The Roasterie has been involved in coffee competitions for over a decade. In 2003, we hosted the Midwest Regional Barista competition. Since that time, the competition has grown and is now known as the Big Central.
The Big Central is a three day event that hosts 75+ baristas from 16 states in the two competitions all vying for spots in the US Coffee Championships in February.
This year The Roasterie was represented in the Brewers Cup by our own Brookside Barista, Skylar Cowdry. Bean Hunter (Jon Ferguson)Bean Hunter Jon Ferguson and Professor Bean Simeon Bricker and I were there to coach Skylar, compete, and volunteer.
Barista competitors prepare 12 espresso based beverages (four espressos, four cappuccinos, and four signature beverages) in a 15 minute presentation. Scores are based on technical skills and sensory evaluation. Brewers Cup competitors first must compete in a compulsory round brewing 3 cups of a compulsory coffee. The Top 6 from the compulsory round move onto an open service round to compete using a coffee of their choosing, serving three cups to three judges in a 10 minute presentation. Brewers are judged on sensory evaluation and station maintenance.
Team Roasterie. arrived on Thursday night to check into the hotel room and prepare for day one of competition. Friday came too early…
Friday, November 7, 2014
Friday morning we arrived at Upper Cut Boxing Gym in Minneapolis at 8:00am to attend a practice session of Andrew Iwerson of Quay Coffee in Kansas City’s River Market. After giving some feedback on Andrew’s espresso, we drove up the street to SpyHouse Coffee Roasters and had some more espresso (a theme of the weekend). At about 9:30am we returned to the boxing gym and I began my volunteer shift while Skylar watched the North Central Brewers Compulsory Round. Working as a volunteer I not only had the best seat in the house to watch each competitor, but I also had the chance to learn about the competition in a unique way. As I cleaned and listened to the time keeper I got all sorts of insights into pacing a good routine and keeping a clean bar. I also got to meet and spend time with some great people who also volunteered that morning. I’ve competed in the Big Central Barista Competition for the past two years and decided to take this one off to watch, learn and help out. I’ve attended several Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) Events. So I’m familiar with this community of professionals that acts more like a family reunion than an intense competition. It’s always great to see old friends and make new ones. Kansas City is especially well represented in the specialty coffee industry and it was great to see that continue with an incredible performance from Andrew on day 1.
After the long day of volunteering and watching the competition we had dinner at a local Thai joint and then attended the “Rope-a-Dope” party hosted by Cafe Imports, Wilbur Curtis and Colectivo Coffee. This was a fun event at a unique venue. Architectural Antiques is an antique shop with everything from 10,000 dollar chandeliers to 1930’s army radar machines. It’s a huge space and it was a great evening to chat with friends and colleagues. We returned home tired and sore and ready for more competition on Saturday…
Saturday, November 8, 2014
Saturday was another early morning. We woke about 6:30-7:00am and went to get coffee at Rustica Bakery. Jon, Skylar and I each had a pour over from their brew bar. The coffee was prepared on a Clever and it took no time to get out our three coffees and the customers ahead of us. Rustica was inviting with a warm space and friendly staff. After Rustica we made a quick stop at a Dogwood location. This shop was set up in a mall entrance and featured three separate bars, an ordering counter, an espresso counter and a brew bar counter. Each was separate from the other but with a very open design that invited the customer to view the drinking making process up close and personal.
From there we returned to the competition. Today, Skylar would be competing in the South Central Brewers Compulsory round. We began by sorting the beans in the compulsory coffee and cupping the sorted and the unsorted against each other. We then began to brew the coffee, changing one variable at a time and blind cupping them against each other. We did our last blind cupping on stage for Skylar’s practice and finally settled on a brewing recipe that gave the coffee a nice balance with a subtle acidity and lemon, lime zest. I also was helping a few other competitors with set up and taking some photos.
