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Reports From the Road
SCAA 2003 Report, Day 1
Author: Mark Prince
Posted: April 27, 2003
Article rating: 8.3
feedback: (2) comments | read | write

Or, "Shock! Surprise! Drama! All at the USBC!!

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Hello and welcome my virtual travelers to the Day One at the SCAA! It was a day full of shock and drama at the United States Barista Champeenship, and it was a day of long lunches at, you guessed it, Pizza Uno again, followed up by a walk on the floor and pit stops at a wide variety of spots.

So let's deal with shock first. It wasn't actually at the USBC, it was at the private breakfast I organized for Saturday morning at the Hilton. The shock was mine! I invited sixteen folks that are friends of mine in the industry to come and have a getogether breakfast. Problem is, only four of my friends showed up. I have no friends. Sigh.

I won't say the names of the guilty twelve, but I will mention the 4.5 who actually did show up: a very groggy Dougie Zell (www.intelligentsiacoffee.com), who proved that less than 2 hours' sleep isn't a detriment to his wanting to hang out with some buddies. Trey from Intelligentsia also accompanied him (replacing another fellow I invited but didn't show up). And Kyle Anderson and Kyra Kennedy of Baratza (www.baratza.com) also came, which was very cool. The point five was a very busy Sherri Johns who came by for 15 minutes, which was also cool - Sherri had a seminar and a major competition to run, but found the time.

United Barista of the States Competiton.

Okay, on to the show and the shock and awe campaign that was the USBC (typo on purpose above). As mentioned in the previous day's update, the final four were chosen in the first two days of competition - it was crunch time. The final four were, in order of competition,

Bronwen Serna of Hines Public Market Coffee (and Zoka)
Jon Lewis (my main man) from JJ Bean in Vancouver, BC
Stephen Vick of Zoka Coffee
Heather Sansbury Perry of Coffee Klatch

Here's a rundown of competition, including some notes I took when I sampled the drinks. I missed Sansbury's drinks because I had to go to a meeting during her competition time, but I did have someone videotape that portion.

Serna was up first, and I've made no bones about it - she's my favourite Barista on the planet. You've heard of people in the biz who may have coffee (or espresso) running through their veins? Guys like Kent Bakke, Joe Monaghan, Tim Castle, John Blackwell and Don Holly come to mind (to mention a few). Well I got news for ya - Serna's got rich ristrettos running through her veins. She loves everything there is about coffee and espresso. You can tell it.

Her performance was first rate. She nailed her espresso, and the one I tried was nice and deep, and the tongue feel was almost identical to what I strive for at home on the La Marzocco. It lacked a tad of crema, but I was drinking the remainders left over by the judges, so I may have missed the full crema amount.

Her second round was completed at around 9 minutes in, and the cappuccinos,

Citron Sweetness was her signature drink, which is an evolution off her previous one - Sweetness, which was a honey macchiato. This time around, she used orange and other citrus flavours,  bittersweet coffee, and of course, a good ristretto building up the coffee flavour. She finished with about 2 minutes to spare, and was very mellow and even in her performance.

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Jon Lewis checks the gear out before the morning's competition start.

My man Jon Lewis of JJ Bean coffee was up next, and let me tell you, he's as solid as Serna is. They have different styles - Serna is down home and kitchy even at times, but Lewis is definitely into theory, existentialism and examination of what espresso is all about. There's more than one reason he's "my main man", cuz that's how I look at the whole concept of coffee culture and the artistry of espresso.

As a side note, if you're anywhere near Vancouver, Lewis will be doing his performance at a JJ Bean location (most likely Commercial and Sixth) in early May - check with the shop for details).

Lewis' drinks were big improvements over what I sampled in Seattle at the Barista Jam. His espresso cut a bit of an acid tone because of the Guat used in the JJ Bean blend, but what it lost in the espresso round, it more than made up for in the cappa round - it cut through the milk like a buttered knife.

His signature drink was a variation on the chai thing I had in Seattle, but way better. Espresso was definitely tasted in the drink, but it had a variety of freshly ground and steamed spices to give it a unique taste.

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Steven Vick gets amped for his session.

