We had a chance to sit down with this year's North and South Central barista finalists between sets on Finals Sunday, and ask them about their presentation, their theme, their hopes, their dreams, and who they wanted to thank and say hello to back at home. It was great getting to know each competitor a little bit more, and we hope you get to know them a bit more, too.
Stacey Wieck, MadCap Coffee Company, Grand Rapids, MI
First up is Stacey Wieck, from MadCap Coffee in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This is Stacey's first barista competition. In 2011, she competed in the Brewers Cup after only nine months working in a cafe setting, a competitive endeavor which she describes as “a trip” in the above video. “When I first got my started working at MadCap I got to watch Ryan and Trevor compete which was really inspiring.” Ms. Wieck competed using MadCap's Burundi Gacokwe, source by Cafe Imports from a cooperative in the Kayanza region. Gacokwe grows Bourbon, Jackson, and Mibirzi varieties of coffee, which are fermented using both dry and wet processing. For both runs of her routine, Stacey Wieck shouted out The Aviary, Chicago's famed hot bed of molecular lushstronomy.
Jonathan Miller, Kaldi’s Coffee Roasting Company, St. Louis
Jonathan Miller is one of three Kaldi's Coffee competitors represented in this year's South Central region – all three made finals. The concept behind Mr. Miller's routine was how great customer service doesn't have to be fancy or over the top, but rather, catering to guests (and the judges) by offering a repeatable, authentic cafe experience. Mr. Miller's competition style is similarly no nonsense, tempered by a warm smile and sharp personal appearance. We look forward to seeing him compete again at the USBC in Portland.
Charlie Habegger, Intelligentsia Coffee, Chicago
North Central first-time competitor Charlie Habegger of Intelligentsia Coffee employed service ware usually reserved for tea ceremonies for his espresso and signature beverage. It was an inventive use of aromatic cups, and it helped scored him a second place spot at the Big Central. Mr. Habegger competed using an El Salvadoran coffee from Finca Matalapa, source and roasted by Intelligentsia.
Lorenzo Perkins, Cuvee Coffee Roasters, Austin, Texas
Mr. Perkins is your 2012 South Central Regional Barista champion
Competition victories, national respect and admiration – Lorenzo Perkins earns it all. In a routine that was equal parts science and philosophy, Mr. Perkins dazzled the BCRBC crowd using Cuvee Coffee's Reserva, from the San Francisco Estate in the Apaneca-Ilamatepec region of El Salvador. processed three different ways: natural, pulped natural, and washed. He built three distinct signature drinks to compliment these three methods, packing an incredible amount of coffee and information into just 15 minutes on stage. Watching Lorenzo on stage is like attending the best sort of college lecture; you sit back, take notes, but most importantly, you learn from someone with an intense base of knowledge and mastery in their field. This was one of our favorite routines not just of the BCRBC, but throughout this year's USBC regional cycle.
Courtney Marie Vaquera, MadCap Coffee Company, Grand Rapids, MI
Courtney was the third finalist to compete on Finals Sunday at the BCRBC. This is her second year competing; she used MadCap's Colombia San Sebastian, a washed and sun-dried Caturra and Bourbon coffee from the Huila region. As an espresso, Ms. Vaquera described this coffee to judges as having a plum sweetness, with notes of bittersweet cacao and grapefruit – “big and juicy.” Her signature drink included a fig reduction, ginger-infused whipping cream, and a glass rimmed with fresh grapefruit juice. Polite, cheerful, and even a little giggly at times, on stage Ms. Vaquera embodies that blend of professionalism and ease that seems to grow indigenously in the Midwestern United States.
Jacque DesMarais, Kaldi’s Coffee Roasting Company, St. Louis
This is Jacque DesMarais second straight finals placement in the South Central region, and her first for Kaldi's Coffee. Armed with Kaldi's Brazil Sertaozinho, her routine combined equal parts “research and nerding out”, and was capped off by a signature drink that employed two different aromatic experiences: using two different compressed aromatic sprays, one with honey and caramel, the other with raspberry and tart cherry, she sprayed these aromatics into snifters for each judge. She instructed them to first sip her espresso, hold it in their mouths, then inhale the aromatics and note changes on the palate. That's a pretty technical routine – “it messes with your mind in a really good way” – one that benefited greatly from Ms. DesMarais' ability to be extremely attentive and instructive to the judges. It was good enough for a third-place finish in this year's competitive South Central field.
