Victrola Reports from Seattle Coffee Fest 2007 (we were only 2 blocks away...)
Hey Y’all this is “Ptaff” from “Voctrola” Coffee reporting from the 2007 Millrock Latte Art Competition and Northwest Regional Barista Competition. Our own Shawn Hardison competed in this year’s Latte Art Competition placing a very respectable 10th in the first round, while Keith Gerhke and I along with Josh Marsceau from Brewed Awakenings had the opportunity to judge at the NWRBC. Both competitions were staged just outside the entrance to Coffee Fest 2007. Sporting large flat-screen displays, chatty announcers and booming sound systems the competition arenas never failed to draw massive hordes, lured by our crazed coffee slinging. Keith & I, both in preparation for judging had to attend an all-day intensive calibration session, to make sure we were up date on the latest coffee standards. Both of us having experience with competing, were able to integrate pretty easily into the format, although it is a strange sensation standing on the opposite side of the playing field, clipboard in hand. I think practicing the eye brow raise and accompanying uh-hmmmm was key. It's all about instilling fear in the competitors ;) The competition stretched for three days. Starting off with two preliminary rounds on Friday & Saturday and culminating in Sunday's grande finale with six top scoring baristi vying for a glass blown trophy & accompanying Ipod Nano. The format is tough. A barista prepares 12 drinks in 15 minutes. 4 espressos, 4 cappuccinos, and 4 of their own specialty drinks are served to a panel of 4 tasting judges. These seasoned coffee tasters then dissect the offerings and select scores based on taste balance, consistency & persistence of foam and mouthfeel. Also every barista has two technical judges who hover over them, grading their tamping, dosing, and general bar management. Oh and the real kicker...you're mic'ed up in front of a crowd of about 200 people. No pressure :) We saw our share of shaky hands and forgotten lines but the best baristas this weekend seemed to flow through their routine without a hitch. Explaining their technique and coffee profiles as they went along, they really set the bar for what a professional barista should be. This year the gold went to Billy Wilson of Albina Press, this is his second time to win, along with Maki Campbell from Zoka Coffee & Tea in Greenlake coming in second and Kevin Fuller also from Albina Press taking third. There was plenty else to see at the show and we tried to sneak away when we could. The trade floor is always chock full of novelties and of course no specialty coffee event would be complete without some crazy after parties. And crazy they were! They usually involve cramming hundreds of not-so-sober caffiends into all too cramped spaces then adding in maybe some frantic tribal drumming, whole roasted pigs, or earplug-piercing, way-too-heavy-metal bands. The highlight was the nightly and infamous Latte Art “Smackdown.” It involves being forced to pour an unintelligible latte art design amidst a mass of screaming drunkenness into a vessel of your own choosing (yeah...don't ask). Lets just say us coffee people know how to throw down after a hard days work!