We rolled into Boston on Tuesday, in a rain soaked, all runways but one closed kinda thing happening at Logan airport. I got to see cloud formations and close flying airplanes for almost an hour over the city. Woo, fun, and not a good way to start the trip to Boston for the 2003 SCAA Trade Show and Convention.
But it got better, Muy Better.
First up was Tuesday evening drinkathon in a civil way with Mike Ferguson, SCAA's Directorial of Marketingitus and his lovely wife Jennifer. We had scotch, beer, and whiskey. I got spanked verbally for putting all of 3 ice cubes (really tiny bar-type ice cubes, barely the size and thickness of a dime) into some $18 Laphoag.
By the way, I'm miffed at Mike, but I'll get to that later on.
Wednesday was a "watch Mark go insane as he tries to finish his presentation slides and talk for the Monday Presentation on Ecommerce he has to give, but has to print out this week" (side note; I'm still not done as of this typing). But one good thing came of it all. I found Pizza Uno... well, not the original. That's in Chicago. But almost as damned good. On the lunch menu was the deep dish Chef's Choice individual size. I couldn't finish it, and I was almost in tears - it was that damned good.
Dunkin Donuts Rocks!
Oh, I did get some coffee stuff in - I got to the convention hall, and snuck into a variety of offices and rooms. I even got to see the layout of a bare floor trade show. Then the security guards chased me right out to the Prudential mall, which is attached to the Hynes Convention Centre (the anal Canadian spell checker strikes again). And I found out some sneak peak news about Dunkin Donuts that brought the company to a new level of respect for me - I couldn't confirm it at the time I heard it, but I can now.
Dunkin Donuts is going 100% Fair Trade Certified coffee for all the espresso they sell, nationwide in the US. That's amazing news, and I'm taking the opportunity to do the huge applause for them. If only more corporate types in the coffee biz would do this - kudos, kudos, kudos.
Did I say Dunkin Donuts now officially rocks? You heard it here first. Just to celebrate, I went to a Dunkin Donuts Wednesday afternoon and had a coffee (not espresso, and not yet fair trade, but soon to be) and a honey cruller. It wasn't hard to find one - they are on almost every street corner in this, their home town - it's kinda like Starbucks being on every other corner in Seattle.
Thursday, Day Minus 1
Things started in earnest on Day Minus 1 (the show officially starts Saturday), with the United States Barista Competition starting up.
There was a record number of applicants for the competition, and poor Sherri and Danny Johns (of Whole Cup Consulting, and the organizers of the event) - they had to pare it down to 35 competitors. The first day saw a staggering 20 Baristi getting up to the machines in two flights of ten.
Your's truly was a judge in the second flight. That meant I was supposed to have thirty espresso drinks. Gulp. Good thing I didn't have any coffee that morning. Actually I did. Two shots and one cup from a small shop on Washington that unfortunately I can't remember the name of.
So let's get into the USBC competition. I checked out most of the first flight, and I was seeing some amazing skills exhibited. Billy Wilson, Stephen Vick, Michele Mosley stood out for me, but all were top tier crew, and any of them would pull you a superior shot.
I amped myself up for the second round where I was judging. It's a good thing that I went to the Judge's Meeting that morning to get tips and tricks from Sherri Johns. It was a bad thing that I didn't listen, but I'll tell you more about that below.
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| Danny and Sherri Johns go over the final details for the competition with helpers. |
| Jon Lewis goes through his 15 minute prep time, getting his very fancy setup ready to go. |
| Stephen Vic works his magic on his speciality drink portion of the competition. |
| Sarina Deitz gets ready to serve her signature drinks, which look very delicious. |
The competition was running late, and it turned out we were going to judge 12 competitors - 36 drinks. Double Gulp. But I was amped.
But it was also especially hard for me to judge - I felt very guilty about scoring the way I did because I had to be balanced based on the skill levels involved - Baristi I'd give a natural 10 for their skills got a 6 or a 7 simply because of the nature of the competition and the level of the competitors. Every one I judged: Nikol Fiala, Chris Connerly, Heather Perry, Sandy Hon, Thomas Arandaz, Steve McMahon, Mark Pfaff, Rachel Anzole, Chester Huan, and Chris Perry were top flight Baristi I was extremely honoured to have drinks from.
