the wbc forces us to speak in bullets

April 19, 2009 – 2:38 am

meme of the world barista championship so far: vitamins. we hear they help with the over-caffeinated jabbers, the undernourished headaches, the shouting-at-the-party voicelessness AND the convention-trade-floor knee pain.

* what strikes you about the much-ballyhooed u.k. barista champion gwilym (rhymes with “swill ‘im”) davies is that he doesn’t act much like a barista — not the english-speaking versions anyway. more like a cheery pub owner who reads kant in his spare time. a tweedy professor, but with more street smarts. a street-wise bloke, but with more twinkly humor. this seems non-incidental. the presentation, at the highest levels of barista competition, seem to reflect more and more the character of the coffee being tasted. so gwilym plays along, describing buttered toast and jelly in his espresso (ha! ha! like breakfast in shropshire!) and then doles out the envelopes: judges’ choice signature drink flavors. and then you think, “wait. that seems hard.” none of the hipster condescension, all of the humble artisan.

* what turned our head about the finalists: (a) no scandinavians, (b) two obscure coffee countries (korea and hungary) and (c) very nearly a producing country in the mix (guatemala rumored to be a close seventh). all firsts?

* what stunned about the other most drooled-upon competitor — chicago’s mike phillips — was the compact, hyper-controlled mastery of technical skills and the easy, man-on-the-street way he could talk about a scintillating coffee. almost like a home espresso junkie on steroids. oh wait! there was the rwandan espresso, chosen a mere two weeks ago and pulled with a 17-gram dose for his spro and cappuccino drinks. then an unprecedented grinder adjustment (!) and a 19-gram updose for longer espresso shots separated halfway through into two separate vessels. the front half: served cold, with augmenting ingredients of its own. then the deep dive, the warmer half with its own complementary substances. we’re pretty sure some judges were gobsmacked: several seemed openly awed when he made the finals.

* what stuck about the massively overpacked counter culture coffee party was the peanut shells that kept tumbling down people’s sweaty shirt collars as they talked and spat. also, the danish creative troubador linus torsater, of coffee collective, who talked as warmly of the residential coffee-buyers on his block in copenhagen as a baker speaks of his baguette patrons.

* what popped about the exhibition-floor coffee from burundi was the sparkling currant front end and the softly tapioca back end. burundi?!

* and so, there was the congealed mass of people in the counter culture training loft, the chummy gaggle of roasters in a downtown sports bar (?!) … and a pensive group of three in a booth at a far-flung pub where craftsman cheese and single-malt options ruled supreme. guess which venue suckered this blog into a bleary early-morning denouement?