SERBC: word-picture recap

September 27, 2006 – 12:23 am

clearly, this blog should learn its lesson and never write anything serious again. from here on out, it’s only innoculating self-ridicule and vague, unassailable snark! still, there are transformational barista performances to relay. thus, in a totally craven effort to run for cover and make everyone happy with us, we offer laudatory notes from the powerfully moving — also movingly powerful — serbc finalist routines. thanks to dan and nick for providing cheat sheets.

i drove nine hours this stuff. it was worth it.

finalist michelle bradicich, pheasant creek coffee, apex, n.c. there were rumors that the name was misspelled in the program. we won’t even attempt to say it. quite the confident barista, though.
the look: professional black and in platform shoes to put her at near-judge height. smart move.
music: synth/electric jazz music.
skillz: fast. just fast and sure with everything. did i mention she was fast?
drinks:used toscano. blazed through the espresso and cappuccino rounds, even pausing to answer questions from the emcee thoughtfully. espresso shots looked faster than the competitor immdiately previous, but i didn’t time them. a very non-violent doser.
sig: declined to specify what was in her signature beverage, besides a demitasse coated in “special sauce,” with the spro pulled on top. later hinted that it was “seasonal,” “Christmasy,” and that the sprig of mint served alongside would indicate the flavors to come. judges swished it about before drinking.
impression: her small size made for a startling contrast to the rather tall technical judges, who completely obscured her from view when checking her tamp and dose. an endearingly effervescent barista, naturally enthusiatic. remarked that she wanted to make another round just to keep competing. finished with two minutes left. inspiring.

finalist ryan goodrow, murky coffee, washington, d.c. a repeat contender, very smooth and natural around the equipment.
the look: wore tux pants and a red armband.
music: groovy, mellow — maybe some rock organ in there?
skillz: showed a remarkably sensitive tamping routine, almost a caress of the portafilter and a delicate touch on the tamper. he was seriously in touch. started the whole thing off with a bit of oratory from behind his espresso machine.
drinks: went sig-capp-spro, instead of the other way around. used forte in the first two drinks — i think. signature was a glorified affogato, “the best of both worlds,” espresso pulled over gelato. spoke repeatedly of the espresso “suffocating” with the gelato. poured hearts on the capps. briefly forgot a steaming pitcher, but retrieved it from just behind the curtain. most impressive portion was where he noticed fast espresso pulls and redid two of them — putting him 31 seconds over time and forcing him to use non-matching cups. he was serious about that espresso, used a different coffee although i didn’t catch what it was. paid tribute to a farmer. melons, figs and other fruit on the judges’ centerpiece.
he said it: “I try to push everyone to become classic,” speaking of cappucinos served in his store.

finalist lena abed, open eye cafe, carrboro, n.c. last year’s second-place finisher, a sharp, swift competitor.
the look: dressed in professional black. purple streaks in her dark hair.
music: lebanese/middle eastern vibe, intense strings.
skillz: an open-palm tamping technique before finishing off more conventionally. used a napkin to keep portafilter spouts clean.
drinks: mentioned her blend was sumatra, colombia, kenya aa and malawi aa. nice pours. signature called “kiva han” — first known cafe in turkey. showed remarkable composure when nick cho, who was warming up, dumped a bin of beans during her signature portion. for this reason, i have fewer notes on the the sig than i should. involved cardamom on half the cup rim, cinnamon and milk. served it with baklava. judges told to inhale deeply. later sent a few covert sigs through the audience.
she said it: “It’s kind of fun having all these people watching me,” speaking of the attentive judges.

third place, lemuel butler, daily grind espresso, chapel hill, n.c. defending regional champ, a super classy dude, quirky but professional. also a d.j.
the look: there were the neatly bunched dreadlocks, of course. and granny spectacles. and a tie, tucked into the crisp white shirt. the picture of coolness. very professional, very deliberate.
music: carribbean, classical guitar, ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’ near the end.
skillz: very, very confident and professional. clearly had a tight routine and kept things very brisk. for the second straight year referenced “sexy foam,” and the “vortex” in which he makes it. openly admitted bubbles in the foam, which he tapped out.
drinks: also went sig-capp-spro. blend entailed brazil ipanema dolce, sumatra and papua new guinea. sig called “vanilla bean dream,” involved cream and vanilla, whipped, with a torched sugar top and espresso pulled on top of that. capps and spro looked confidently assembled from where i sat. pulled head judge marcus an extra shot to make up for what he said was a bad one last year.
he said it: “The clock has been my nemesis,” explaining the shakeup in his routine order. The girlfiend, who was nervously sitting next to me, supplied him with the restaurant-strength torch.

second place, daryn berlin, counter culture coffee, durham, n.c. a reserved, less showy barista, but confident and brisk.
the look: shirt and tie. dark-rimmed glasses.
music: smooth jazz, veering into honky tonk. some organy groove.
skillz: not real obviously distinctive skills, but a quickly moving and professional server. understated. functional.
drinks: the spro and capps were hard to see from where i sat in relation to his station. the sig was memorably named, “it’s the great pumpkin signature beverage, charlie brown.” put pumpkin butter, lemon juice, spices, creme fraiche and sugar in the milk, steamed it all together. served the sig with homemade candied pumpkin rind.
impression: it’s not a slight that not a lot stuck out — it was about the beverages. which clearly ranked very well.

champeen, nick cho murky coffee, washington, d.c. a well-known and confident barista with about the fastest, sharpest movements with the portafilter i’ve seen. very focused, genial, relaxed.
the look: pink shirt, pink tie. typically pomaded hair, fluffed forward. sleek.
music: moody, mostly female vocals, including ‘you are my sunshine.’
skillz: seriously well practiced. that was obvious. also extremely versed in his routine, story, timing, etc. even though he had not done the same routine in the earlier round. extremely confident in his movements and abilities — despite having topppled the beans during warm-ups.
drinks: the sig preparation was woven into the entire presentation, beginning with a story about aida, an el salvadorian farmer who fled the country for miami, then returned years later. began by pouring cupping water over aida’s grand reserve peaberry. returned to the capps, where he used forte — in a separate grinder — for the way he said it cuts through milk. served, then skimmed the cupping bowls and dumped them into a conical eva solo brewer. added melon and honey. returned to make the spro, which was all el salvador, “very bright” and cherry-ish. pulled four more espresso shots, then added the cupped mixture for a small drink. told judges they would get the “smooth melon” and “warm honey” of aida’s crop. scintillating. drool-inducing.
impression: clearly the most commanding visually. the entire aida story was accessible to anyone, the progression a simple and fascinating one that made you want to TASTE. pulled more spro after the routine and shared in with aida — who was sitting in the stands. a tour de force.

p.s. it should be noted: nick did not run away with it as surmised. about 20 points between nick and daryn. another 20 back was lem. also, plenty of room for improvement on the espresso round. maybe too bright for the judges?

UPDATE: but why take it from this blog? get your complete analytical recap from the cho right here. black holes? he served black holes for the espresso round and STILL won?!