Monday, January 25, 2010
So, here's the deal.

This big barista competition I keep talking about.  I feel it needs a bit of background info.

You see, I am a man very passionate about making coffee.  It permeates all aspects of my life.  I know there are lots of us out there, slangin' drinks and just trying to make our ways in this big, crazy world, but I honestly don't know if I COULDN'T be one of those people.  It's pretty much all I do, all I think about, other than my beautiful girlfriend and the all-too-infrequent calls I make to my family.

That being said, after a while of pouring your heart out into lattes and capps and the like, one begins to look around for the next challenge, the next morsel of knowledge, the continuation of the rabbit hole.  Deeper and deeper we crawl.  We seek out exciting new beans to cup, we dabble in roasting, we experiment with extraction methods, we read books upon books, we scour the web for information, and then when we run up against a wall, we start to travel.  First, it's down the street to the next shop, to see what they're doing, to pick some brains and glean every tiny bit of brain we possibly can in the hopes that it may sate the thirst for knowledge that drives us.  Next it's to the next town, then where?  Then abroad.  We head to Italy to drink espresso the way it was meant to be drunk.  We head to Turkey to experience the oldest infusion tradition in the world.  We head to Costa Rica to drink coffee brewed in a sock.  We head to Ethiopia to experience the homeland of the coffea plant.

We go to these great lengths because the drink beckons us onward.

Onward.

It is in that spirit that I bring you to my main point.  I am taking my next step in this industry in the middle of next month.  On February 19th, I begin my quest to become the next World Barista Champion.  The Southeast Regional Barista Competition is the first step in that quest.  Entrance into the World Barista Championships comes with a successful ranking of 1-6 in the Regionals, followed by a 1st-place performance in the Nationals.  Only one barista from each sanctioned country competing in the Nationals is allowed to perform on the World stage, making for some truly stiff competition.

My resolve is iron-clad, my friends.  For the Regionals, I am attempting what, to my knowledge, no other barista has ever attempted.  I will be representing and using Illy Caffe in the comp, with a beautifully crafted signature drink to round out a truly ambitious presentation.

So, if anyone wishes to see a brilliant display of espresso expression, come see my performance.  ATL baristas, be on your A-game.

http://www.usbaristachampionship.org/southeast/
February 19-21
King Plow Arts Center
Atlanta, GA

Now, enough of the shameless self-promotion.  Onto other new and exciting things.

Top of the list is a cafe south of Atlanta that took me entirely by storm.

Safehouse Coffee and Tea is an independent coffee roaster and cafe located in Griffin, Georgia, run by Hunt Slade and wife Amanda, as a co-op of sorts with a crew of passionate and dedicated coffee professionals from all walks of life.  The team I've met so far includes Jacob, David, Dozier and Ike.  They're a rowdy bunch abounding with knowledge and hell-bent on taking the Atlanta coffee scene by storm.  I say take by storm because, along with have some monsters behind the bar, they can also roast a fine coffee bean.  Stand-outs I've tried include a Brazillian (Monte Allegre), a Sumatran (Sidakalang) and a Kenyan whose name escapes me now.

The cafe is set in the remains of an historic mens' clothier, the name of which escapes me, but shall be provided with all possible haste.  It is truly a breath-taker.  The central atrium, in which you will find a refurbished La Marzocco Linea and all manner of traditional brewing apparati, including syphon pots, french presses, Moka pots, Turkish hand grinders and myriad other paraphernalia is overlooked by a loft that houses a lounge and a walkway surrounding the atrium.  It is, hands down, the coolest layout for a shop I have ever seen.  It reminded me greatly of standing on the deck of a ship.  Standing up on the second floor, looking over the railing to the chaos below (which I shall return to shortly) made me feel as though I were about to fall over into a teeming ocean of over-caffeinated dolphins.  Okay, maybe not dolphins.  I think I stretched that metaphor JUST past the breaking point.  Regardless, it was cool.

So, I say chaos because I ventured to the shop on a bit of business over the weekend.  The Safehouse team was hosting Georgia's very first Tamper Review, in which about twelve of us baristas had the opportunity to test around as many tampers, quantifying criteria such as ergonomics, construction quality, and general ease of tamping in an effort to glean some insight into what exactly makes a great espresso tamp.  The variety was impressive and there were definitely some stand-out tamps, including a couple one-off prototypes by the likes of Gorilla Tampers, Johannes Farino and Espresso Parts, as well as others by Espro, Reg Barber, and one dynametric training tamper by god-knows-who that looked like something out of a steam-punk fan fiction.  It was truly unique.  And by unique I mean it sucked.  The event was awesome.  It was my first opportunity to play with such a diverse set of tools.  Look for a video round-up of the event on the shops reglular video blog, Dirty Cup.