By the way - did you have your keen eye working? I listed 10 competitors above. Thatís cuz I wimped out, but I'll get to that soon as well.
A couple of standouts did jump out at me. Sandy Hon of Encore! Espresso at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas was amazing - she had this subtle, natural and fluid style that actually caused the judges to have problems. She was so subtle and casual when she did her machine flushes, wipes, leveling, tamping, and various cleanup (all things that get points on the judging sheet), that one of the judges was assigned, on the fly, just to watch for that (that would be me). I got a supreme appreciation for the work she did on the bar.
Another was Heather Perry. Her whole package behind the machine was stellar. She talked almost the entire time, mentioned the virtues of the artistry of pulling shots, and even pointed out to the judges when she made mistakes (and then subsequently fixed them). And her drinks were out of this world.
One guy I felt for was Chester Huan. He does this very cool twirl of the portafilter when he's about to lock and load, and he had a great style at the machine. But Huan got stymied by a finicky grinder which resulted in too fine a grind and a stalled shot in his cappuccino round. He went to tune the Mazzer on the fly, and I could see from my judging vantage point, he cranked the grinder finer by mistake. I couldn't say anything, but the next shot was completely stalled. He did another adjustment, this time back a crank, and got a 0.25oz shot in 25 seconds. Finally, he adjusted it enough that he was getting good ristrettos, and he went on, but this killed his momentum and he was disqualified for going over time. Don't let it worry ya Chester, you rocked!
One other drink stood out for me, and it's the one that got me in trouble with Sherri Johns. It was the drink made by Steve McMahon from the Urban Grind in San Diego. His signature drink was called the Red Eye, and it was a shooter style beverage with cayenne pepper and a side shooter of whipped cream. As a judge, I asked how we should drink this. Toss it back dude! Then go for the cream! So I did.
Uh oh. My throat needed five minutes to recover. My facial expressions and my expletives were very loud. Sherri ran over and chastised - judges, she said in the morning meeting, are supposed to be poker faced. You are a bad boy, Mark (and she also spanked John Hornall from Hines Public Market Coffee, who was a co judge, so I don't feel as bad as I might be :))
Hey, McMahon's's sig drinks weren't bad - don't get me wrong - they were memorable and good, but I wasn't expecting it, and it did ruin my palate for the next little while. I drank two bottles of soda water and gargled for quite some time.
Remember me mentioning 10 Baristi names and not 12? That's because by the time I got to the 30th drink and the tenth competitor, I was hurting bad. I begged off, and John Saunders (also of Hines) was my sub, (thanks John!). I think Sherri was happy to see me go :)
Barista Judging. It was fun, I took it uber seriously, and unless they get it down to 5 or 6 competitors per judging round, I dunno if I'd do it again. But I'll say this - I'll never enter one. The stress level is enormous, and every one of those Baristi are champs in my book - they were nervous, but that's a good thing - they came through it like pros and showed they were much better at this level of artistic expression in the world of espresso than I'll ever be.
My evening was spent working furiously on slicing and dicing my upcoming presentation and feeling sick from all the espresso I drank. I usually only have 3 or 4 a day - not 3 or 4 every 15 minutes. But you don't need to know that, right?
Day 0 at the SCAA Show
Now the real substance of the show started to take shape. Lined up for today:
- All the booths get set up
- First round of US Barista competition continues, ends
- Second round of USBC starts, ends
- Seminars, educational tracks, panels start in earnest - it's education and competition day for sure.
- Keynote speech, welcome reception starts up.
- the espresso gauntlet - looking forward to it.
- I bore everyone and go back to the hotel to type this up, edit my photos and go to sleep.
First, the show floor - I saw some real potential goodies there, but you're just going to have to wait for it in my Day 1 report, when I can do things official. I did see some really cool things at some of the unmanned booths - yes, I snooped around in some boxes. Call this a teaser.
Barista Competition, Continued
I was no longer judging, so I could go and watch like a fan. I had so much going on, but I was in and out of the competition room all day long. Here's the news that's most important.
