Anne’s distorted view of the NERBC, V 2.0 (09)

So. It’s finally. Over.

What a relief!

Initial disclaimer: for an objective overview of the finals at the competition, check out This is only my own subjective ramblings and sub-par photographs of the event!

I think the only thing that I am going to say before I get all nostaligical below is that I am so proud of the North East baristas that represented the region this weekend. I am totally stoked that 3 of the top ten baristas were working for TempTamp within the last year, which speaks to the caliber of barista we hire (here I graciously pat myself on the back). Amber Sather, however, not only had the technical and sensory power to master this competition, she also had the graciousness and style to make it to the top handily. I know she worked hard on this, and she also never stopped offering support to the TampTamp team, be it practice space, tips on the rules, and over all moral support. That is the kind of competitor you want to see win every time. Plus, apparently, she played Ben Helfen’s favorite aphex twin song. And that has to count for something, right?

MA/NE RBC(s) 09
Nick watches Amber.

Now, I will move on to the personal recap of the weekend.

After months of maximum levels of stress over grinders, spoons, waste management, cooking garlic in milk and questioning the texture of tarragon in a drink, we’ve survived. Anne Boatner, Sam Penix and I all squeezed in to Anne’s friend Rob’s 2-door ford with about an inch to spare after all the tupperware and suitcases and a grinder (it still does not cease to amaze me how much stuff one competitor is to bring to these things). Off we went to Pittsburgh.

This is the second time I’ve driven for several hours to Pennsylvania with barista competitors, and let me just say, it is not easy. Love those kids, but hours upon hours of going over the rules (ok, this was my fault because I needed to read them), talking about what they’d done the last weekend out of region, and discussing what music to use (I told them flat out I would not be helpful) while trying not to get run over by trucks and find us a place to stop and eat… was a daunting task. And then it started snowing. And freezing fog. I am not from places where it snows. I was frightened. Oh and did I mention we almost ran out of gas?

We got lost in Pittsburgh (one may recall that Neil & I also got lost in Pittsburgh on our first leg of the road trip), but made it to Rich & Melanie’s (also known as hacienda Aldo) just around 10pm. We recapped a little bit and we found out a preview of Rich’s sig drink, which I thought was a total adventure! Melanie of course served as a supremely gracious hostess, despite everyone’s pent up stress. Rich and Melanie really served as surrogate parents to us over the weekend, making sure everything Boatner needed ended up at the Marriott in Pittsburgh, judging a final run-through of Boatner’s at Aldo, and overall overwhelming us with hospitality. And of course, Aldo the golden retriever was in full swing as service dog this weekend. It’s really hard to be grouchy when a giant puppy is carrying around a Lamb Chop stuffed animal that sings. So a big thank you to the Westerfield family, we loved staying with you this weekend!

MA/NE RBC(s) 09 MA/NE RBC(s) 09
Just the start of Rich’s sig drink, that would become a reconstructed Primanti Brother’s sandwich.

I had decided that rather than subjecting myself to the particular torture that was competing, I instead would volunteer to judge. This was after Ed Kauffman had sung the praises of judging last year. A lot people asked me, “but how can you judge your own employees?” The answer is, I didn’t, and neither did other judges with conflicts. There were 45 competitors this weekend, and I mostly judged the Mid Atlantic competitors. I do have to say that I had a good time judging, and it was fun to watch the competitors from this perspective. But, it was stressful too. Doing technical judging is hard work, and I was particularly sensitive to taking notes, because after coaching these baristas for so long coming up to the event, I know how they hang on every word, note, observance on a score sheet. I wanted to give them all constructive advice they could take back to their cafe, or to the USBC. Doing tech judging definitely let me see the range of levels of competitors, which may be hard to see from the audience. Some are simply masters of their craft, technically speaking. The only downside to judging was the time commitment, which kept me away from a lot of the socializing. Also, I didn’t get to see any of the shops in Pittsburgh! We tried to get to 21st Street at the very least, but they were closed when we got there Sunday night. Overall though, it was definitely a new way to see the barista competition, so I am glad I did it.

MA/NE RBC(s) 09

Another great thing about the competition was the turnout. The number of people in the audience at any given time could be mind-boggling standing room only. For that I am totally grateful to Ed and his team at Kiva Han for putting the word out there that this was happening. It was inspiring to see that many people, especially non-coffee people, out to see what these fanatics were up to. I also think that the baristas proved to their audience that it was worthwhile for them to come – these were certainly some of the best performances I’d seen from attending many a barista competition.

