June 30, 2010

What Is A World Champion Barista? Michael Phillips At Intelligentsia Wins, But Why?

Intelligentsia's world champion barista could be serving at Lakeview cafe

Michael Phillips beat all comers in the 2010 World Barista Championships. What's that?

The article isn't about baristas or why he won. That there is a winner in such a world intrigues me, however. As much as I love coffee, there is a lot I am still learning. Your input is coveted.

First off, congratulations Michael Phillips. You took your job seriously, worked hard, and now have this laurel that I hope you can convert into more success.

What is a Barista?
A barista is the person who makes espresso and other drinks at a coffee shop. It can refer to anyone from the 16 year-old slugging cappuccinos from a machine that does everything automatically, to a highly trained adult who carefully pulls each shot to make a myriad of recipes. The term is gender neutral. It originates from Italy, where it means bartender. I'm not clear, as per the Wikipedia entry, if it includes all bartenders, like the ones at a wine bar, or just certain kinds.

Phillips, an employee of a leading Chicago-based roaster and retailer Intelligentsia Coffee beat the world in London last week. Not that I am not impressed, but I don't know what the criteria is. What makes him so good? I know what a mediocre barista is, but world champion? Maybe I have only enjoyed very good espressos but not world class ones? If a barista has good beans ground just so, using a good machine, isn't there a low ceiling? Outside of latte art and such, what divides the very good from the great?

Barista Brockeim 
I had a short stint as a barista in college, but, in all honesty, never learned a thing. I didn't drink coffee then. Great place, far beyond the ordinary shop. They sold beans from across the world, could seat 150 people (I'm guessing, but it was a lot), and could make anything. Eclectic to the nth degree, as groups of all flavors would meet peacefully. Any given day, you could see a Christian Bible study a few tables away from a GLT issues group, with the college Young Republicans in the back and the alternative newspaper staff in the front. They since closed and a new shop opened up that is essentially a vegetarian cafe that sells coffee, and the amazing social and coffee diversity has ended.

But I'm digressing. My point was to acknowledge I have, in fact, worked in a cafe, but never received real training, or lasted long enough to learn the trade. I have no doubt I made mediocre baristas look like the Julia Child of coffee.  

Cynical? Hardly
Don't get me wrong. I'm not cynical. I'm hopeful. Something makes Phillips better. I don't know what it is or what I, a lover of coffee would experience differently. I have enjoyed great coffee, based on great beans.

They have contests for these things. Bragging rights come with the honor. Maybe a promotion at his local cafe, or, as in this case, the guy became a trainer.

He wears the requisite black shirt, scruffy but trimmed beard and close-cropped hair on his head. Very cafe-chic. Maybe that's just the photo the PR people took. Looks the part, that kind of restaurant chef sophisticate style. They don't give prizes, however, for fashion.

According to the World Barista Championship (WBC) website, it looks a combination of skill and knowledge.

WBC Certified Judges from around the world evaluate each performance on the taste of beverages served, cleanliness, creativity, technical skill, and overall presentation. The ever-popular signature beverage allows baristas to stretch their imagination and the judges’ palates to incorporate a wealth of coffee knowledge into an expression of their individual tastes and experiences.

That's nice, but what's in it for me? I like the cleanliness part, but presume this as normal operating procedure for any barista. That is, if I ask for a wet cappuccino, a somewhat standard request, will Phillips' version be different than the one cranked out by Sarah, a diligent and friendly high school senior working evenings at my local Caribou Coffee? 

I looked the results of the 2010 competition, the one Philips won. See below. He is the first winner from the United States in an event strangely dominated by Denmark. 5,540,241 in their country, and four of them, at least, are champion baristas. Good for them. Truly a global event. I presume this means each barista beat many of their countrymen to advance to this stage. I don't know. All new to me.

1st – Michael Phillips (USA)
2nd - Raul Rodas (Guatemala)
3rd – Scottie Callaghan (Australia)
4th – Colin Harmon (Ireland)
5th – Soren Stiller Markussen (Denmark)
6th – Stefanos Domatiotis (Greece)

2010 London, United Kingdom Michael Phillips (United States)
2009 Atlanta, USA Gwilym Davies (United Kingdom)
2008 Copenhagen, Denmark Stephen Morrissey (Ireland)
2007 Tokyo, Japan James Hoffmann (United Kingdom)
2006 Berne, Switzerland Klaus Thomsen (Denmark)
2005 Seattle, USA Troels Overdal Poulsen (Denmark)
2004 Trieste, Italy Tim Wendelboe (Norway)
2003 Boston, USA Paul Bassett (Australia)
2002 Olso, Norway Fritz Storm (Denmark)
2001 Miami, USA Martin Hildebrandt (Denmark)
2000 Monte Carlo, Monaco Robert Thoresen (Norway)

June 26, 2010

Verdure After Sunrise: A View of Royalty, Coffee, and Nature

Jane Austen, in Mansfield Park, wrote of days like this, "I shall soon be rested," said Fanny; "to sit in the shade on a fine day, and look upon verdure, is the most perfect refreshment."
Fanny Price understood what I knew this morning. All was as a castle should be, without the horses or knights. The view was alive, delicious, and equally peacefully and sustaining.

A pond, well-kept trees, a lawn so smooth golfers could play... the breeze, still gentle, greeted all comers with a friendly hello before moving on.

Beautiful princesses could be seen on the grounds this early Saturday morning, wearing gorgeous garments acknowledging the mix of Springtime and youth.

Young noblemen weakly courted them as suitors. Bold romance, they had none, leaving them romantically invisible to the elegant delicacies they sought. I had no doubt their intentions would remain unnoticed, and platony would prevail. From a distance I smiled or grimaced (I am not sure which), seeing futility in the men's feeble efforts, thinking that they had somehow thought their androgynous strategy would be seen as kindness.

