The Roasterie’s Travels: Destination St. Louis – Midwest Regional Barista Competition

This blog entry is courtesy of Amanda Butler.

Friday: We woke up this morning to a bit of a torrential downpour, which is the last thing you want to see when you have pounds upon pounds of equipment packed into cardboard boxes that need to be carried out to a van. That was 10:00am. At 10:00pm we had yet to encounter a dry patch.

Things I’ve learned so far: I-70 has the best truck stop ever, the gas tank on the Sprinter van is incredibly difficult to find if you don’t know where to look, and road trips rule– especially when you know coffee geek heaven is waiting for you at the end of the day.

Paul and John went ahead of us– they’re training to become certified judges for future competitions– and we met up with them at the reception held at Velocity Café & Cyclery. It was a pretty neat little place, and Kaldi’s (our host roaster) brought in a La Marzocco GS3 for the baristas to play with and a keg from a local brewer, again for the baristas to play with. By the end of the evening everyone’s energy was up and the nerves about tomorrow had dissipated… at least for the night.

We’re just about headed to the hall for our orientation. From there I’ll start my practice time and get more acquainted with the Simonelli Aurelia. Am I nervous? I’m not sure. My heart’s beating a little faster, but otherwise I’d say I’m alarmingly calm. That will change in a few short hours I’m sure.

Tyler hopes everyone at home is rooting for us.

Kyle says “hi” to his mom.

Saturday: It’s a few hours until Tyler’s performance time. His dishes are all polished, his signature ingredients are set up, the grinder’s clean and his nuts are toasting on a hot plate downstairs. There’s nothing to do but wait now. I guess I’ll take this chance to update everyone on yesterday’s fun and games.

Competition was quite stiff on day one– I really have no idea who’s likely to advance. There were a lot of good performances, and I think at the end of the day it’s going to be what’s in the cup that counts. Our emcee for the weekend is Heather Perry, the highest-ranked female competitor in the world (she took 2nd in Tokyo in 2007) and the day opened with Pete Licata, a former MWRBC champion who moved out of region last year. I didn’t have the chance to check out his performance (I was prepping when he went on) but I hear it was killer. Then it was my turn.
I wish I could give a thorough play-by-play of my portion, but in all honesty I have no recollection of anything I said or did. Evidently when I get performance anxiety I just black out. Great. However, Tyler and Kyle did tell me that my shots were on mark, and a few of the other competitors said that I “didn’t seem nervous at all.” Lovely. We’ll get our score sheets this evening ,so hopefully I’ll be able to piece together events a little better later.
There was a lot if Indian influence in the signature inspiration this year: curry powder and biriyani spices abound. Also, four different competitors (including myself) pulled music from Wes Anderson films. Weird. Some of the more interesting signatures included a salty marjoram tea infused with poached peach and toast-infused milk. We’re also seeing a lot of single-origin espressos again, and from everywhere: Kona, Costa Rica, Ethiopia.
After the actual competition ceased for the evening we had a nice reception here at Soulard Preservation Hall. It was an open bar, and I really do think that the number one thing that baristas love after coffee is beer. Lots. And Lots. Of Beer.

Sunday: Day two seemed like it lasted an eternity. Maybe it was just my nerves for Tyler, but the list of competitors seemed never-ending. In fact, I might go so far as to say that I was more nervous for him than I was for myself on Friday. Most of the morning was spent in the green room polishing everything imaginable. Note to all competitive barista hopefuls: if you hate ironing, polishing or washing dishes this isn’t your cup of tea (or coffee, as it would seem).
Once Tyler’s performance time rolled around myself, Kyle and Tyler’s wife Jaime hovered around nervously. He was great though, especially considering this was his first year competing. I have to say that his set-up was the best looking one I saw in round one, hands down.
Three of the guys from Kaldi’s and the entire crew from PT’s Coffee advanced to the final round, which is today. Everyone else had the opportunity to review their scores and talk to the judges. Though we won’t be going for the gold today, I have to say that we got a lot of positive feedback and are coming away with some really great ideas for next year (or a possible out-of-region trip). Thanks to everyone who supported us and listened to us obsess over crema and tampers for the last couple of months. It’s been a great weekend, but I’ll be glad when I see the arch slip below the horizon.