Mike Richardson has been with Kean Coffee since our doors first opened in late 2005, first as a barista, then becoming a manager and  barista trainer. Mike is passionate about coffee and about what he does, and has participated in several barista competitions- three times competing in the Western Regional Barista Competition and the Ultimate Barista Competition, and once judging the WRBC. Below is his fascinating account of the trip to Costa Rica he went on this past April along with our roaster Ted Vautrinot, who was invited to judge for Costa Rica Cup of Excellence. Enjoy!

Everyone has been asking me what I did in Costa Rica. Where do I begin?

Well the first full day was amazing. I was introduced to the Cup Of Excellence (COE) program where they take the top 38 coffees from all over Costa Rica and judge them on a scale of 1-100. However, only coffees rating above 84 get into this program. At the end, most of the coffees scored over 87 points and the best coffee was scored just over 93. Amazing. Image

So there was a judges’ calibration on Monday where they break down all the tastes into shot glasses and you get a basic feel for Mallic acid, citric acid, salt, sweet and everything in between. It was really cool to see how this is done.

Our roaster Ted Vautrinot at Kean was one of the 24 judges for the COE and they stayed in the hotel and judged all 38 coffees for 3 days in a row. I on the other hand was able to travel around Costa Rica: sweet.

So Tuesday I got together with Francisco Mena from Coffees Exclusive and checked out their lab where they test, package, and export the best Costa Rican coffees to the rest of the world!!! We cupped (tasted) the top 24 coffees from all over the country’s regions. There were some great coffees from central Valley and some wonderful fruity coffees from Tarrazu. Later Tuesday I joined the judges from the COE program at a new microfarm where they break down all the coffees into microlots to insure complete traceability. Much like wine, when we track exactly which coffee from a specific location on a particular farm tastes a certain way, then we can create much more scientific data for producing better quality. This was really eye opening for me and many other of the coffee buyers, and the coffee farmers.ImageImage

On this evening, all the big coffee farmers also joined us at the “Jardin de Aromas” and we had a nice little get together. Good food, some music, and some amazing coffee. It was hard to communicate with many of the farmers since not many of them spoke English, but I was able to talk to many of them about where I work and what coffees our customers love the most. Here I was also able to ask about how the different processing methods of the coffee change the flavor profile. Many of the farmers have had their farms for decades if not generations, but in the last few years are now starting to experiment with honey process, micro farming and micro milling.

More on that later.

Wednesday was a day I was not expecting. I traveled up to the mountains of Tarrazu with Francisco Mena, Yoshi a gentleman from Japan, and Sasha a guy from Germany. Up here in the mountains is where the real lifestyle of coffee is shown. We went and checked out a farm by the family of Juan Chutes where they are starting to micro mill their own coffee. Before micro mills there were only a few dozen big mills where the coffees would be pooled from all over and processed, then sold together. Now with micro mills the farmers can seperate their best crops and sell them separately from their lesser high quality coffees. Most of the coffees from these farms are very good, but there are some, like peaberries or other specific types of plants (varietals), that can taste considerably better. Since the farmers know their better quality plants and coffees, more care can be taken to ensure these higher quality coffees get put aside and sold for a higher price.

On this beautiful Wednesday afternoon, we also stopped by the La Lia brothers farm. Each one of these coffee plantations are very similar, but each one has a different specialty. This family is working on cross-breeding a varietal plant from Kenya! In this effort we hope to see some amazing new characteristics and balanced flavors that before could only be created with a blend of coffees. Now instead of a blend at the coffeehouse, the flavors can be created in the plant itself. Wow, that blew my mind. I never would have thought this much care and experimentation had been put into every coffee that I had been drinking.

Wednesday night Yoshi and I were dropped off in the middle of a small town at a nice little hotel and told we were going to be taken out to dinner by Oscar from the La Lia farm. Francisco and Sasha headed back 65 miles to San Jose where all the other COE judges were staying. I was out in the middle of nowhere with a guy from Japan who spoke less English than he did Spanish; so we conversed in broken Spanish the whole time. Oscar picked us up in his beat up Mazda SUV and we had a nice night of talking about coffee, family and hobbies. Sadly, the restaurant owner heard we were into coffee and tried to push some terrible coffee on us. Keep in mind, Costa Rica exports most of their best coffee; not to mention people throughout the world haven’t been introduced to specialty coffee. We had a nice little laugh about this, but in all seriousness we know that it is our duty to forward coffee awareness across the planet. That discussion really made me proud of what I am doing in the coffee industry.