Brunch was my goal, and this I found in an oversized chicken pot pie with a puffed pastry top. Pearls onions, carrots, peas in a soft cream sauce.

I started my meal with Douwe Egberts, a decent choice for a place one did not expect connoisseur-quality coffee.I lingered, sipping, tasting the coffee and absorbing the morning a long while before ordering.

"Leave the pot," I told the waiter. He, though not a coffee drinker himself, obliged. He earned his tip.

The cream was safely, but unfortunately chilled. This is for safety, of course, because it is a dairy product and spoilage can arrive quickly. The temperature, though, also reduces the heat of the coffee.

Boxing up the remainder of my meal, careful not to indulge beyond measure, sat, watched, wondered about the tree you see, the romances being missed in the wind, and if another cup was a good idea. It was.

Mansfield Park (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

Douwe Egberts Aroma Rood Whole Beans Coffee, 8.8-Ounce Packages (Pack of 3)

June 24, 2010

Coffee's Mysterious Benefits Mount

Coffee's Mysterious Benefits Mount
source:  http://news.yahoo.com/s/livescience/coffeesmysteriousbenefitsmount

Remy Melina
Staff Writer
livescience.com – Tue Jun 22, 5:45 pm ET
From lowered cancer risks to a sharper memory, more studies are showing that coffee is good for you - but why?

June 23, 2010

Patience is a Virtue

Coffee Tip: If you have patience (and caffeine addiction won't kill you first), wait an hour or two before your first cup.

June 21, 2010

Monday Morning Bliss

Coffee Tip: Wanting to enjoy the first cup of coffee even more? Drink a glass of cool water. Cleanse your palate.

June 17, 2010

A Port in a Storm: Green Mountain Coffee Keurig Machine Saves Me

Students at at the university near Brockeimia (there are several) will know this machine. Though five minutes late for a 7:00 pm Tuesday meeting, yet in need a one-minute pick-me-up, I found this port in the storm. Down a long, empty hallway, in an alcove on the right at the end, beneath some undetermined fluorescent lights, shone the bright green colors of a Green Mountain Coffee Keurig Machine. A more welcoming lighthouse I have not seen. Not on the second floor of a building.

New to me was that K-cups can also serve up tea and hot cocoa. Nice choices. Twelve options in all. Good to know, but, tonight...  no matter. I saw what I needed. Second button from the left, top row. Sumatran Reserve. Yes, not decaf. Different button.

My wallet was filled with one dollar bills. Why? I rarely carry cash. Would I need them? Would the machine hastily accept my submission?

On my left, unseen in the picture, was the Keurig machine. Three buttons in question that determined how strong the coffee would be. I needed caffeine, not a lingering cup of coffee. Espresso was not an option. I chose the strongest.

Who invented the single-cup delivery system? Whether via Keurig or some other process, the idea is brilliant. Instead of beans sitting half-brewed in a pot that's half-warm six hours after coffee seemed like a good idea, I had a fresh cup. True, true... it is not the same as a freshly ground cup, but, for my situation, in a nearly empty university campus, this was salvation.

The meeting itself required it. Five people I never met discussed a topic I knew more about than they realized. I did my best, and my silent friends from Sumatra did all they could to back me up. Two hours later, the coffee's impact dwindled, but I was OK.

We discussed some interesting things off topic. Two different men had sons who play music professionally. Really professionally, not just scraping a few bucks on a Friday night at the Holiday Inn bar after a long day selling insurance. You may have heard one of them open for one of today's most alternative rock popular bands. The other is lesser known as a drummer, playing across the major jazz venues in a major city.

Fine people they are, but I was happy I did not come alone. We may meet again (both the Keurig machine, and this gathering), and then, we will greet each other as old friends.

Keurig Single Serve Coffee and Tea Brewing System Select B77Keurig Single Serve Coffee and Tea Brewing System Select B77

Search Amazon.com for Keurig machines


Join the Coffee Klatch on Facebook.

June 14, 2010

Coffee is in the Clear (This Time)

Coffee is not listed. It is the beans? The hot water? No. It is the sheer kindness of God to spare us one indulgence that won't kill us.

Food Safety: Protecting the Nation's Food
Help Keep You and Your Family Safe

June 4, 2010

Drinkable, But Hardly Perfect, Lavazza Il Perfetto Espresso 100% Arabica Coffee 8.8 oz. reviewed

Lavazza Il Perfetto Espresso 100% Arabica Coffee 8.8 oz.

I am finishing my first two shots of "Lavazza Il Perfetto Espresso." I anticipated this since last night. Too late to drink, I thought, but in the morning, it will be so sweet a recharge as the sun rises.

This coffee I wisely choose over a can of more expensive Illy beans. Wisely, I say, because I based my purchase decision on reputation and price... both impressive. I have had good Lavazza before, but it must have been a different blend.

I am disappointed. Like in the 1990s, when the Jaguar automobile lost its luster to become merely just another nice vehicle, I trusted the famous coffee brand to retain the quality on which its fame rests. No laurels lasting any longer with Lavazza. I bought this specifically to share with a fellow coffee lover tomorrow as we break a loaf of Amish Friendship Bread. Hang my head I will, having introduced mediocrity into his cup under the guise of the brilliant. He will know better of me, but we will not speak of this error. Pleasantly, our friendship is stronger than my coffee.

As another reviewer carefully describes (see Amazon review), the crema is weak. What crema there was dissipated quickly into the espresso.

I have 8.8 oz., with two shots worth gone. I will make the rest, and it will be adequate. The flavor is decent, but milder than I expect of an Italian roaster, especially as finely ground as this is. However, when again I am going through the aisle of at the imported goods grocery, I will turn away from the black box Lavazza sells.