A great little bit from Doug Cadmus...

The care and feeding of a professional barista. It takes education, dedication and some serious skill-building effort to be a really good barista. To be a great barista requires exceptional sensory skills, lots of experience, gobs of personality and really thick skin. Here's a few tips that your barista will thank you for knowing:
  1. Don't get in the line until you have a pretty good idea what you want. It's just rude to hem and haw and dither while the queue behind you grows.
  2. Hang up the cell phone for a few minutes will ya? Or if you simply must take that call, step out of the line.
  3. Unless it's on the menu, don't order a ristretto or a lungo... both require the barista to adjust the grinder for your drink, which is not cool in a busy espresso bar. [Sure, the barista could "cheat" a pull to make it... but that's not what a pro wants to do.]
  4. If the shop is busy, it's probably not a good time to riddle the barista with a hundred questions about beans, blends and roast styles...
  5. Don't ask your barista to "reheat" your drink for you.
  6. Let your barista know when you've had an especially good drink. Sometimes that means more than dropping something in the tip jar. Especially if the barista's boss in in hearing range.
Every day I learn a little more about coffee and in doing so discover how much there is to know. As a result, every day I know more about coffee - but find out that what I know is an even smaller percentage of the total.
Every day I learn again how little I really understand.

And this is a good thing.
Coffee is never boring.

And this is why I'm working at Stumptown. Here I'm surrounded by people who know so much about coffee and whose knowledge is so unique in perspective that the total knowledge and skill represented in the company is astonishing to me.
And this is why I love the Barista Exchange idea - why I like going to events like the Nordic Barista Cup.

This has all been brought home to me (again) over the last couple days. Cupping coffees with other Stumptown employees, talking about equipment with Ken, listening to Duane talk about green beans, watching Joel and Jim roast and exchanging emails with folks like Klaus, Alistair and Richard.

Never rest on your laurels. Never stop looking for things you're doing wrong. Never get fat and lazy. Stasis is death.


Barista Exchange

Last year, Duane and Jodi spent some time in Norway and while there they talked to Klaus Thorsen from Estate Coffee in Copenhagen about the idea of doing a Barista Exchange. Their idea was that Klaus would come here to Stumptown and work for us for a bit - and then Stumptown would send someone from here to work at Estate Coffee in exchange.

I, personally, love the idea of a Barista Exchange. I think that baristas and companies could learn a huge amount from this sort of program - and that there could be some opportunities that would arise from a partnership like this that would be super cool. We're all trying to get to the same end point, and all facing many of the same problems, challenges and issues. If we start collaborating on solutions we all won't have to invent the wheel independently of eachother - over and over again.

Anyway... when I was sent to the Nordic Barista Cup, one of the tasks that Jodi and I were given was to finalize the details for the initial Exchange. Both of us talked to Klaus, everyone was positive. And then months of email exchanges followed to nail down the details. In the end it was decided that Klaus would come here after the World Barista Championship.

It was really exciting to me. Klaus is not only a really good guy - he's also an incredible barista (finished third in the 2004 WBC) and is very passionate and knowledgable when it comes to coffee. Estate Coffee is a really cool company that's doing some of the stuff we're doing when it comes to quality and coffee focus but is also doing some things differently in terms of drink prep and cafe style. Looking at all of this - he seemed like a great fit for the program and someone we could really learn from.

So... Klaus has now gone back to Denmark.
I'm still processing but there is no doubt in my mind that this was a huge experience for us. It more than lived up to all expectations and has gone a long way towards proving my theory that Barista Exchanges are very important, valuable tools for quality focused coffee companies.

Klaus spent some time doing a truncated version of the usual new employee training (with added heckling by Duane, Jodi and me) and then did a guided and in-detail tour of the business with me.
And then we threw him straight into the fire with a downtown morning shift. It was busy and he totally kept up. His drinks were good, he worked very well with everyone else - he was a big asset. Klaus had a great time - he enjoyed himself and said he learned a lot from the crew working. At the end of the day he came out and did one of our employee cuppings with the baristas. I think this was a real eye-opener for him. I don't know of other companies out there who cup coffee as often and aggressively as we do - and I think it shows in the cupping skills of our baristas.
Next day was his day to spend with the Roasters. First a couple hours with Duane on the 15kilo doing small batch roasting and tutoring. Then down to the 60kilo with Jim and a whole lot of bag humping, chaff vacuuming and all the other glamourous tasks that make up the life of a roaster. I saw his notes from this day and they were... comprehensive (grin).
And then it was the weekend...
For those of you who have not been to our Belmont location on a Saturday morning, suffice it to say that it is really busy. All the time. Without a break.
And this Saturday was the Earth Day celebration at a school one block away.
I sat and watched for about one hour and the line was always at least a dozen people long.
But Klaus pulled his weight. He managed to just keep his head down and go like mad. Lizz and the baristas were all pretty damn impressed and, in fact, Lizz said it would have been a dramatically harder day if Klaus had not been there.
That night he seemed a bit worn out (grin).
And straight into a Sunday morning Division shift - another very busy shift where you just try to keep your head above water as much as possible.
By this shift Klaus had really become comfortable with the staff, the situation, the coffee and the machines. His shots were really lovely - some of the best I've tasted (verified by other staff as well).
A late night at Horse Brass (and more) to celebrate his departure and then the quick round trip drive to SeaTac airport and it was all (suddenly) over.