Thursday was another amazing day out in Tarrazu. Yoshi and I got picked up by a young man named Pablo, he and his father work for the Don Mayo farm. We spent the first half day at their farm where I got to see some of the mills actually running! The thousands of pounds of coffee being processed is a breathtaking sight. The way the machine separates the great from the good from the bad (defects) just by weight and density was cool to see. Here we also did another cupping in their tiny little office/lab. Most of the morning two mini roasters were running, so Yoshi and I could sample their best six crops! Later Pablo’s wife made us a delicious home cooked fish with a spicy ceviche and some delicious sweet bean concoction.  And that was just lunch. After that Pablo took us up to a few more farms. It was cool to see that the farmers get along so well, where I thought it would be more of a competition. We went up to the top of the mountain where there is a road built so you can see for miles on both sides. Santa Clara farms on the right and Santa Carlos on the left. Just coffee as far as the eye can see. We headed over to Los Angelos farm. This is the family who won first place in the 2011 Cup of Excellence of Costa Rica. As humble as they were, they didn’t hesitate to show the awards they received. Here we also talked more of the risks of honey processed coffee. These processes include a Black Honey where the coffee beans are fermented in the whole coffee cherry; Red Honey where the outer skin of the cherry is peeled in a machine; and Yellow Honey is fermented in the husk of the cherry. Each one of these processes are carefully selected for different coffees that are grown  at a different altitude, in a different soil content, or even from how much sunlight it has seen throughout the year. Choosing the right coffee for the right process can make or break the flavor profile of the coffee. Hence the risk is high, but the output is groundbreaking! Farmers here in Costa Rica have only started this process in the last few years, most coffees of this region are only wet processed. The whole Los Angelos family was here to hang out and celebrate our arrival with a delicious alcoholic coffee beverage. Almost like a white Russian but with a very sweet rum-like alcohol, coffee and milk. Mmmmm, I’m gonna have to recreate that beverage at home! Image

We ended the day by stopping by the Candelilla farm whose coffee we (at Kean) have carried before.  Here the farmer told us how many crazy experimental demands from buyers on how to grow his coffee. Sometimes the farmers choose what they are going to do and sometimes the farmers are told what to do, interesting. It all boils down to the market I guess.

After the long day we joined Pablo’s father and Pablo’s farmer friend for drinks at a nice restaurant.

Friday I was supposed to be back to San Jose at 8am to participate in the top ten COE cupping. Unfortunately with some confusion we didn’t get in town ’till 10, however I got to hear the cupping notes of the top ten. Here I found out that Ted is truly one of the best cuppers in the program. Since Ted has a refined palate he can find specific distinctions between exotic flavors. Most judges would say orange, lemon, or lime, but others with a more refined palate would say tangerine, Meyer lemon, or key lime, and each judge will have his own indigenous flavors to refer to.

Friday night the awards ceremony was held at a place called Cicafe where they specialize in different scientific experimentations of coffee. All the producers were dressed up and many of the judges dressed up too. I wore my blazer, bow tie and put my mustache up; got to please the press! The awards started with the bottom (27th place) and worked its way up. So as we worked our way up to the top ten, the farmers were getting more and more excited. I didn’t recognize the number one winner, but I was happy to see the La Lia brothers won second, the Los Angelos family got fourth and the Don Mayo family won fifth. After spending so much time with these families I got emotional along with them. After the awards we ate and drank and had a wonderful time. I would have liked to take more pictures but everyone else was taking pictures too! Image

Later that night I went and partied with all the judges. Kate and her coworker John from Parisi in Missouri, a German roaster named Eyston, Jeff Babcock from Zoka and his friend Jared from another coffee shop in Seattle as well, Yoska from Switzerland, several judges from Hong kong and some from Japan. A true melting pot hanging out in Costa Rica for some drinks, dancing, and coffee love!

Saturday we shuttled downtown to the Don Mayo family opening up their own coffee house! These are the first farmers to open their own store. These coffee growers complete the cycle by becoming roasters, baristas and coffeehouse owners! ImageAn awesome end to a beautiful trip. Here everyone enjoyed the best crops of last year and some amazing new peaberries from this year. It seemed everyone who helped me make this trip amazing were there to thank and wish a warm goodbye to.