Sam Brown, Alterra Coffee Roasters, Milwaukee, WI @alterracoffee
Hunapu! Cherry consomme! Red vines! Sam Brown's routine is a blast to watch, owing equal parts to Mr. Brown's reverence for the coffee as well as his plainly evident sense of playfulness and spirit. His signature drink – a play on the coffee soda trope, using a cherry “consomme”, sparkling water, and espresso – was capped by one of the more arresting sights of the weekend: 4 sensory judges sipping soda through a Red Vines straw.
Caitlin Corcoran, Parisi Coffee, Kansas City, MO
From the first moment of her opening round performance in Chicago, we were super impressed by Caitlin Corcoran, of Parisi Coffee in Kansas City, Missouri. Her honey crisp apple shrub was delicious in her signature beverage as well as in backstage whiskey cocktails. Great routines make you want to know more about a roaster, but Ms. Corcoran's went above and beyond that, inspiring us to learn more and do our damndest to visit the Kansas City coffee scene in the near future. We think this routine is just the tip of the iceberg; there's something special going on down there. Also worth mentioning: Ms. Corcoran had possibly the tastiest sig drink we tried this weekend, and definitely the coolest hair.
Talya Strader, Intelligentsia Coffee, Chicago
Talya Strader is the manager at Intelligentsia's Broadway cafe, the original Intelli location and former home to their roasting works. She competed using Intelli's Ethiopia Koma, a cooperative in the Jimma region of Western Ethiopia whose quality has grown in leaps and bounds in recent years thanks to the direct involvement of TechnoServe. Ms. Strader is a polished and professional, composed and serene under pressure (at least that's how it seems from the audience!). Her third place finish in this year's North Central region is a big win for her and Intelligentsia, who stand poised to field a tough fleet of entrants at the USBC in Portland.
Nora Brady, Kaldi’s Coffee Roasting Company, St. Louis
The third of three finalists from Kaldi's, Nora Brady took second place in this year's South Central region. She competed using Kaldi's Brazil Sertoazinho, sourced by Cafe Imports, to craft a routine with customer service and trust at its core. It's one thing to just say that – “this routine is about trust” – but it's another thing to earn it, and that's what was so exceptional about Ms. Brady's routine at the BCRBC. We had never seen her compete in person before, but watching her twice, we became glued to the tone of gentle authority and experience she so naturally showcased to the judges. Nora knows how to bring you in; this is an exemplary customer service focused competition routine.
Ryan Knapp, MadCap Coffee Company, Grand Rapids, MI
Mr. Knapp is your 2012 North Central Regional Barista champion.
We sat down with North Central Champion Ryan Knapp, roaster and green buyer for MadCap Coffee in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and listened to him talk about his rare 100lb El Salvador nanolot competition coffee. Watch the video above to learn more about “one of the juiciest, tastiest, wildest, amazing-est coffees” Mr. Knapp has ever tasted. This is his second consecutive win in the North Central region.
Robbie Britt, Espresso Parts, Morley, MO
From Olympia, Washington to Morley, Missouri, with coffee roasted in Los Angeles thrown in for good measure, Robbie Britt's routine at the BCRBC fits into a wider ongoing discussion as to the “true nature” of what exactly these competitions are. Are they a sport, or a professional development opportunity? A customer service exercise, or a chance to lecture and inform with a captive audience? Does the format need major changes or just minor tweaks? Should we be imitating sports websites when we write these recaps, or political blogs? Would these competitions be a better fit on the Food Network or ESPN3?
We ask those questions in relation to Robbie Britt because, as much as anyone else we've seen this year, watching Mr. Britt feels like watching an athlete. There's a deftness, a degree of dexterity in his routine that brings to mind the nimble halfback, the crafty bullpen lefty, or the baseline tennis pro. Using Handsome Coffee Roaster's Colombia San Sebastian, Mr. Britt reminded us twice last weekend why we love watching these competitions. Call them a sport, or don't; call it whatever you want to call it, just know that Mr. Britt is one of the best.