MA/NE RBC(s) 09

MA/NE RBC(s) 09

crappy iphone photo of Anne pouring caps, the lone photo of jordan I have (thanks for taking it, troy!).

And now, onto the competition itself. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see as much of the NERBC as I would have liked, but I did get to watch Boatner and Amber during the semi finals, and they both did a bang-up job from the audience. I saw bits and pieces of Jordan’s, including his apple-butter sig drink and his Abraço music, and it looked great. I missed Sam’s completely, which sucked, but I heard from the other judges that she had one of the best technical routines in the region (Boatner did too). Of course my camera died as well (even though I bought 12 batteries!), so I didn’t get to take pictures of as much as I’d like. I was also really happy to get to watch my friend Zach from my old house of employ, 1369, as well as a first time competitor that I’d strong-armed into going from Think Coffee, T-Shirt. It was great to watch younger competitor’s with the eyes of a judge, because I learned that there were lots of easy areas for improvement, and it made what was once discomfort or even anguish for the competitors change into hope and a chance to make it better. I also got to watch first time competitor Nik from Taste. I think Ben from Barismo intentionally gave me an impression that he would do poorly so that I would be surprised by his performance. Ultimately he came in second! So way to go to both of them.

Since Boatner was competing for TampTamp, it was certainly a bummer when the finalists were called and her name was not among them. But, looking over her score sheets, she had improved her routine by 60 points in just the three days between St. Louis and the NERBC, and had nearly perfect technical scores. She had simply taken a risk with her sig beverage – roasted garlic, white chocolate, and chipotle-infused milk, topped with espresso – that would have stunned the judges either in a good way or in a bad way. We had discussed it at length, and she decided that going for the unexpected was worth the risk. I don’t know if she’d still decide that it was worth it now, but I still say she made an excellent showing for TampTamp, and for A-Train, Plowshares’ espresso. Plus I think she learned a lot, and even made several new friends over the weekend. I think sometimes it can be hard to be a TempTamper, because you don’t get the opportunity to make the intense friendships that form from working together in coffee shops. So I think this weekend was just what the doctor ordered.

MA/NE RBC(s) 09
This is the only photo I have of Sam from the whole weekend! Aren’t I great photographer?

Of course that kind of tarnished the pride I should have felt for Anne’s training partner, Sam, who went under Everyman Espresso’s name. She did a great job and we are thrilled that she finished 3rd. She came a long way from her first time last year, and I am certainly proud of all the work she put into the competition. She earned it.

On the Mid-Atlantic side, it was fun to see how tight the competition was, as well as all the turnout from the Pittsburgh area. It was fun to see my old friends from two years back in their high places, like Belle as reigning champ, and Phil judging the latte art throwdown at the party on Friday night. Allie from Woodberry Kitchen almost convinced me to detour via Baltimore to get home. Probably if Neil had been there, we would have. Of course it was also great to see Katie Duris perfom and excel. And David Nigel Flynn! I am still trying to get some of his competition music. It was such a strange experience to come on stage to judge him, and think, “hey, I got directions from you in Washington DC last year.” Oh yeah, that guy.

I am sad that more local Pittsburgers didn’t make the finals, but the kids from DC brought their A-game and stepped up the playing field for the locals. I think next year’s Mid Atlantics will be even tighter. And I, for one, can’t wait to be there.

Probably one of my favorite moments had very little to do with the actual competition. Early on Sunday morning, who rolls in but Liz Clayton and Colleen from Grumpy. I was graced with a pick-me-up hug and that spike of energy that I needed to get through judging the finals. I also had a great time making friends with my other judges, working with Marcus, who did an outstanding job putting this together, and learning about everybody’s shops and approaches to coffee. It finally reinvigorated my desire to get out to more coffee shops in NYC, and reminded me of why I do all this bizarre coffee work to begin with.


~ by Anne on February 10, 2009.

2 Responses to “Anne’s distorted view of the NERBC, V 2.0 (09)”

  1. Aldo misses you both. He hasn’t played with lambchop since you left

    Thanks for taking what might be the only photo of that sig in existence. I love Lou’s face of dread.

    fwiw, I LOVED the garlic in Boatner’s drink.

  2. Objective? You’re too kind!

    Totally worth the trip.

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