So what did we learn?

First - we're doing a pretty damn good job. One of the best baristas in the world has verified this. This is a good feeling.
Second - we need to keep in mind the subjective nature of coffee. Just because we might like or not like a style of coffee doesn't make it good or bad in and of itself. It's rather the execution against that style that matters.
Third - there are some things we can change or tweak to make things even better. A few of these we'd thought of and planned for, but some we'd not seen.
Fourth - our coffee is amazing.

And why was this a good thing?

Because we're learning. And we're sharing.
We're taking people from different cultures and backgrounds and styles with a common passion and goal and mixing them together to allow us to see ourselves from a different perspective - one which allows us to become better... faster.

I can't wait to see what Klaus says about all this.
And I can't wait to see what our barista learns over there.

Y'all should all do Exchanges. Do Barista Exchanges. Do Roaster Exchanges. Do Production Manager Exchanges and Service Tech exchanges.
You'll see why.


A recap (Stumptown Party, Vistors)

Continuing in my attempts to digest all that has gone on of late - here is a recap of the huge party thrown here at Stumptown and the various visitors we had.

Stumptown Party

As I've mentioned before, a while back Duane decided that the SCAA show would be a great excuse for Stumptown to throw a bash. After a lot of thought and planning, we ended up with about 50 people heading down to Portland from Seattle after the show for the event. Add to this another 20 people who were already going to be here and another 20 or so Stumptown employees and you get the picture.

The guest list included tons of Europeans (roasters brought down by Mercanta, folks from Solberg & Hansen, various Danish espresso luminaries, a whole bunch of WBC competitors and judges, Kees and his crew, the Icelanders, etc.) as well as Japanese CoE cuppers, Costa Rican coffee producers, journalists from Barista Magazine and Roast Magazine and tons of other coffee folks chosen by Duane for their passion, their personality and their general coolness.

This worked out brilliantly as the vibe in the space was excellent. After a long (long) weekend of shmoozing and talking coffee everyone was ready to cut loose and just have fun. The space was packed with interesting people - all of whom either knew eachother or had someone in common in the building. People were happy. It just felt right.

DJ Ism was on the decks and was seriously rocking the joint. He not only tracked the mood of the party and followed it perfectly - he amplified it. It was one of those great examples a DJ doing his best where there was a great synergy between him and the crowd. There was dancing, there was toe-tapping and head-nodding. There were block rocking beats and hip hop heros. Sweet!

Food was provided by John, the brilliant chef of Navarre, and his crew from Bar Pastiche as well as the folks from Dan and Louis' Oyster Bar. A constantly replenished supply of authentic tapas came out of the dishwashing room, keeping everyone happy. Highlights included the amazing shredded rabbit and marinated radish on toast and the salt cod brandade stuffed peppers. There was Pilsner Urquell, Delerium Tremens, Chimay Cinq Cents and La Chouffe on tap.

Kyle, Steve, Tim, Ellen and Blake were manning the bar. We had the Hairbender and two single origin espresso flowing. The Rwanda Karaba was deeply chocolately, with a tight bright core of acidic fruit and flowers. The El Salvador CoE Las Nubitas was like apples dipped in caramel, sweet and lovely.

This was - without a doubt - the party of the whole SCAA weekend. And it took place three hours south in Portland. Grin. One thing you can always say about the Stumptown... we know how to party.

Stumptown Visitors

Obviously, all the folks who came to the party were around. This was like Oscar night. It was opening night of a new restaurant. It was launch of a new cruise ship. Everyone had to be on their A Game as this was NOT the time for something to go wrong.

And everything went very well indeed. Baristas kicked ass with the drinks. Managers kept everything ship shape. Brilliant.

The day after the party, Duane and Matt and Jodi loaded all the visitors into vans and did a tour of Portland. We hit the Kobos roastery as well as all the Stumptown roastery and all the cafes and finished at Crema. It was really fun and, according to the folks involved, it was an incredibly rewarding experience. People were served great coffees, learned a ton and got to meet lots of nice people.

