understand because they are doing the same thing. the professional barista. we're few in our numbers. but we few know that this is it. coffee is what we love. coffee is what we do.

over the last few days many of us have taken the stage. competing. judging. emceeing. running. score keeping. none of us being paid. simply doing it for the love of it.


so. that's it. the final regional competition of the season is over. the final round has been and gone. a winner has been crowned.

all six finalists performed fantastically. it was a pleasure judging all of them. some familiar and some new faces.

Les Stoneham (LaTerza Coffee, Cinti, OH)
Mike Phillips (Intelligentsia, Chicago, IL)
Scott Lucey (Alterra, Milw., Wisc)
Trevor Corlett (MadCap, Grand Rapids, MI)
Chris DeMarse (Coffee Alliance, Muncie, IN)
Jesse Crouse (Intelligentsia, Chicago, IL)

after all of the points had been counted the top three were as follows;
3rd Trevor Corlett
2nd Jesse Crouse
1st Scott Lucey

scott's performance was fantastic. as was his coffee. a colombian cauca grow by nelson melo, who just happened to be in the audience. bright. fruity. grapefruit and ginger tones. it was outstanding.
really, it was scott's performance and signature beverage that separated him from the other five finalists. he was confident. relaxed. focused. passionate. knowledgeable. these things were pretty much a prerequisite to make the finals. but scott simply raised the bar.

"this drink is my machete"

what could have been a relatively simple sig bev was turned into something quite extraordinary by careful planning. stellar explanation. and near perfect execution.
liquid swords. grapefruit juice and melo espresso. separated by a layer of whipped sweet cream. we were instructed to, confidently, drink the juice first. then break through the cream layer and sip the spro from underneath. the juice and espresso combo worked perfectly. the juice further enhancing the existing grapefruit notes in the melo-spro.

sL, the drink truly was your machete.

photo's by twitchy

oh... one thing i forgot to mention is that scott's winning score was the highest in the country this year!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

9 down. 1 to go

over the last few months barista's around the country have been spending countless hours in training labs. cafes. random machines. practicing. rehearsing. revising. polishing. and practicing again.

the usbc...thats the united states barista championship, not the united states bowling taking place in portland, or. at the beginning of next month. the usbc is split into 10 regions. with 10 regional competitions, to determine who goes forward to the nationals.
9 of the 10 regional comps have happened. the 9th was in atlanta this weekend. the 10th is in chicago in a weeks time. feb 20-22nd. navy pier.

the results so far are thus;

northwest: alex pond, fresh pot. portland, or.
western: nick griffith, intelligentsia. los angeles, ca.
mountain: greg lefcourt, ozo coffee company. boulder, co.
southwest: jason silberschlag, cartel coffee lab. tempe, az.
midwest: robin seitz, pt's coffee company. topeka, ks
south central: cancey rose, cuvee coffee roasting company. spring, tx
northeast: amber sather, ams. brooklyn, ny
midatlantic: katie duris, murky coffee. arlington, va.
southeast: danielle glasky, ocatane coffee. atlanta, ga.
greatlakes: who knows? will it be a repeat of last year? intelligentsia? alterra? metropolis? scott lucey? mike philips? we will see in one week from today....

the national

it doesn't happen very often, that there's a coffee shop in milwaukee that i haven't been to atlest a dozen times, so when a new cafe opens i'm itching to check the place out.
when i heard about the national, all the signs were good. sweet location; the corner of 9th st. and national ave. the same spot that brooklyn bob's used to occupy before their ill-advised move downtown. good coffee; they're currently a wholesale account of metropolis out of chicago. and a good espresso machine; faema e61.

saturday afternoon and the cafe was about half full when kai and i arrived. aesthetically the space looks really nice. clean colours, simple design, and a homely feel. high backed dark leather booths eliminate any chance of it feeling clinical.

food offerings contain a wide variety of standard cafe fare, the vast majority of which is made on-site. the coffee menu contained all the usual suspects, as well as a few surprises, espresso with a twist of lemon....