Stephen Vick was up third, and again, nailed his performance like a seasoned artisan. He has a more serious attitude when compared to Serna's aloofness and Lewis' philosophizing, but what Vick does suits him. He had what I thought was the best espresso shot of the morning, but the Pallazo blend from Zoka seemed a minor tad lost in the milk drink.

Vick's signature drink was so damned good (iced choco-smoothie type drink) that I didn't get a chance to try it - the judges gulped it all down pretty much - rare in these kinds of competitions, but a good sign.

Last up was Heather Sansbury, who was easily the most engaging, talkative Baristi in the competition. I think she uses the talk to pace herself, and she pulled one of Dismas Smith's old tricks out of her sleeve - she'd point out the "little things" that were all worth single points each to the judges (as she did them), and if she made a mistake (she didn't make one in the finals I could see from the tape, but she did in the other rounds), she'd point it out, and remedy it.

I heard her shots were probably the best balanced of the bunch, nothing stood out, but nothing was wrong - they were the prototypical espresso and cappuccino. I had her drinks in the first round when I judged, and if they were anything like those drinks, she was aces.

After the competition was over, it was announcement time. Here's where the surprise came in, and maybe even some debate - the buzz was that it was a virtual tie with Serna, Lewis and Vick, and Sansbury would be a very, very close fourth.

The results were different. Serna finished fourth, Vick third, Lewis second, and Heather Sansbury is the new reigning United States Barista Champion! A huge congratulations to her and all the four competitors - there was only 17 points difference between first and fourth, with the scores in the 445 to 461 range (very high for the USBC). By comparison, when I judged, some scores were in the low 300s.

All were champs, but Sansbury is the winner. In keeping with a new tradition on this site, we'll be having an interview with her very soon!

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Heather Sansbury of Coffee Klatch is a tearful winner of the USBC!
The four winners of the USBC showing off their prizes.

The rest of Day One

I have to admit, after three days of Barista Championing, I was a bit worn out. I decided to forgo the first few World Baristi championship competitors that afternoon, and spend some time doing an interview, having lunch with some of the final four USBC competitors, and walking the show room floor. Here's the report from the floor.

I made do with my limited time by finding Colleen Crosby from Santa Cruz Coffee Roasters and taking a short tour of the north side of the first floor. We stopped by a couple of spcific booths.

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This machine has a very attractive wholesale and suggested retail price.

Of note was the VFA Expres booth, with the very intersting machine that had an attractive wholesale price and an equally attractive retail price of under $2000. This machine is reminiscent in looks with the Cimbali Jr series, and is available in a wide variety of options - plumbed, vibe, rotary, even a semi auto version.

It has a "faux" E61 group, meaning that the group functions like an e61, but isn't one. I didn't catch the boiler sizes, but I'll assume that it's big. I liked the look of it, and Juan Haro, VFA Expres' Export Manager was very engaging.

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Next up was the Brasilia / Rosito Bisani booth, which is a nice layout showing a lot of Brasilia machines I haven't seen before. I'm going to try and get more photos tomorrow, but for now, I have only one machine to show.

It's the Brasilia RoboCafe, a super auto that can possibly give the upper end Saecos, Juras, and Capressos a run for their money.

This machine is an all steel, plain jane outer body, but has a lot of nice internal features. For instance, it can be plumbed in or reservoir. It has a nice big beefy conical burr up top. The group isn't plastic - it's a heat resistant resin / fiberglass mix. What I especially liked was a nod to west coast drinking - it had an "americano" button which would brew a shot, then pour boiled water to top off.

Programming features were impressive. Shot volumes, grinds used, and temperatures, all controllable. Take that Capresso :). Another feature that impressed me - it's a dual boiler system with 250cc boilers, but they use brewing boiler water to "feed" the steam boiler, which means recovery times are fast for the steam boiler, and it has no problems running on 120V.

Michael Teahan was the guy chatting me up about the machines, and he was also a judge in the Barista competition. The guy knows his stuff.

