Blog Blowup Brouhaha Between Barista Ballyhoos

Set your doomsday clock to 11:59. Put the kids in the bomb shelter. Call your mother. Things got SERIOUS today over on the Doubleshot Coffee Blog, in an all-but-shooting tête-à-tête straight out of Dr. Strangelove. Nick Cho, Portafilter poobah and noted coffee gadabout, was engaged with intent to destroy in a war of words with Brian Franklin, of Double Shot Coffee (located in Tulsa, OK, otherwise known as the coffee capital of America). We’re giving you the blow-by-blow, the play by play, while these two puscillanimous pugilists rest in their respective corners, each focusing their blackened eyes on conquering one another in the next round of knickerbocking!

Brian starts…

I know I rail on this a lot, but I think it’s important.

Isaiah and Garth went to the regional barista competition (SCRBC) the weekend before last, and they experienced the same thing as usual. They really went this year trying to play the game. They changed almost everything about the way we make coffee in order to follow the strict and unbending rules laid out by the… whoever. I’m not sure who came up with these rules. Intelligentsia?

One of the things looked down upon in the specialty coffee industry is the way we tamp. We tamp as hard as we can. Who taught me that? No one taught me that. I started noticing years ago that the harder I tamped, the sweeter the coffee tasted. And I like that. Hard tamp = sweet espresso. I promise you that’s true. I’m not exactly sure why.

At the comp, my boys always get marked down for crema that’s not the color the judges are looking for and the crema doesn’t persist as long as they want it to. They always say our coffee is “too fresh.” I’m not kidding about that. As soon as we get the score sheets, I’ll post them so you can see it for yourself. The coffee is too fresh? Yeah yeah, we’ve been through this. Well, I have a couple theories about all this. And I think as time goes on, you’re going to see that I’m right. Because I learned it, not from Intelli, but from experience and experiments.

Harder tamp, coarser grind, less micro-particles, more control over shots, sweeter espresso.

Sweeter espresso, fresh coffee, less crema persistence.
Should we really concern ourselves so much with crema persistence?
Just drink it when I give it to you.

Nick Cho, experienced USBC judge and “big wheel at the cracker factory”, weighs in with the following comments:

Whether or not “persistence of crema” is a value that the industry should be promoting or not is definitely a debatable point. More and more, you hear about baristas questioning the “status quo” and raising doubt about whether crema is all it’s cracked up to be.

That said, this was Isaiah’s third competition. What’s the point in bangin your head against a wall? Did you want the judges to throw out the published rules and turn the competition into the “United States Hardest Tamp Championship?”

There are published standards and rules for the competition. Nobody’s telling you what you can or can’t do in your shop.

Did any judge score lower because of the hard tamp? I don’t think so. It’s about consistent technique.

I’d love to see a DoubleShot barista make a go of the competition by showing mastery of the rules and standards and delivering on it. Isaiah’s a great barista for sure. I hate seeing the Haterade flowing from what sure seems like sour grapes.

Brian rolls out a full troop deployment in response:

I like the idea of Nick Cho, but in practice, NIck, I find you to be a joke. You don’t listen. You aren’t in touch with reality. You don’t listen. I wrote that twice because I figured you skipped it the first time. I’m sick of listening to you. You don’t seem very smart. Your arguments are extremely lame.

Do they take away on points for the way Isaiah tamps? Yes they do. Do they take away points for our fresh coffee? Yes they do. Did he try to follow the arbitrary rules this time and tamp the same lame way every time? Yes. Did they still count off on points because he polished too hard? Yes.

Nick, until you get your head out of your ass I’m not going to publish any more of your comments. No one cares what you think.

The trench warfare then continued on Twitter. Here’s a snapshot of the battle damage:

Stay tuned. We don’t think it’s over. This kind of back-and-forth forum snark has a rich and storied history in the specialty coffee world, and we can surely expect more fireworks and devastation. Suffice it to say, don’t expect Nick Cho to be visiting Tulsa, Oklahoma anytime in the near future (your loss, Nick).

Comments

  1. says

    because every 6 months I find this by accident and no-one has posted anything coherent (because other judges know better and the rest are idiots), I figured I would.