rwanda, butare gkongoro. a super rich body with subtle fruit sweetness, a pleasant crisp acidity and a super clean finish.

this is what i was excited about. red line espresso. i've known tony and the guys down at metropolis for a few years now, so i when i heard about a cafe where i could get some red line i was anxious to see what sort of job they do. i shouldn't have expected anything other than great, metropolis do an awesome job with their wholesale training. a double for kai, and a single for myself, cut me some slack, i was headed to work...
visually the double looked a little better than the single. rich, red-brown crema, with flecks of red, brown and orange. the single on the other hand looked more than a little blond. bright without being overtly sour. raw nuts. chocolate. and a dry tobacco finish. rad.

the only possible negative thing i could say about the national is that they have a wonderful looking espresso machine, and its hidden away in back, on a rickety old prep table. seriously, the thing looks as though its going to collapse whenever anyone pulls a shot. put the machine out front. pride of place. the machine should be the first thing you see when you enter a cafe. its the reason you go there. its the most important piece of equipment in the building. and this one in particular, just looks so so pretty.

check these guys out. they're good people.
839 w national ave.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

i'm in print. this is weird

so last night i was making my usual rounds online. checking various websites. blogs. forums. that sort of thing. and i found something that i've never seen before....myself. in print.

i've been helping organize a barista jam at one of the local coffee shops in town, and i emailed sarah allen, the editor of barista magazine, to tell her about the event and possibly get a little attention from the wider barista community. yes, there is such a thing! she seemed really interested as asked for some details.
now i'll admit, the reply i sent her was not one of my most structured. gramatically correct. business-like. or even vaguely serious emails. i just figured, she's an editor! she'll take this nonesense and turn it into a somewhat coherent string of prose. something people will actually understand when they read it. if it even makes it into the magazine.

well, i was wrong. my more-than-somewhat-flippant email essentially appears, in full, in the next issue of the magazine. with an awesome picture of current great lakes barista champion mike phillips taken at last years event.
photo credit; brian fuckin' hayes.

note to self: maybe, just maybe, don't always be such a sarcastic might come back and bite you in the ass.

p.s a certain someone....ryan....has been giving me shit for not including this in the original post. the barista jam in question will be happening at roast coffee co. check them out here.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

right now i'm trying to enjoy the simple things in life. far too often i find myself getting caught up in 'the future' and projecting about what i want to, or think should happen. when i do this i inevetably find myself feeling out of sorts. frustrated because things aren't going how they 'should', obsessing about things i realistically have absolutely no control over. just generally not feeling good about my life.
so, as i said, i'm trying to enjoy the simple things in life. the things that i can always count on to make me feel content. satisfied with my lot in life.

music. specifically punk. even more specifically, listening to old punk rock vinyl. i don't know why, but there is something about listening to vinyl, as opposed to cd's. part of it, i'm sure, is the romanticized idea that now exists about actually listening to a record, and part, i think, is that vinyl is how most of the albums i listen to regularly were originally heard. minor threat. 7 seconds. black flag. circle jerks. the clash. elvis costello. all were pressed to vinyl originally. before 8-tracks. before cassettes. before cd's.
vinyl has a soul that none of the other formats do. thats my theory anyway, and i'm sticking to it.

coffee. also makes me happy. it feeds my soul. my imagination. my conscience.
today i have two coffee's that i've been meaning to write about; two east african coffee's from johnson brothers, in madison, and from stumptown, in portland.

johnson brothers
organic ethiopian yirgacheffe adado natural processed
the most noticeable things is the crisp clean brightness throughout the cup. there are plenty of lemon and floral tones, with some dark bakers chocolate and caramel stuff going on in the back and in the finish.

kenya gaturiri reserve
the thing i love about this coffee is that it makes me think of a christmas pudding, something that i loved as a kid. and still love, although its difficult to find it now. lots of dark dried fruit flavors. raspberries. blackberries. plums. with a super heavy body. stumptown describe it as a stout body, which is perfect, because i've always used guiness in xmas pudds.

now its time to go digging through some crates and buy some new old records