One would think that if the 2012 Northwest Regional Barista Competition were going to have a defining word, it might be something like dedication. Commitment. Artistry. Excellence. Detailed. Perhaps, even, obsession.
NWRBC finalist Laila Ghambari's serving cart waits patiently backstage.
This year, seated at the Sensory Judge's table, after hours of classes and calibration with the other judges, I was afforded a whole new perspective on the challenges facing each competitor as they approach the competition. The level of detail a barista must attend to, both in preparing to compete and in competition itself, is nearly beyond belief.
Each barista has 15 short minutes to prepare three sets of beverages, each set prepared for four Sensory Judges, under the watchful eyes of two Technical Judges and one Head Judge. Espresso. Cappuccino. Signature Beverage.
Months before the competition, that barista will have selected a special coffee, often working directly with a specific roaster to perfect the coffee (or, in a few cases, even roasting the coffee themselves). After selecting the coffee, the process of getting to know it begins, and by the time regional competitions roll around - the first stage in the process of qualifying for World Barista Championship - a barista and a coffee will have spent hours upon countless hours of time together, as espresso, as pour over, as a cupping coffee, as a component in multiple beverage recipes. The coffee that finally reaches the stage has been poked, prodded, studied, and examined from every conceivable angle. Its history, its farm, its growing region, its producer, its roaster, its flavors and properties are all intimately known by the barista as he or she steps onto the stage, greets the judges, and starts the competition time. 15 short minutes, to tell the judges and the audience all the things they have learned in the preceding hours, days, and months of time spent with that coffee. 15 short minutes to make everyone else fall in love with it.
It is not exactly what you would call a low-pressure situation. With seven people staring at you, rapidly scribbling on clipboards each time you move or speak, I imagine you must begin to feel as judged as you.... are. Unnerving.
Technical Judges watch Ghambari pull shots at Sunday's final rounds of competition.
On the other side of the clipboard, judging isn't so much unnerving as it is just inclined to make you feel like a rotten person. Having been socially groomed to believe that a judgmental attitude is wrong, and that good marks should reward good effort, it is incredibly difficult to look at a barista who has just poured his or her heart out about an espresso, and judge them harshly because the persistence of the crema is sub par. Or worse, because they forgot a detail such as pouring water to accompany the coffee.
But as many words as aptly apply to the competition, it was not defined by commitment or obsession or artistry or even detail this year. No. It was something quite different. Something driven by the fact that the city of Portland, at the end of the day, swept the competition. Of the 21 competitors in the first two days, only six went on to compete in Sunday's finals. And of those six... every single last one was in town to represent Portland's coffee scene.
*Marty Lopes, Barista
*Tyler Stevens, Barista
*Devin Chapman, Coava Coffee
*Sam Purvis, Coava Coffee (winner of the 2011 NWRBC)
*Collin Schneider, Sterling Coffee Roasters
*Laila Ghambari, Stumptown Coffee Roasters
They all worked hard, and they all deserved to be finalists. But Seattle? You should be ashamed. Not because you didn't send any baristas to the final round, but because you had the home floor, and yet the defining word of the weekend, thanks to Portland, turned out to be Bro.
PDX showed up in our state, rolling three or four rows of spectators deeps, with the hashtag #TacomaByStorm already set for all their Tweeting. Seattleites drifted in and out, applauding politely, half awake. Occasionally cheering in earnest. But seriously? The Portlanders had t-shirts, and signs, and obnoxious levels of noise any time one of their own took the stage. There was jumping, and hugging, and high-fiving, and altogether entirely too much Bro-fection for a non-sporting event. I don't necessarily support it. Or promote it. But really, Seattle, where were you? There is simply no excuse for a home court advantage to get so stepped on.
Granted, Portland's caffeinated excitement was justified. Not only did they take every single last spot in the final round of competition, but the winner of the NWRBC this year, Coava Coffee's Devin Chapman, takes home special accolades as the first ever regional barista winner to also walk away having won the concurrent Brewer's Cup competition. Granted, that is a really big deal.
http://www.sprudge.com NWRBC/Brewer's Cup winner, Devin Chapman
But here's the thing. This year, the US National Barista Competition is in Portland, OR. We have the chance to pay back. We have the chance to show up in Portland, and represent Seattle. A little less Bro and a little more class may be in order, I'm sure, but come on Seattle! Start rehearsing your best levels of enthusiasm. You've got until April... let's show up and show Portland how it's done.