Again, every Baristi was top flight. But there were standouts. One was my man Jon Lewis from JJ Bean in Vancouver. Jon nailed his session, with one small mistake - he spilt one of the cappuccinos he served. It didn't matter though - he handled it with aplomb and didn't let it bother him, and he made it to round two with very high scores,. The package was almost complete with that guy and his turn up at the La Marzocco.
Lewis, along with Heather Perry and Sandy Hon, Stephen Vick and others made it to the second round. Also tossed in were the winners of the PNW Barista competition, Bronwen Serna, and the winner of the Midwest, Jim Smith, making 10 Baristi in the second round.
Serna showed why she's one of the best damned Baristi on the planet, and totally peaked in her second round showing. So did Lewis, and this time, no spilled cappuccino. Vick also advanced, as did Perry. The final shootout for the four best Baristi in the US (and Canada - Jon Lewis is in this because he is American, but he works at a Canadian shop) happens tomorrow morning. I can't wait.
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| Dismas Smith gets going in his round of competition. Dismas is the former N. American champ. |
| Judges have a tough job at the Barista competitions! |
| John Neate (left) and Jon Lewis (right) of JJ Bean scope the competition. |
Education Day at the Ess Sea Eh Eh
| The show floor, crates waiting to be unpacked |
| Mo' Crates! |
| Jura managed to get their big bus up two floors! |
There were plenty of pay as you go (as long as you paid 3 months before you go) seminars and intensive training sessions this day at the show. I sat in on a few, including the Retail Basics track which is a full day session for new folks looking to get into owning a coffee shop. Lots of common sense stuff in this seminar, but the focus was very much on the business side of things, and not much about the passion and love of good coffee, and bringing your cafe to the level of a Zoka's or Hines in the seminar notes I saw. Still, what I did see and read seemed like amazing advice for the person wanting to get into the business. I would advise any of these folks to also stop by the Barista competitions to get the other side of the coin, and maybe see what star employees could be like.
I caught briefly a panel on the coffee crisis. Intense stuff, and I've invited some folks intimately involved in solving this crisis to write for the site at a later date.
I also caught a bit of Don Holly's seminar on the Delicious Cup - this really focused on brewing methods and boosting standards for quality, and it was a good sized crowd in there. It gives me hope that more retailers will take this stuff seriously.
There were other seminars I wanted to check out, but I suck - I kept going back to either the press room to type up some notes or work on my train wreck of a presentation, or back to the Baristi Competition to scope out folks I sincerely admire. Hey, you know what? From now on I will only refer to my presentation as "the train wreck". Again, you read it here first.
I suck in another way too - I purposely missed the Keynote speech in order to continue working on the train wreck. Also, I didn't know if I would be interested in covering it - the preview I saw said it was basically Daniel Glickman, former US Secretary of Agriculture giving the spiel on the US government this, the US government that, Politics here, Politics there. Yawn. So I sent Jeanette Chan to cover it instead.
As I said, I suck - it turns out the keynote session was pretty cool. AND... Glickman mentioned this here very website in his keynote! Yikes!
Here's Jean's coverage of the event. First, Ted Lingle came up and gave a welcome, including a welcome to a new membership category with the SCAA - the eMember (more on that in my Day Two report, I promise).
Then Steve Colten, the current SCAA prez spoke about the changing climate, culture and especially the technology of coffee. It was good, forward thinking stuff. He also talked about how the SCAA is evolving and new things like the ongoing efforts for certification processes and changes to the golden cup award (some of which involve eMembers, maybe as silent shoppers! Power to the Consumer! Rah Rah Rah!!!).
David Griswold, incoming SCAA prez and owner of Sustainable Growth Coffee stepped up next and introduced a fellow from Dunkin Donuts - Jeanette thinks it was Ken Kimmel. Kimmel had the big announcement I heard on the sly a few days earlier - the one I mentioned way back up in this Day Minus Report. Again, Dunkin' Donuts Rocks! The crowd at the Keynote agreed, because the applause at this announcement was very enthusiastic.
