After 4 days of intense caffeination (plus one additional day of hungover silence while everyone re-hydrates), the national competition crowning the United States' Barista Champion for 2012 has come to a close. Portland, fitting to its fantastic performance at the regional competition in January, hosted hundreds of professional baristas, exhibitors and attendees at the Oregon Convention Center over the past weekend, while competitors amicably dedicated all of their energy to defeating each other in pursuit of the right to represent the US at the World Barista Championships in June.
USBC 2012 Finalists - Alex Negranza, Sprudge.com.
While a great deal of interest happened, following three simultaneous competitions and covering a large show floor can quickly become overwhelming. Outstanding performances were made, fascinating products displayed, and after multiple hours of consideration, I have decided that the best way to sum up the competition for those not in attendance may be thus:
The Top 5 Competitor Catchwords - US Barista Championship 2012...
Any time more than one finalist in a multi-day competition mentions the same ingredient, it is advisable to sit up and take note. Signature beverages in coffee competitions run the gamut from simply comparing different espressos, to elaborate concoctions built around nearly unknown ingredients. But two of the final six competitors at this year's competition used cascara in their signature recipe.
Cascara, by accurate definition, can refer to several things (including an herbal laxative or a rhythm specific to Cuban music). In the coffee world, it refers specifically to a shell, husk, or peel. Finalist Jared Truby used a tea made from dried coffee cherries (called Cascara) in his beverage. Finalist Chris Baca used an orange cascara in his, illustrating the word "sustainability" by using every last bit of the orange in his signature beverage construction.
Simply put, a "Geisha" (or Gesha) is a particular coffee varietal. More specifically it is a sub-set of the Arabica bean, originating in Ethiopia, and now primarily grown in Latin America. Although the word is used in a way that would make you think it defines good coffee, it turns out that a Geisha coffee tree, while possessing tremendous potential to produce a phenomenal coffee given the right conditions, is not in and of itself a guarantee of quality.
Give it the right care and growing conditions to reach its full potential, however, and Geisha coffees have received press for being some of the highest rated, most expensive coffees in the world. Brewer's Cup winner Andy Sprenger used the Colombian Cerro Azul Geisha coffee in his presentation.
The Clever Coffee Dripper was all the rage as a brewing method at Brewer's Cup this year. In fact, it has also been all the rage at brew bars around Seattle for the past year or so. As Seattleite Akaash Saini explained in his competition quip: "I'm using the Clever brewer because I'm so clever."
With a bit more seriousness, however, the Clever has gained a reputation for being one of the most cafe-friendly, easy-to-use brew methods currently on the market. Working like a cross between a more traditional pour-over method (say, the Chemex or V60) and the French Press theory of full immersion brewing, the Clever allows both a highly controlled brewing method and freedom for the brewer to do things like wander back and forth to the cash register or simultaneously brew multiple coffees. Handy, when your slow bar is developing a line out the door.
Each USBC performance is strictly timed. Every competitor in Brewer's Cup receives a total of 10 minutes on the stage, while each Barista has 15 minutes as center of attention. Running over time results in deductions from your overall score, and in a tight competition, can literally make the difference between a win and a loss. A competitor reaching the end of his or her routine will typically step back from the workstation and call out, "Time!" making this the most repeated word of the weekend.
During the final round of barista performances, for example, Chris Baca ran over his 15 minute limit, effectively ruling himself out of winning the title. Although, it is arguable that his third-place placement was unaffected by time, since the winner, Katie Carguilo, turned in a performance that was bound to win either way.
Last but not least: oh, Portland. For those who remember the #TacomaByStorm crew at the regional barista competition this year, fear not. Portland's own, Devin Chapman of Coava Coffee, was one of the six finalists to compete on Sunday and that same raucous show of Portland pride was present on home turf.
Vuvuzelas, famous for their presence at international soccer matches since 2009, have now made their way into the USBC. And they are loud. (Keep in mind: they are fashioned after a horn traditionally used to call across villages, and have been a subject of controversy since their World Cup introduction, due to concern about permanent hearing loss in fans.)
Sadly for the rest of the world, the winner of the competition was from a comparatively subdued New York, so the WBC may have to wait another year or two before Vuvuzelas are officially introduced to the international barista scene.
Meanwhile, keep an eye on the international stage for other reasons. Our 2012 USBC winner Katie Carguilo stands a reasonable chance at the World Competition, and (if she wins) would be only the second US barista in 12 years to take the title. The competition this year will be held in Vienna, Austria, June 12-15.