Afterwards was a novel latte art throwdown utilizing a wheel of death.  Before each round, baristas would spin the wheel, made up of various cuppage into which they had to pour.  There was a good variety of cups used, ranging from machiatto mugs to cappuccino mugs to latte bowls.  The night proved a test of all baristas versatility as much as the steadiness of their hands.  I am proud to say I took home the hand-turned trophy (carved by shop owner Hunt Slade himself) that night, but I didn't get the thing easy.  Store favorite Dozier had a number of great pours and met me in the finals, as well as strong showings by Mighty Joe baristas and Blackbird Coffee staff.  All in all, it was a fantastic time.

So, that's about it for now.  I'm still playing with pre-infusion.  I'll get back to you all about that, and maybe about my recent adventures with a moka pot.

Until then, I invite commentary,

Dan

p.s. dirty cup folks, put me on your blog roll.  please.

Daniel Stewart Mueller at 9:37 PM | 3 comments
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Okay, quick question for anyone reading...

Pre-infusion: allowing a small amount of water into contact with the prepared espresso puck in an effort to bind the puck and allow for more even extration.

Does this work?  What are the benefits of a soft infusion versus a hard infusion?  Can a Linea be rigged to soft infuse?

I'm casting a wide (symbolically) net here.  If anyone has any insights, please feel free to share them.

I will conduct some experiments at my cafe and give a full run-down of the results.

In other news, I will soon be posting a rap I concocted on espresso.  It's set to the Forever beat, a track by Drake, with the verse inspired almost entirely by Eminems spot on the track.  It is, for lack of a better word, incredible, and it would be a crime against humanity NOT to share it.

Look forward to it.

-Dan

Daniel Stewart Mueller at 1:12 PM | 0 comments
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Firstly, a warm and gracious welcome to my readership!  Thanks for hanging in there throughout my absence.

I'd like to wish you all a belated happy holidays and a truant happy new year!  How did everyone spend their holidays?

I spent Christmas in Houston visiting with family.  Along the way I picked up a few new sweater vests, a great book regarding the quest for a beautiful coffee, titled "God in a Cup."  It basically concerns the travels of three heads of industry, Peter Guiliano of Counter Culture Coffee, Geoff Watts of Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea and Duane Sorenson of Stumptown Coffee Roasters, on their quest to dig up the origins of what is currently among the rarest and is certainly the most expensive green coffee on the market, Hacienda La Esmerelda Special, a coffee that, once roasted, proceeds to punch the drinker in the face with brilliant floral notes, washes of red berries various other mixed fruits.  I had the distinct pleasure of cupping this coffee some months back and I was taken by intense blueberries and cream notes in the nose and in the mouth.  Anyways, the book was written by a journalist that tagged along with these three gentlemen all over the world, from the Cup of Excellence competitions in Granada, Nicaragua to the wilds of Ethiopia in search of the origins of the plant responsible for producing such phenomenal coffee.  It's a cool read with loads of insight into the industry and what it takes to produce and market an exceptional cup of coffee.

Also, while in Houston, I had the opportunity to visit a coffee shop by the name of Fioza, whose espresso was unlike any I've ever tasted.  It was a lot like drinking a small cup of pureed green beans drenched in BBQ sauce... but in a GOOD way!  They're using a custom blend roasted by Fontana Coffee Roasters.  They made a hell of a cappuccino and a not bad cup of brewed Ethiopian coffee, as well.  I give these guys a thumbs up, and I recommend anyone in the area to check them out.  Ask the purveyor, Michael, to let you watch him pour your latte.  You're in for a treat.  He's an artist with some steamed milk.

All right, I'll be coming back to you guys with some more inspirational and hopefully educational coffee stuff soon, but for now I need to make some announcements:

Tomorrow, Thursday the 14th, I will be pouring latte art at Octane Coffee Bar and Lounge, in West Midtown.  If you're in the area around 9 PM, come by and cheer for me.  I have some great new pours I'm going to try out.  Oh, and they have a great Belgian beer and scotch collection.  So, if nothing else, come by and join me for a drink.

And finally...

I've been talking to everyone I know about the Southeast Regional Barista Championships for the past month or so, but now I am making it official: As of last night, I am registered to compete come this February, representing the great city of Atlanta, Cafe Nineteen and Illy Caffe in the biggest little barista comp around!

It's going to be a hell of a time.  I feel great, my menu is fantastic and I'm at the top of my coffee game.  I'm going to give the Southeast an uphill battle, but all in good fun.

For any of you out there that wish to come and cheer me on, the competition spans February 19th-21st, with actual performances on the 20th and 21st, I believe.  It would mean the world to me to have anyone come and give me a little moral support, and I promise I'll give you all a show to remember!

So, that's it for now.  As usual, I invite commentary!

-Dan

Daniel Stewart Mueller at 1:31 PM | 0 comments