This is the winning article in the Write Your Way to the SCAA writing competition. The winner, Amanda Wilson, has won a full four night stay at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Atlanta, right next to the convention hall where this year's SCAA Annual Trade Show and Conference is being held. The hotel suite prize is sponsored by the fine folks at 1st Line Equipment, and we'd like to thank them for their generous sponsorship. Wilson also gets a full conference pass and cMember pass to the show, courtesy of the SCAA, another fine sponsor! Here's Wilson's newbie progression article.
In the Beginning
So my story begins (as it should) at home, with my parents. Both are lifetime coffee drinkers and coffee lovers. Through this simple turn of fate, coffee was destined to become a part of my life from a very young age. The coffee pot held an esteemed position in the kitchen, one of the few appliances to earn permanent countertop placement. The hum of the coffee grinder signaled the start of each day, long before my sister and I actually crawled out of bed. And the smell...it is amazing that something you never once taste as a child can still provide such a strong sense of home based only on its amazing aroma.
I'm sure there are many children who first experience coffee at home in this way, but the amazing awe I felt on being allowed my first "espresso" drink, I must admit, far surpasses my first cup of coffee at home. Appropriately, it was my mom who first let me order my own drink at our local coffee shop. An average afternoon of running errands took on a whole new meaning as I was suddenly presented with such a grown-up opportunity. So...what did I choose? No, I did not go for a short shot of espresso, nor even a latte. "I will have a Minty Mocha," I said in my most grown-up voice. "Whipped cream?" I was asked, by none other than the cutest older boy in the neighborhood.
"Ummm... yes," I stammered back nervously.
I'm sure the drink was sweet, syrupy and all I really tasted was the milk and chocolate. But the taste wasn't at all what mattered at that moment. It may have been the most horrendous thing ever to pass my lips, but I only tasted adulthood, and I would happily drink down every last drop. Unbeknownst to my mom, in my mind this was my official initiation into the very grown-up world of coffee drinkers. There was no turning back.
With my first year of high school came my first big crush, who - of course - was an avid coffee drinker. Well, it was with nervous hands that I brewed my first pot of coffee (with previously detailed instructions from my mom, of course) for this crush in my parents' kitchen, the first time he came over after school. I'm sure it was not the best pot of coffee I've ever made, but what really mattered, once again, was another small step into the world of coffee drinkers. Incredibly enough, I see some of these same notions come through a generation later, in the son of the aforementioned crush, who remains a close friend of mine. His son excitedly helps push the button to grind the beans, and presses with all his four-year-old strength to plunge the filter in the press pot at the appointed time. Without yet having a taste, it is easy to see that he, too, will be a coffee lover for life.
Traveling with Coffee
During college, and beyond, I began to travel. In all the places I have visited to date, there is coffee available, in one form or another. No matter how lost, or cold, or hot or tired, a cup of coffee was a comfort I could not often go without. While living in Ecuador, drip coffee was practically non-existent. So I learned to love instant coffee - with a lot of milk. Each day was challenging, and my reward to myself each evening was my café con leche, while relaxing and writing in my journal before bed.
The opposite was true in Australia, where specialty coffee was available in most of the big cities and tourist towns. I was surprised to wander into a coffee shop, my first stop after settling in at the hostel, and try to figure out what the heck a "long black" and "flat white" were in "American" coffee terms. But once I had the lingo down, I settled in quite well and enjoyed many an afternoon sipping coffee and walking on the beach.
While on a trip with my family, in a small fishing village in Mexico, I discovered the comfort of Rollie's Restaurant. The owner is an ex-pat, who has coffee specially roasted for his breakfast café, a roast that satisfies many a coffee-starved American passing through town.
Oftentimes my fondest memories from traveling involve coffee, because even though we traditionally think of coffee as a pick-me-up, I also use it as a reason to slow down. Sitting in a café is oftentimes where the best conversations are had, new friends are made, and beautiful stories are written. As much fun as it is to go out to the pubs, the real reflection and observation that are so incredible in another country and in the midst of another culture seem so much more apparent in a quiet café or on a park bench by the water, cup of coffee in hand.
The City of Roses (and Coffee)
Now, this brings us to my move back home, to Portland, Oregon. This is important, because it was in Portland that I discovered the amazing experience of Stumptown Coffee Roasters. I have explained how much I love coffee, but I was never obsessed with coffee until I first tasted Stumptown. The first café opened while I was away and it took a while for me to discover what I was missing. I attribute it all to my friend and co-worker at the time. He came into work one morning, pretty much walking on air, eyes lit up, saying that his latte was "T...D...F..." (or, To Die For). Of course, I rushed to try it without hesitation. He was right. A little piece of coffee heaven passed over my lips that morning.
The obsession began. I went out of my way to get Stumptown, and made others go out of the way as well. I gave the beans as gifts to out-of-town friends. Co-workers and I began driving from NW 14th & Marshall to SE 47th and Division in the middle of shifts if making a "coffee run" was even mentioned. About a year after Stumptown opened their second store on SE Belmont, I happened to move into an apartment only a few blocks away. What a stroke of luck! From then on, the anticipation of that first sip of press pot coffee was often what got me up in the morning, and out the door to school or work.