Visitor after visitor commented on the incredible quality of the coffee and on the beauty of the cafes and on the professionalsm of the staff. We actually had a whole bunch of people tell us that the best coffee they had while here for the show was at Stumptown and had a couple people comment that it was the best in their life.

I'm so proud of the staff here. They did amazing work.

What I found coolest about the whole thing was that these were people who knew coffee. And they were people who were doing things differently than how Stumptown does them. But there looked at Stumptown and not only appreciated what is going on here - but understood it.

In Summary

As good as it was to go to the SCAA show and the WBC, there is no doubt in my mind that the couple days here with everyone was the high point for me. A better party, a higher concentration of interesting people, as much learned and better coffee.

And then I slept for two days.


A recap (SCAA show, WBC)

I've been trying to figure out how to recap and summarize everything from the last few (incredibly hectic) weeks.... Following is my best shot.


Highlights - For me, the highlights this year were the BGA Booth, the Probatino, the Bolivia booth, a couple of the products at Espresso Parts and (most of all) spending time with various really great people.

The BGA Booth was amazing. It had great buzz, really good coffee and gave a focal point for the show if you were really into espresso. People were able to evaluate different coffees from different baristas and different machines. Baristas were able to check out a couple of the top machines out there, and got to play around with tons of different coffees. The booth was a huge success and everyone seemed really happy about it. Because of the booth, I had the chance to meet a ton of people that I'd heard about or exchanged emails with but had never met in person. Very cool!

The Probatino is a complete object of lust. If you're into coffee, this thing is like a head-sized rock of cocaine to a crackhead. Not only does it look incredible, it's got all the bells and whistles you really want with none of the crap you don't want. And it's made by Probat. Someday...

The Bolivia booth was such a cool experience. Not only did I get to cup some great coffees, I met one of the top producers and talked to tons of really interesting people. The folks who worked the booth were both knowledgable and humble (a serious contrast with some of the other producers' booths). The coffee was really good. I'm starting to think that Bolivia has some real serious potential.

Espresso Parts had a couple great products. In particular, I love their mountable tamping brackets (which allow you to tamp lower than your counter and minimize both mess and grounds transfer to the spouts (or bottom of basket if you've gone naked). And they had some really perfectly shaped cappuccino cups. Terry and his crew always bring their A game to this show, and this year was no exception.

With each show, the big highlight is always the people - and this year was no exception. Not only did I meet Kees at last (and let me tell you, I was in awe) but I got to have some incredibly motivating and informative discussions about coffee, equipment, baristas, you name it, with some of the best and brightest of this industry. To be honest, this is what the show is all about, and this is why it's worth spending the money to go to the show.

Lowlights - This year there were a number of serious moments of frustration and irritation. The biggest sources were grinder manufacturers, the SCAA and Versalab.

Grinder manufacturers seem to have little to no interest in hearing anything critical about their products. And it's not like the problems with their products are minor or our complaints are insignificant. It's not like I'm asking for a liquid-cooled, vertical burr set, doserless, belt drive, diamond burr, auto timing, fuzzy logic grinder. I just want a grinder that doesn't suck. I realize that the manufacturers are behind us, and that baristas in this industry represent the leading edge. But our requests are really simple. We want a grinder designed and built to grind per shot, which doesn't heat up and cook the coffee, that doesn't trap grounds and which is durable enough to handle up to about 75kilos a day. The first one to stop ignoring us and/or treating us like children and actually deliver such a product wins. And by wins, I mean wins. Look at the position La Marzocco has in the espresso machine market as an example.

The SCAA is always an easy target to pick on and I'm fully aware that no-one is ever satisfied with the work they do when it comes to these shows. That being said, this is supposed to be the Specialty Coffee Association of America. Specialty as in not pods, not vending machines, not automatic froth producers and other stuff more suitable to your average MiniMart than a coffee bar. Coffee as in not the thousand different weird and entirely uninteresting if not outright stupid products that were on the floor. More importantly, as a professional barista I found it incredibly insulting to find that there were more sessions dedicated to professional coffee photographers than there were to professional baristas. We represent a huge chunk of the industry and we're being ignored or treated like an amusing but not particularly important sideshow freak. It's getting tiring.

Versalab... what can I say. These folks have been picked on for over a year now. And they deserve it all. I've never dealt with more arrogant people on a show floor. I honestly don't understand why they bother paying for a booth if they just want to insult potential buyers. I'd comment on the products but I wasn't allowed to actually evaluate them in any real way.

In Summary - The SCAA show was totally worth going to - but pretty much only because of the people. The good things were the sort of small things that you can experience throughout the year. it was the combination of all these people in one space that made it worthwhile. The rest of the show was just the excuse.


