via Populace
via Populace

Marigold is definitely Kenya. Daylily just tastes like structure, like something that would make a really good base for an espresso blend. It’s got to be either Sulawesi or Brazil. The Brazil is a pulped natural and there weren’t any hints of berry. Sulawesi it is. Easy peasy. This Coneflower is really tasty, maybe Ethiopia or Rwanda. Tamarind notes tip it to Rwanda, and there aren’t any longberries so it’s unlikely to be an heirloom variety Ethiopia. Garden Nasturtium is pretty strongly from Central America. I’m pretty sure it’s Colombia, but if it ended up being Guatemala or Panama, I wouldn’t flip over the cupping tables.

Lock it in: Marigold — Kenya (4); Daylily – Sulawesi (8); Garden Nasturtium – Colombia (1); Coneflower – Rwanda (5).

via Populace

Why does the Garden Nasturtium taste like structure and the Daylily taste like a Central America during the second cupping? Shit. I mixed up the bags. Or did I write them down wrong in the first place? This is definitely Sulawesi. I’ve got a 50/50 shot at this. I’ve just got to pick one and go with it. I took a photo and wrote down my answers after the first cupping. I probably just flipped the bags.

Welcome to my process—this is pretty much how my first time taking part in Populace’s Flight of Fancy Coffee Contest went. The rules are simple: the Bay City, Michigan roaster sends you four coffees and eight possible origins. All you have to do is match the coffees to the origins. The first person to get all the answers right wins a La Marzocco Linea Mini. And sure, there may have been a conflict of interest, me being an employee of Sprudge trying to win a contest put on by one of our advertising partners, but you know what? It was worth it. I want that Linea Mini!


As is my wont, my incompetence far surpassed my moral scruples and I indeed flipped my answers, not only putting me out of the running for the grand prize but also leaving the door wide open for current US Cup Tasters Champion Austin Amento of Augie’s Coffee to three-peat, something I was desperately trying to keep from happening. Luckily one intrepid soul carried the burden of the stopping the dynasty where I ultimate failed. That person is Wolf Barn Marnell.

Marnell is a US Barista Championship competitor—whose soundtrack was complete fire and we’ve got the tweets on Sprudge Live to prove it—and Beverage Director and Retail Manager at Broadsheet Coffee Roasters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was nice enough to sit down with me via electronic communiqué to discuss the big win and how he came upon the correct answers.

via Sprudge Live

Hey Wolf Barn. Congrats on winning Flight of Fancy 2016. How do you feel?

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I am super happy to have won Flight of Fancy! The Linea Mini is a HUGE prize! Becca and I have dabbled with a too-good-to-be-true home espresso set-up with a Marzocco GS3 on loan from my work, but we never thought we’d have our own badass espresso set-up permanently. I haven’t played with the Linea Mini yet, but its reputation as a beast of a home machine and its smaller footprint than the GS3 should make it the ideal machine for a couple of baristas and their coffee-loving rapper kitty living together in a tiny studio apartment.

Who was part of your cupping crew?

My cupping crew included my wife Becca Pollock (we got married the day after winning Flight of Fancy!), our cat Emcee Kitty Fresh, and Aaron MacDougall who is the owner/roaster/Q-grader at Broadsheet. It was definitely a team effort!

Have you done the Flight of Fancy competition previously or was this your first year?

This is my first year doing FoF. Super fun (and challenging!) competition.

Barnell’s answers, kept from blowing away by Emcee Kitty Fresh

How confident were you with your answers? Were there any toss-ups?

I was pretty confident with most answers. The Colombia was probably hardest to identify. I saw a lot of great cuppers calling it the Guat or the Panama.

Did you have a strategy? How many times did you cup the coffee?

I cupped the coffees twice—once with Becca and Kit, then once with Aaron and Kit. Aaron and I also shared a pour-over of the Colombian to confirm our opinion there, but Kit was already certain about that one so he fell asleep on a chair.

Did La Marzocco let you choose the color of the Mini they are going to send you?

Not sure yet, but I can’t wait!

Marnell cupping with his now wife. via Instagram
Marnell cupping with his now wife Becca Pollock

Last question. When you competed at the USBC last year, everyone at Sprudge was feeling your music, the Deltron especially. Any idea what you are going to be playing for your routine this year?

THANK YOU! At last year at qualifiers I had a soundtrack of all Deltron 3030 instrumental tracks That album is amazing and the instrumentals stand really well on their own. I think hip hop instrumentals make for pretty ideal competition music, and having music all from one album lent some continuity to the experience. At USBC I branched out a little bit with some Kid Koala and DJ QBert in the mix. Maybe this year it’s time for an all Kid Koala or all DJ QBert playlist? Since intergalactic sci-fi hip hop concept albums seem to play well in barista competition, maybe 3 or 4 songs from QBert’s Wave Twisters album could work?

LAST last question. Can I come over and use your espresso machine? I want to get a little taste of victory.

Yeah dude—hit me up if you’re ever in Cambridge and we’ll get you some time on the lil Linea. Condolences again on your mixup with the cards :(

Thanks Wolf Barn. It’s fine. I’m totally over. It’s fine. I don’t care anymore. Whatever.

Zac Cadwalader is the news editor at Sprudge Media Network.

All photos from Marnell’s Instagram (@barnwolf) unless otherwise noted.

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