Welcome to the United States Barista Championship day one from Minneapolis, Minnesota, Midwest. Check it out: it is 60023942390483 degrees in the convention center. My photo pass is a regular SCAA badge with a frog sticker on it. The frog isn't winking, but his tongue is sticking out. This is the official credential.
The Twin Cities' own Andrew Milstead (Kopplin's Coffee, St. Paul, MN) is our first competitor. I saw Andrew compete out-of-region in Milwaukee at the Great Lakes Regional, and he was superfly. This is his first year competing and therefore his first USBC, and he remains as well-spoken and poised (if seethingly tense under the surface) as in March.
Today he's back with La Montana espresso, so chosen for its clean, crisp, "outrageous" and acidity-forward flavor profile. Andrew serves his cappuccinos and espressos without incident, and around 12:01 he smiles — could he possibly be having a good time? (Apparently not, I hear later. And I believe there was a borrowed cocktail shaker incident.) Signature drink includes locally made Rogue chocolate: sourced and roasted right here in the Twin Cities by just one dude. Andrew's tie matches the lilies on his table setting. Thank god for people who try to brighten up these darkened rooms. (And by darkened rooms I mean darkened rooms with lots of harsh, weird flourescent lighting — and in this case an awesome domed ceiling that looks like a UFO.)
Competitor two is Orme Kellett (Lava Java, Ridgfield, WA). His signature drink involves eggshells somehow (mostly intact, not uh, shards.) It looks very interesting but I can't hear what's actually going on.
Ryan Willbur (Intelligentsia, Los Angeles, CA) hits next. Ryan was a semifinalist in the Western Regionals. Ryan selects popular urban music and a Salvadoran and Brazilian blend — chocolate with a hint of spice, says Willbur.
Willbur's sig drink includes a reduction of hibiscus, brown sugar and blueberries — but I initially mishear "hibiscus" as "biscuits". Oh well. I turn out to be wrong.
Willbur smirks as he finishes up and calls time.
Backstage in the prep area, baristas are glassy-eyed and milling around looking for coffee, any coffee at all. To drink. Alexandra Switzer and Chris Baca both look completely desparate — we try to find them drinks, and I fail.
It smells like something woodsy and nice somewhere around here. I can only assume Chris Deferio is having a campfire somewhere backstage.
Ben Helfen (Octane Coffee, Atlanta, GA) is on next. This under-legal- drinking-age Millrock champ's espresso is Counter Culture Coffee Aficionado. Place settings are blue and white in tribute to Finland. He's not Finnish, but he sure loves Finland, and hopes to live there and work in coffee. His signature drink, he says, is a tribute to his possible future! Ben's possible future includes evaporated cane sugar, soda water, and some kind of small berry. Sensory judge Andrew Barnett chugs it. Sweet!
Backstage again, I give Drew Cattlin a midwest animal primer: badgers for Wisconsin, gophers for Minnesota, wolverines for Michigan. Let's get it right, people.
Pictured: Andrew Milstead