Then Glickman's turn came. Jeanette says he was very engaging and an excellent public speaker. He had anecdotes about food fights and almost getting pied, and of course got on the politics talking about writing congressmen etc. But then he gave some insider info - like for example, he talked about how since coffee isn't a native US crop (hello - Kona?!??!), most govt types don't give it a high priority, but there are ways to change that, and he gave a few.
He also focused a lot on Fair Trade coffee, mentioned that Harvard (where he now works) is going 100% Fair Trade, and he encouraged other schools to follow suit. Then he talked about consumers, their increasing knowledge and expertise level, and even mentioned the CoffeeGeek site.
Damn. Did I mention I suck?
| Mike Ferguson with Jeanette Chan. |
| Mike can get pretty animated in his discussions. |
| Yep, that's me, pulling a shot on a gauntlet machine. The shot looks better than I do. |
| The SCAA's well stocked resource center, with everything coffee and espresso! |
So I missed all that, but I did make it to the Welcome Reception. I got to see a lot of fine folks, including a lot of people known in the forums around here, like Jim Schulman and Marshall Fuss. Other highlights include seeing Barry Jarrett and his preggers wife June (congrats Barry and June!), my main man Doug Zell of Intelligentsia Coffee, Don Schoenholt, one of my heros in this biz, Ken Davids, and many of the Baristi from the competition in the past few days.
I'm leaving out a lot of names here, and I really apologize - these aren't the only highlights - everyone I met for the first time (or saw again) was a highlight.
I did do one rather foolish thing, and I fear there will be way too many photos showing up regarding this.
They had a bank of eight 3 and 4 group espresso machines set up in the main hall for the reception, and this set up was labeled the "espresso gauntlet" - every person passing by would be handed an espresso shot made by Baristi from around the world (the World Barista Competition is going on right after the US comp is concluded). And many a shot was poured - probably close to a thousand or so in less than 30 minutes. Two Baristi would man each machine, giving a force of 16 to pound out the good stuff. Beans were from Intelligentsia (a custom blend of Indian coffees just for this event) and from the venerable Dr. John of Josuma Coffee (Indian coffee specialists).
Why Indian? Well, this Friday reception was officially India's thing - a very Indian focus with cultural dancers on a stage, Indian delicacies and specialties served to the throng, and Indian music filling the air. It was all well done too.
Back to the gauntlet. After the first rush was done, people still wanted shots from time to time. Well, I couldn't resist. I saw two things - a 3 group La Marzocco with no one behind it, and a brand new, state of the art, just released for sale Mazzer Robur grinder - a massive conical burr grinder that John Saunders from Hines says is "the best damned grinder on the planet".
So I got behind, and tuned it up. Someone left it coarse, so after two attempts, I had it dialed in and I was pulling 1oz double ristrettos (into two shot glasses, 0.5 oz each because the LM's spouts pour wide).
Next thing I know, I have a bit of a line up at my machine. I guess a few people knew who I was. Jeanette says they wanted to either test my mettle and find out if I was all talk and no action, or as she put it "want the joy and pleasure of getting a shot from the CoffeeGeek himself" (I think it's the former :))
Soon, it's 30 minutes later, and I've pulled at least 35 doubles (I kept count by notching a line of coffee grit for each double I pulled). I'm sweating like a pig, intense into what I'm doing, going nuts clicking the doser lever, flushing, rinsing, brewing, flushing, making do with a 53mm tamper for a 58mm basket, and I got folks snapping pictures of me the entire time.
I hate having my photo taken. I think I growled at a few of them.
Finally, I had to walk away. 35 shots in 30 mins, that's slow school for the Barista competitors, but it wore me out. Still, I had some folks in the industry that I really respect say to me it was the best shot they had all night. Wow. Others ribbed me about having too much crema :)
And that is pretty much that. Talk was done. Machine using was done. I'm zonked, and I've been writing this up for the last hour or two, with barely a review. Let's call this a night, and look forward to Day One at the SCAA Boston, 2003.
Oh! Way back at the top I said I was miffed at Mike Ferguson. Lemme tell you why.
Have you seen the latest SCAA Chronicle yet? That's why. :( I was ambushed, I tells ya. In a good hearted way, but ambushed nonetheless. The issue came out Friday at the show (and is in the mail now).