Clayton Goes Campin’ At Pull-A-Shot East Coast

Sprudge contributor Liz Clayton attended Camp Pull-a-Shot’s first-ever East Coast event, and lived to tell the tale…

Let’s be clear at the outset that I wasn’t allowed to go see “Dirty Dancing” when it opened in theaters. What better treat then for this reporter than to arrive at the scene of the crime, the film set itself, the Swayze-Grey sexy mecca: Kellerman’s Mountain Lake Hotel and Resort, an aging, well-intentioned compound 4,000 twisty, misty feet up into the Virginia hills. My anticipation could not have been greater for this unique coffee experience, whetted only by my cab driver’s insistence on peppering the ride up with anecdotes about, variously, almost running off the mountain road, the decades-dead guy they found at the bottom of the lake*, and a rather personal note about something that must have had to do with his pH factor.

Now, Camp Pull-a-Shot (East Coast Edition) isn’t actually in West Virginia, but it’s shoved right up against it, and judging from the feral cats, falling-down barns and bearded, suspendered hill people beating their trees with old brooms on the way up the foggy mountain road, that state line is merely an academic courtesy. This year’s new, bi-coastal Pull-a-Shot training camps allow emerging baristas multiple chances to find places to train, certify, and test out their after-hours livers on either side of the country, and the West Coast edition will take place in October. (Though according to one convivial station instructor who I won’t name and it isn’t Meister, the only difference between west and east coast is that people in the Northeast “are far more likely to take shittier drugs”.)

Under the near-constant roll of blue-stormy mountain skies, more than 100 enthusiastic coffee persons convened Monday at Mountain Lake to train, teach, test, and wonder where in the hell the lake went*. The tension tingled and swelled as people divided into teams, and each barista wondered nervously to themselves whether they would pass the certifications they came for, have cool friends to sit with at lunch, and whether the gift shop would still have tie-dyed 25th anniversary “Dirty Dancing” hoodies left in their size. Between the day’s duties of setting up team-pop-up-cafes with questionable names (Pec Nectar? Spro Job? The Naked Portafisters?), attending lectures and hands-on training time and getting in a little archery, students mixed, mingled and talked coffee and cafes, exchanged ideas, and no one at all fought about cold brew versus iced coffee. (That they may have been forced to be so friendly face to face because only one person with a Verizon iPhone could access the internet all week, and even then only if he stood near the laundry shed, is surely conjecture.) Oh. And did we mention the food?

Hosting the event in such a historic cultural location was a major draw for urbanites and international sophisticates, bringing in over a dozen New Yorkers, people from elsewhere around the US, as well as three Canadians and a tall guy with a funny accent. They came for the learning, of course, but they stayed for the evening activities: theological philosophizing, leg wrestling, and hot tubs—all providing needed mental respite from the day’s toil of delivering photocopies for Anne Nylander and performing espresso science with an altitude hangover. The night’s challenges (in the Activities Barn!) pitted team against team in game show challenges, relay races, and competitions to see who could stand furthest from Philip Search’s team in the unlikely event of an electrical fire caused by a “customized” popcorn popper.

The final night’s challenge—an inspired, cutthroat seed-to-cup vignette which required teams to source, purchase, ship, roast and brew their coffees—handily showcased campers’ true business acumen. (Like when Team 8 bought all the brewing devices in a monopoly takeover and then doubled the price to any competing team hoping to brew through anything but the complimentary stroopwaffels that came in the swag bag.) Team Baby’s Corner did Mountain Lake proud by including a cardboard stand up of Swayze and Grey in their rooting section, and by all going out to get disappointing nose jobs after the camp.

But if the week was Swayze Swayze Swayze it was also Coffee Coffee Coffee, with heaps of wonderful offerings from the likes of Kaldi’s, Dallis Bros. Coffee, Ceremony Coffee Roasters, Verve, Counter Culture, and the like, flowing freely at the pop-up cafes and at each training station. And let me tell you—if you’ve never had the experience of drinking a Chemex of exquisitely roasted Yirgacheffe brewed by a hot dog at high altitude, you really haven’t experienced specialty coffee. All told, 47 baristas passed their Level 1 Barista Guild certification (including Pete Licata!) and 9 passed Level 2, and the event—which really does shine as a successful example of professional development that both inspires and entertains—was another success.

*As Mountain Lake gradually dried out, hikes along the dry lake bed joined the roster of activities (along with Giant Chess and Giant Checkers) at the resort. In 2008, a guest at the hotel discovered muddy shoes, a cigarette case, and various coins embedded in the lake. They were later deduced to be the remains of never-recovered moonlight drowning victim Samuel Ira Felder, who went overboard on the lake in 1921. You can totally check out his shoes in the front lobby under the plasma screen showing Dirty Dancing trivia.

Having helped refine the dubious “art” of coffee blogging on her influential website Twitchy.org, our contributor Liz Clayton also fields coffee and tea coverage to Serious Eats, and is shooting a book of coffee photography to be published by Presspop. She lives in Bed-Stuy and has two (and a half) cats.

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