    When there’s a score for “persistence of crema” and your crema collapses, it doesn’t matter if your coffee tastes better – you won’t be scoring full marks for persistence. It just ain’t persisting. You may pick up awesome marks for taste balance, overall impression etc, especially if you say “I chose to pull really fresh shots so you, the judges, can taste X,Y and Z in your coffee, and I chose to sacrifice crema persistence because the fruit bomb tails off after day 3, while real crema persistence only kicks in on day 5. There wasn’t a way to have both”. Then you prove you know your … coffee. And that gives you an overall higher score, as the overall impression of the barista goes up too. We think you know you stuff, you’ve lost a few marks to give us something great, and we appreciate it.

    Nick even says “Whether or not “persistence of crema” is a value that the industry should be promoting or not is definitely a debatable point.” as his opening sentence, before going with the more traditional Hoffman opening in the rest of the chess game, sorry, paragraph. Nick is right…..Isaiah didn’t get punished for hard tamps, polishing etc….he got scored by the sensory judges according to the way he hit or missed the mark for the stuff listed on their scoresheets. Amount of polishing wasn’t on there. It’s not on the tech scoresheets either. He wasn’t scored for it. Couldn’t happen, didn’t happen.

    If Brian were to support his staff a bit better, he’d have known this. And if you changed your hard tamp cafe enforcement for the comp and went with a lighter one, Isaiah couldn’t get penalised for it anyhow. Idiot.

    And yes, the crema rules have changed after feedback from competitors and judges. And they could well change again. It’s an evolving competition – just read the rules, then practice. Then win.

  2. Liz says

    “I wonder what good comes from these banters except making us look like asses to outsiders.”

    It’s okay Jason, Nick Cho and all his douche beard bros made us look like asses to outsiders long ago (“I’ll punch you in the dick”). It is public record that Cho is completely incompetent and criminally insane. It is also common knowledge that most competition spro jockeys are complete asses, since the only thing these contests benefit is the ego of the barista or corporate “lifestyle brand” roasters sponsoring them.
    My 2 cents: Double Shot rocks, tastes similar to Intelligentsia to me, if you all got your heads out of your asses long enough to try his roasts you would see. And the so-called “judges” at the contest in question are complete Intelli lackeys, he is so right.

  3. says

    I thought Nick Cho was in federal prison??

    BTW, coffeeman, are you seriously holding a grudge becuase you never got a “thank you” note for ordering coffee from a business?

    Me thinks some people are taking this topic (and themselves) too seriously.

  4. says

    I had the unique perspective of reading the DoubleShot blog, adding my comments then hanging with Isaiah when he came to visit Baltimore this week.

    Much of what is portrayed here is inaccurate and not really germane to the original discussion.

  5. says

    Coffeeman–That’s pretty chickenshit to say that anonymously. I understand that you started ordering from DS 2.5 years ago when “no-one else was ordering.” DS has been in successful business for nearly 6 years now. I’ve been a customer there, along with numerous others I know personally and who have become my friends, for more than 4 years. It was hardly your “support” that kept this little shop going. And, if anything, if Brian’s expression of his opinion is pointed sometimes, it is because he cares *too much* about coffee and the industry and is emotional about it.

    As for the comments being “public,” I say more power to these guys being public with their debates, rather than hiding behind anonymous screen-names. As for what started the debate, it was a posting on the DS blog I’d encourage you all to read and continue to follow, rather than assuming this article–which is funny–portrays the whole story. If you do, you’ll find that the competition wasn’t really the point, but was a springboard to a larger discussion about the value of crema and what makes a coffee sweet and a few other items that challenge some assumptions. For those of you in the industry, there are some very interesting discussions in the comments between Jay Caragay and James Hoffman and Brian about the science behind it.

    As for you, coffeeman, I don’t know who you are, because you aren’t courageous enough to put a name behind your words. But if you truly are a long-time customer of the DS, you’ll know who I am, because this is my real name, and you’ll probably see me in there in the morning, with many of the other long-term customers of DS, enjoying our morning public debates. Feel free to come introduce yourself.

  6. says

    I have ordered coffee from DBL for the past 2.5 years, consistently. Never even got a thank you note. In the beginning the orders might sit there for a week, because no one else was ordering. I still continued.