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I had another treat of sorts at the Rosito booth. The Italian National Champion, Andrea Lattuada, was pulling shots on a Brasilia machine. He pulled me one, which was an honour. He was forced to use a "show" tamper, ie, the cheap plastic tamper that comes with machines, but was practicing the Staub tamp (four corners) and was tamping with some force. Note to those who say all Italians only do a levelling tamp... this guy didn't. :)

Then I got a huge shock. We walked around a bit, and lo and behold, I walked into Dr. Illy (who was with Mark Crawford of Espresso Specialists Inc). Kent Bakke (also of ESI) walked by and Dr. Illy warmly greeted him.

But that wasn't the shock - this was. Dr. Illy's assistant came up to me and talked about me doing an interview with the good Doctor. WOW. It could happen tomorrow. To use a term the Baristi used - I'm AMPED. Big time. If you read this quick, email me any ideas you have for questions you might want me to ask - but do it quick!

That guy's a coffee genius... I was in awe.

After getting over the Dr. Illy high, (and forgetting to snap photos, I'm a luser. I had the camera in hand too but at least Jeanette was there to witness it), I headed over to the Baratza booth to wind down. But before I get to that story, here's something else...

Jeanette's Notes from the Floor

Jeanette Chan attended two seminars, and she contributed this report for both.

First, there was the "Getting into the coffee business on the right foot" by Bruce Milletto David Arvidson.

This was a riveting subject for a lot of attendees. Milletto and Arvidson were very informative about ten essentials for starting a successful coffee business. They covered many points: Business Planning, meaning education, conceptual, and financial issues; Location Analysis (physical & demographic); Store design; Equipment; Menu issues; Employees (hiring & training); Management; Marketing; and Operational systems and budgets& cost Controls.

All the attendees seemed to find this a very helpful seminar, including myself. I have an interest in location analysis myself, and so it was good to hear that Milletto & Arvidson had good, well informed answers for many of the location and management concerns, while pointing out several important points for deciding on a location. They even had some great suggestions in negotiating for a space, quite possibly cutting down costs.

They also emphasized on the importance of properly training baristas and showing appreciation for employees. This was especially encouraging to hear for the espresso world. It actually brought to mind several discussions I have been hearing about "raising the bar".

By the time the seminar wrapped up, there was quite the line up of questions for the two presenters.

Next up was "Espresso Catering for Fun and Profit" by Joe Monaghan. I should point out that Joe is a good friend of Mark and I. He also has a lot to offer and has a good style on stage. He started with important questions: Why? And Where?, before moving on to How?

Monaghan's suggestion for where included a lot of social, promotional, or business events. Events like weddings, bar mitzvahs, company meetings, or promotional events have proven popular for demand for an espresso catering service. He stressed the importance of a business plan as crucial to a successful start. He talked about the necessities, like licenses and restrictions one may face.

Monaghan moved on to espresso machine recommendations. He was straight forward in encouraging the use of a commercial grade machine, for recovery time and hot water issues, preferably with a rotary pump that is internally mounted. The rotary pump would be required to be sump-pumping out a water source.

The highest recommendation would rest with a two-group commercial grade machine. The advantages would include a higher capacity than the other machines, with abundant steam. The problem would lie with power, and weight of the machine, and of course, higher costs.

He also covered other common sense stuff, like grinders (get two for regular and decaf), looks for the cart, and then delved into pricing, give some solid (and maybe harsh) realities in that area. Monaghan covered the whole gamut from cup costs to staffing costs, supplies, incredients, even some talk on site inspections.

Monaghan wrapped up wit ha variety of marketing tips and then fielded a large variety of questions. It was a great seminar, and very much worth the admission cost.


Day One Wrapup.

So. Barista Shock and Awe. Showfloor Shock and Awe with Dr. Illy. What a day!

But I do have one bit of business to take care of. See the photo to the right? Well the guy kissing the woman is Kyle Anderson. He's a player, so that's cool. But the woman? That's Dan Hughe's wife, Dawna Ackles! What the heck is going on!??! And Dan was standing, back turned to this event, only yards away! Yikes!

Heh heh heh heh heh heh. Revenge is mine! :)

More tomorrow, if I survive!

Article rating: 8.3
Author: Mark Prince
Posted: April 27, 2003
feedback: (2) comments | read | write
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