The WBC was a lot like the SCAA show in that the competition was, for me, an excuse. Even more than the show, the WBC draws my peers into one location. This is invaluable. Now... that being said... there was some amazing stuff to see and experience and learn from at the WBC this year. I love the "jamming with the champions" thing (though I wish there had been some more options on coffees) and the general level of skill amongst the competitors was up (again).

I had the chance to taste shots from some of the competitors - and I wish there was some way for more people to be able to have this experience. Tasting shots from folks like Troels (the evenual winner) was amazing. What was particular interesting was that Troels was using an espresso that I've tasted in the past - but in his hands it tasted like an entirely different coffee.

In the end, one of the favorites one. Troels' victory was no shock. His level of polish and professionalism was incredible. And having tasted his espresso, I have no doubt that his sensory scores were very high indeed.

The one thing that was a bit dissapointing was the judging situation. I know I've harped on this issue before, but I find it really depressing to see people judging in the World Barista Championship who I have little to no confidence in. It is so unfair to the competitors. The current judging situation needs to be entirely overhauled and rethought. The idiotic Sensory Skills test needs to be dumped, a training program for judges needs to be developed and a testing program which includes espresso defect identification and a mock competition judging needs to created. Until then, there will continue to be an unacceptable level of chance in the results.

Three themes developed for me through the course of the (long) weekend. First was the state of grinders in the industry; second was a discussion about dosing practices, methods and amounts; third was how different Stumptown is from most other coffee businesses.

Grinders... well, I've covered this at length. It needs to be fixed.

Dosing... I'm of the (strong) opinion that there is no black and white here. There is no right and wrong answer. Each coffee has a huge number of potential flavours and flavour profiles. By adjusting a combination of dose and extraction volume we can focus the resulting shot of espresso on a specific profile. By creating arbitrary rules about the "correct" dosing we are merely limiting the way we can express the coffee in the cup.

It's become clear to me that Stumptown has challenges that other businesses do not (in particular as relates to our volume combined with our business practices and values) and strengths that others are sadly missing (our incredibly high quality green coffee, a committment to excellence above all else). There are companies that we share things with - and we're developing close relationships with them. But it is no shock that vendors and manufacturers as well as other companies act like we're insane much of the time. Just as it should be no shock when someone freaks out the first time they taste our coffee.
So I just returned from Physical Therapy. This was just an evaluation session as it was the first since the injury.

The news is:
- It looks like there is no neve damage after all, but rather a trapped nerve
- It looks like a fair amount of soft tissue damage, but little connective tissue damage
- It looks like there is some damage to the knee as well

But they're thinking three to four weeks for recovery. This is far less than the orthopod thought.

They're also figuring i'll see a total recovery, though they warn that the ankle joint will very likely become arthritic over time.

So mostly good news!


Report - Day Five (Tuesday, 19 April)

the day of reckoning.

i got to the downtown cafe at 7:15am and there were already a few visitors from the show there having coffee. i smiled a lot, shook a lot of hands and answered a lot of questions in between making tons of calls on the cell phone to make sure that everything was ready for the party.

and then i had my first shot of espresso - and all was good with the world.
i don't want to sound arrogant, but that shot reminded me of why i work at Stumptown. coming so soon after a ton of coffee at the biggest coffee trade show... it wasn't just better, it blew those other coffees out of the water.

despite all my fears - and because of the incredible work and skill of the managers of the cafes - everything was in order. as the day went along everything fell into place. okay... so Klaus missed his train. okay... so various people who were not planned to attend turned out to be showing up. none the less, it was all working out.

and then the disaster. Lizz accidentally tore the tip off her index finger. one lead barista down. quick scramble and Tim and Blake jumped into the fray and we were off.

everyone was there. producers from all over the world. green bean buyers and coffee cuppers from everywhere. faces from the CoE, from the WBC, from magazines and the internet... superstars and legends and upstarts. i'd go into the guestlist but i'm sure i'd forget someone important so suffice it to say that it was everyone you might imagine who could possibly make it down from Seattle and the show.
the DJ was rocking the joint.
John from Navarre provided incredible tapas.
the folks from Dan and Louis' showed up with amazing oysters.
Kyle and Steve were whipping out amazing coffee drinks. Autumn and Ellen kept the whole thing on track. Blake and Tim poured gallons of beer to any and all.
we only had to 86 one junkie.

it was a really, really good party.
people seemed to have a great time.

i went to sleep smiling.
party of the year? i don't know... the last party i went to that was as good was in Iceland at the Nordic Barista Cup, but technically that was last year, so...

oh... btw... the single origin El Salvador CoE Las Nubitas shots were to f**king die for!!!