    Brian is the person who does not listen, or care.

  7. Chris Avirett says

    It saddens me to see people in our industry that are easily recognizable to the outside world, bickering in such a away. The biggest reason, next to coffee, that I have stayed in this industry, is the camaraderie. My whole experience has been that when I didn’t understand something or didn’t do something the same way as someone else, I could simply call a peer, and converse about it. Where did that go? Especially in reference to those people that are, whether they like it or not, the examples we all look at. I also second what Jacob said about us not knowing it all and that’s what makes it fun. It also needs to be noted that it is a competition and there must be rules, whether one agrees with these rules or not you still enter a contest under the premise that you understand the rules. I honestly don’t understand this part of the confusion. Finally, and obviously to restate, couldn’t this have been a quiet conversation, instead of a public debocale ?

  8. says

    Maybe a competition isn’t the best place to be innovative. How do you measure whether an innovation is good or bad? It’s going to be personal preference at the start… will it be embraced by the specialty coffee community? What leads to an innovation being embraced? Is it truly better? is it considered “better” because it moves in the direction of the current trend. If so, experiments and innovations when judged, will be judged good if they move in the direction that the pendulum is currently swinging. This sounds like it would limit innovation… rather than encouraging innovation in all directions.

  9. says

    I would leave Isaiah out of it. I have not heard a whole lot of complaining from him. He is trying to win within the rules.

    I believe Brian made some excellent points about persistent crema and Hoffmann came back with his interesting post. I believe the main beef with Brian is this idea that coffee is too fresh unless it sits around for 10 days. Sorry, I don’t agree with that and neither does DoubleShot. I am still new in the industry so I would rather read and listen to what is being said. I agree with many of the points already made-let us be adults. Name calling for the sake of name calling helps no one. Persuade me, don’t yell at me.

    Al

  10. trish says

    why doesn’t the barista talk to the judges that scored him? That’s what they are there for.
    Nick can stop defending the whole damn thing and finally relax a little.. Realax, nickcho!

  11. says

    Everyone lost site of the real problem and started calling names. We are all trying to figure this coffee thing out, even the people who put together barista competition. Nothing is perfected, if it were coffee wouldn’t be as great as it is. Name calling and feuding however just makes us all look like idiots. Be cool.

  12. says

    Yeah, like Intelli’s a bad place to be? I understand frustration that comes from working really hard and not having the results that one would prefer. If you’re not careful that kind of thing makes you look for a target somewhere on the outside. If I fall short of my personal goal, then I should be able to find where I failed to deliver so as not to waste a perfectly good learning opportunity. But no, Nick, I think the hair is manly.

  13. says

    I wonder what good comes from these banters except making us look like asses to outsiders. Constructive change creating conversations are one thing. This is not one of them. There are valid points on both sides. A civil conversation about said issues would be incredibly helpful and beneficial in moving the competition forward, which I believe is necessary.

  14. says

    At the end of the day are people going to still get their coffee? Yes… I mean, really, that’s what’s important. This is just coffee guys. I watched Isaiah’s competition. I thought he looked and sounded great. But, there is a lot to it. I finished 4th in the Midwest region. I am thrilled that I made the finals, am able to advance, and got to be critiqued by the judges, thus making me a better barista, roaster, teacher and hopefully person. I encourage Double Shot to look at the positives too. Isaiah was in the finals and is able to advance. And Nick, why do you let this get under your skin? We all have gripes when the points don’t fall in our favor. You are a big dog in coffee with a mega-phone and all of the connections. D-shot is a small shop in an area not known for high end specialty coffee who were fourtunate (or unfortunate) enough to get a lot of attention do to litigation, and a tiny documentary following that litigation. These guys are trying. They are thinking. They are out there on their own. We should be cheering them on. No, I don’t agree with their blogposts all of the time. But they are not offensive to me either. They are resentful due to being to small and getting netional critique. Nick is defensive because he has poured his heart into specialty coffee and had worked so hard on the usbc. Once again, this is coffee. This is not vaccinations. If we do it differently, right or wrong, it will all be ok. Let’s just cal
    down a bit. I think that both parties have a lot to bring to the table.

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