It’s hard to know which happy event to begin this piece with so I’ll start instead with a caveat. I will return to my coverage of New Orleans, but felt compelled to interrupt that thread for this important bit of news combined with happy coffee consumption.
Sunday wrapped up the final round of the 2009 Northwestern Regional Barista Competition. Honestly, I was a little baffled over the weekend as to why there was so little live coverage on the blogosphere for this kickoff event for the U.S. Barista Championship feeder competitions, especially given that the World Barista Championship takes place this year on U.S. soil. Of course, one explanation for why coverage was so limited likely is the highly compressed schedule of regional competitions this year – everything is happening quickly and early this year, leading up to the very early WBC that happens in April. Everyone in the coffee world is likely scrambling to make things happen. Hopefully the lack of live coverage does not correspond to a lack of interest.
Backup, you say? What is a barista competition? I’ll point you in the direction of my pieces (1,2) from the 2008 Western Regional Barista Competition as a starting point. Clearly, I tend to have a bias towards the amazing selection of free coffee, but there is the competition itself. But what is the point of these competitions you ask? In fact, there’s some controversy about what these competitive events are meant to convey to a coffee drinking public. Some have made the case that even those within the coffee world might itself not be entirely clear about the message – or, at best, the message is contradictory. Maybe the answer for these competitions lies in staying true to their constituency – the baristas. As James Hoffman suggests in his pragmatic tips to baristas, it seems they should be taken primarily as the fun, sporting and learning events that they are.
Regardless of their purpose, it does seems a shame that the Specialty Coffee Association of America that oversees these events can’t seem to post results any faster than the myriad coffee blogs that have already done so. I was pleased to (finally) find some results posted early yesterday morning from the the blog of the Fresh Pot, home cafe of Alex Pond, the 2009 NW Regional Barista Champ. Barista Magazine’s blog followed suit with more detailed coverage later in the day and Williamette Week had some good coverage as well. The SCAA finally updated their website today.
The biggest news, though (in my humble opinion), was the fact that the winning coffee was Stumptown’s Panama Carmen Estate. It’s big news to me because I like to try the winning coffees when possible. It just so happens that I’ve been brewing this coffee in my kitchen for the past couple of weeks (a fresh pot each morning, that is!). I had planned to write about this coffee sooner or later, but its first place status seemed to provide a timely launching point for my already positive review.
Oddly enough, with Four Barrel Coffee still (or possibly no longer) purveying Stumptown coffee, this particular bag of beans came to me from one of Stumptown’s Seattle locations through the field work of a recently dubbed MSC field agent. The coffee was originally sampled as part of a larger care package of Seattle-based beans that my compatriot and I first consumed heavily on New Year’s Day. I’ll post about the other coffees soon, but the Carmen Estate was our clear favorite and it’s easy to see how it did so well in competition. The only down side to this report is that I can no longer locate this coffee on Stumptown’s website; you may be out of luck.
Unlike a lot of Stumptown beans I’ve tasted via Four Barrel as of late, this coffee is less loud, brash or single noted; it is beautifully complex and ephemeral, dancing around and difficult to pin down. My tasting notes included rose, brown sugar, cherries, lemon and chocolate with a kind of heady perfume that made me swoon. It was slightly bright with a good, clean, medium to light, tea-like body and worked gorgeously as a French Press. I found it good, but less so, in my siphon.
I did try it at as an espresso and thought it had potential. I also recognize my own limited trials and clearly non-competitive home-barista skills at work in my single origin pulling process. The couple of shots I tried were a little bright, but uncannily good for such a light roasted bean. I don’t actually know if Alex Bond’s version of this coffee was roasted differently than the beans I tried – I imagine it was but would be curious if anyone knows for sure.
Anyway, I think this coffee was superb and I encourage you to try some if you get the chance.