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:

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At February 9, 2010 at 10:37 AM, Anonymous Hunt Slade said........
Wow - just saw this, Dan. I've been bedridden by some virus or other floating around town and have been catching up on my blog reading from the couch. Your kind words over the shop and the crew are overwhelming and we are truly honored to have earned your esteem. Can't wait to see your routine at SERBC and yes, you will be added to the blogroll post haste. Hope to see you soon, my friend.

Hunt Slade
Safehouse Coffee and Tea
 


At February 10, 2010 at 7:54 PM, Blogger Eva said........
Hello, Dan! It was a treat to watch you at work during the throwdown. You are a true artiste. We at Mighty Joe Espresso have been working on our pours...watch out!

Also, I appreciate your description of Safehouse. The shop makes me have flashbacks to my coffee house experiences of the early 1970's (yes, I am old). It is as bohemian a shop as I have been in since. Those guys have it going on!

Enjoying your blog! Keep it up!

Eva Voris Avery
Mighty Joe Espresso
 


At February 10, 2010 at 8:39 PM, Blogger Daniel Stewart Mueller said........
thanks for humoring me, hunt. sometime soon i feel like i'll have to start talking about coffee on this thing again. i'm looking forward to seeing your camps performances, too. when are you guys scheduled?

and eva, it was a treat to meet your crew at the throwdown. you guys are awesome. i'm making it a point to come see you as soon as humanly possible. it'll be nice to get back up to tucker.