Coinciding with the new proximity to Stumptown, being in school studying Graphic Design led to my hunt for an internship. I couldn't believe it when I was told about Fresh Cup Magazine, a coffee and tea trade magazine published in Portland. My hope was to go into publishing, and work for a smaller company. To top it all off, a magazine dedicated to specialty coffee and tea! I was so excited I didn't even worry that I was going to be working for free for the next three months. Rent? Food? Luckily, I still poured beer and served pizza on the weekends.
| CoffeeFest Dinner Party |
Dinner at CoffeeFest with some of the crew from Fresh Cup and other coffee industry folks.
| At the Barista Guild Party |
Unknown Barista, Mark Pfaff, and Amanda Wilson at Barista Guild Party during CoffeeFest.
The first few months were intimidating. Not because of the people I worked with, but because I was in awe of this amazing industry and the wealth of information. All this time, and I had no idea this community of coffee lovers was out there, just waiting for me to find them. Some of my first projects involved drawing tea brewers, airpots, espresso machines and other equipment. I also worked on re-creating the look of our Unfiltered section. As Fresh Cup had a summer of turnover, I was fortunate enough to be promoted to full time after I graduated. Although I had participated in meetings in the past and had some contact with people in the industry, for the most part, I was a little shy about speaking up. Now, suddenly I felt I had a voice. And with this, of course, came more responsibility.
My first big project, outside of illustrations/ spreads for the magazine, was the NASCORE Conference Guide as well as any other printed material for the show. I must say I became pretty intimate with the inner workings of NASCORE through this project. When the show finally rolled around, I was so ready to finally meet all of the people I had only spoken with on the phone or over email. It was such a whirlwind. At times it was frustrating - since we were putting on the show - that there wasn't more time for seminars, cuppings and competition watching. But I squeezed in as much as possible before I collapsed at home on Sunday night. It left me wanting more!
Besides complete and total exhaustion, I also left the NASCORE show completely taken in by the Barista Competition, and the passion of so many barista I met over the weekend. Here were people, many close to my age, with such an incredible passion for the art of espresso. It is an art form that is so often overlooked, I was glad to finally be on the road to true appreciation. It was incredible to see them go through their routines, to watch how closely the judges scrutinized their drinks, style and techniques. And the presentation! I was fascinated by the table settings, snacks, glassware and simply the overall beauty of each and every drink I saw presented to the judges.
| Pouring |
Frothing & pouring technique at the Barista Jam.
| Evaluation |
Kristen from Black Drop Cafe, & Dismas Smith from Zoka evaluate espresso.
Luckily for me, Sarah Allen, our previous editor (now of Zoka Coffee Roaster & Tea Co.), was just as excited about the passion of barista, and was interested in getting the magazine involved in the craft more directly. Before she moved to Seattle, we were able to work together on a number of projects in the barista community, particularly coinciding with the development of the American Barista Guild. I was able to create banners, the lovely Barista Guild t-shirts for Coffee Fest in Seattle, develop the Signature Drink section in Unfiltered, as well as run updates on competitions in Unfiltered. I was also fortunate to attend the first official Barista Guild meetings in Portland, Olympia and Seattle, and really understand and appreciate what this Guild means to barista across the United States.
Most recently, I was able to represent Fresh Cup at the Northwest Barista Jam in Seattle. As well as being an event sponsor, our magazine needed an arsenal of photos, as a new column is debuting in our April issue, written by and for barista, called 9 Bars. As much as I love to take photos, and was more than excited to volunteer for the task, I was even more excited just to be there, in the midst of it all, watching and learning. There were some familiar faces, people I connected with from NASCORE and Coffee Fest, but there were a lot of new faces as well.
The first day was a lot of fun, with the café crawl in a big yellow school bus and a cupping demonstration, but the second day really made the trip worthwhile. I was able to observe workshops, taught by barista participating in the jam, covering everything from dosing and tamping to latte art and creating signature drinks for competition. These workshops were a fantastic opportunity for the barista to come together to learn, practice and discuss the art of espresso, in the truest sense of a barista jam. Even I, the quiet observer behind the camera, walked away from these sessions with a much enhanced knowledge of the craft and a heightened appreciation for the skills of these talented and passionate barista. I also left with the desire to watch this incredible group of talented people compete at the USBC in Atlanta, Ga.
This brings the story full circle to the present moment as I work on the SCAA Conference Guide in the office, salivating as I format the text for the seminars and skill-building workshops that only a year ago I was just beginning to learn existed. So there you have it. A coffee lover from the very beginning gaining a deep appreciation for the craft of coffee and looking forward to learning even more tomorrow.
Amanda Wilson is the Associate Art Director at Fresh Cup Magazine in Portland, Oregon. She completed her undergraduate degree in anthropology at The Colorado College and studies in graphic design at Portland Community College. Amanda is an avid traveler, having spent time in Australia, Ecuador, Mexico and England. Second only to coffee, she also loves music and reading.
Once again, we'd like to thank the two sponsors of this competition: 1st Line Equipment for the generous sponsorship of the luxurious hotel room stay, and the fine folks at the Specialty Coffee Association of America for the sponsorship of the full conference and cmember pass to the SCAA Trade Show in Atlanta.