This year scores from the compulsory round were being fed onto a screen so that competitors knew shortly after brewing how their cups scored. Skylar was scheduled toward the end of the day and so there were already a few scores on the screen. At 3:00pm Skylar took the stage and brewed with precision and care. He couldn’t have performed better under the pressure. Once he was finished we only had to wait for his cups to be scored and for the score to be posted. This was a terrible moment. It is just like being on stage when they announce the winners and the MC says “but first, let’s thank our sponsors!” followed by a long list of people who made all this possible. All we really want to know is how we did and they stretch our nerves. At one point they posted several competitors scores at once and my heart leapt searching for Skylar’s name on the list, but it wasn’t there. Relief quickly turned back to curiosity and then to worry and then anxiety. All the competitors were finished brewing. Only two more scores were yet to be posted. Skylar was one of them. The screen went blank and I was poised in anticipation. As the screen turned back to the score sheet I searched frantically for Skylar’s place, it was listed just behind the name of the competitor who was in 5th place, but that competitor had been bumped down to sixth which left Skylar just out of the final six. What was worse was Skylar was 0.41 points from being in the top six (which would qualify him for the US Brewers Cup in February). It was a great effort and though it’s sad to be just off of qualifying, Skylar did really well for his first time competing. I know he’ll tell you he learned a lot through it. Stop by our Brookside Cafe and have him make you a cup of his coffee; Mexico La Bomba, he can tell you all about it. After all that excitement I was ready to relax and enjoy some dinner, but there was more to be done.
Jon and I had registered to compete in the Big Central Aeropress competition, an offsite competition running in line with the Big Central. The Aeropress championship was being hosted at Five Watt Coffee who was also hosting the Latte Art Throwdown. This head to head competition pits baristas against each other in a one off elimination round format. Jon and I both made the final six, but had to face off with each other in semi-finals where I was knocked out by Jon. Jon ended up second in the Aeropress championship. The Latte Art Throwdown was judged by posting pictures of the lattes online and letting everyone vote for their favorite. The top 8 were set to move onto finals. I made the top 8 pouring a ballerina. After the votes were counted, round two commenced and I went with a more reserved latte art form…the tulip. This pour earned me first place out of 51 competitors. The competition was fierce but we came out on top I would say. We turned in just after that (about midnight) trying to get some sleep before our last day…
Sunday, November 9, 2014
Sunday morning came too early. We checked out of our hotel and headed to Upper Cut Boxing Gym for the last few competitors and the announcing of this year’s Big Central Barista and Brewers Cup Champions. My good friend Patrick Burns of Palace Coffee in Canyon, Texas was set to close out the weekend with a final performance. Patrick took third in last year’s Big Central and claims this will be his last year competing. His approach was to go in with the mind set of winning, and having as much fun as he could. During his practice time I tried his espresso, a natural Ethiopian, it was phenomenal. I knew that he would do well if he could get it dialed in. I volunteered myself to clean the machines once again. I was on a team of three that got each station cleaned after the routines and prepared the station for the next competitor. That gave us about 15 minutes to get the tables, counter and machine spotless. It also gave me the best seat in the house again and I took advantage of that (see pictures). Patrick’s service time was some of the most inspiring of the weekend. Of all the competitors, he felt the most lifelike. His passion for serving coffee shined on stage and he had the audience enthralled for every second of his 15 minute routine. He called time and that ended the competitions. We cleaned up and then Skylar and I went and grabbed a bite before the announcements.
The announcements started right as we got back to the gym. It was the first time I had been to a competition where I did not go on stage. I was still nervous. However, it was nice not to have the anticipation of having my own name called. Patrick ended up 6th in the South Central, earning him a spot at USBC. Andrew Iwerson took 4th place, a great position for his first year competing. Radomes Roldan of Blueprint Coffee in St Louis took the top spot. Ryan Soeder, a first time competitor as well won the North Central Barista Championship. You can see the full results here (http://uscoffeechampionships.org/big-central-results/).
After announcements it was time to say our goodbyes and try to beat the oncoming snow storm out of Minneapolis. It had been a fantastic and whirlwind weekend. Competition is always inspiring for a barista. It challenges us to think more about how and why we serve coffee. Competition raises the bar for coffee professionals across the world, and gives them a way to grow in a developing industry.
Stay tuned for our return to The US Coffee Championships in February. I’ll be returning to the US Latte Art stage to defend my title again. Also check out the US Coffee Championship home page (www.uscoffeechampionship.org) to learn more about them and watch the upcoming Big Eastern Championship.
Enjoy the shots below from the weekend’s events taken by Professor Bean Simeon Bricker!