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Martin picking coffee at Rusty’s Ka’u Farm, Big Island, Hawaii

Due to our reputation as exacting, skilled artisan coffee roasters, Kean Coffee was chosen by the Hawaiian Coffee Association to roast this year’s finalists for the statewide competition of Hawaii’s Best Coffees. Hawaii grows the only coffee produced in the USA. Coffee grows on all the five major islands in the state. Each year they hold a statewide competition to judge the best coffees of the year. This year over 150 coffees were submitted for the competition. They were all judged by an internal Hawaiian judging panel to determine the top 45 finalists. The last round of judging that determines the best of the best is held here in California at the headquarters of the Specialty Coffee Association of American in Long Beach (SCAA).

Kean Coffee was honored to be asked to roast the coffee for this very important competition. This is a huge honor, and a huge responsibility. Imagine the scope of the responsibility that was placed in our hands with this: these coffees are the fruit of years of toil by the farmers who produced them. It is their livelihoods and reputation that are at stake here. We humbly respect that and are confident that have done them justice.

The ultimate responsibility of roasting these coffees was taken on by our head roaster, Ted Vautrinot. Ted apprenticed under our Master Roaster, Martin Diedrich, who originally learned the craft in his teens back in the 1970’s under the tutelage of his father, Carl Diedrich, and has become known as a respected top coffee roasting expert worldwide. Martin’s brother Steve builds the world renowned Diedrich Coffee roasting machines with which Kean Coffee roasts. So a long heritage of coffee roasting expertise went into the roasting of these precious coffees.

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Jerry and Ted earlier this year cupping for Rainforest Alliance competition at SCAA headquarters

And as if roasting the coffees wasn’t enough of an honor, two of Kean Coffee’s roasters, Ted Vautrinot and Jerry Folwell, are also serving on the committee of judges for this competition. Many of you have recently read about our head roaster Ted and his trips to Panama and Costa Rica to judge those countries best coffee of the year competitions. Jerry Folwell may be less known to you, but Jerry has worked with Martin as a roaster for nearly 19 years now, since the early years of Diedrich Coffee. He brings many years of passion and experience to the table as both a veteran roaster and coffee cupper.

The Hawaiian Coffee Competition was held May 22 and 23, 2012. The judging protocol is the same rigorous standard as in the “Cup of Excellence” and other international coffee competitions. It is always double blind and with very demanding precision.

The last two years, Lorie Obra’s farm, Rusty’s in Ka’u on the Big Island of Hawaii has won first place in this competition. This is the popular Hawaiian coffee we have been carrying at Kean Coffee for the last several years, and the farm Martin recently visited on his trip to Hawaii. We will see who comes out on top this year.

Kean Coffee is proud of our capable team and honored to participate in these prestigious coffee events.

There is a special magic wafting through a room filled with passionate coffee professionals intent on finding the absolute best coffee from Guatemala’s crop this year. Every sniff, every slurp is carefully evaluated and scored- descriptions of honey, cherry, chocolate, caramel fill the margins as each coffee gets a meticulous assessment before moving on to the next possibility.

Carefully pouring the water

I was fortunate to return to Central America to be a judge for Cup of Excellence Guatemala. Our 22 member international panel hailed from Japan, Germany, England, Australia, Russia, Korea, Canada, Morocco, Norway, and the U.S.   Our purpose was to identify the best examples of Guatemala coffee that year so we could buy it and bring it home to our customers, and also to recognize and reward the efforts of the producers who developed a truly stellar coffee. The top 20 coffees chosen from the over 300 entries are sold at auction. The winners get the best price for their crop, as well as respect and admiration from their peers. The biggest winner, however, is the coffee consumer, because the methods and care the producers employ to produce a competition quality coffee raise the quality of all the different lots coffee on their finca (farm) and translate to a better cup in our coffeehouse at home.

intense concentration in the lab

COE judge Sherri Johns, scoring

Top Ten Winners

The judging is exhaustive. By the time we get to the final top ten round at the end of five days we’ve cupped each of the coffees four separate times and huddled up in the conference room after each round to compare (and defend) our scores. Judging Guatemala coffee is particularly challenging because each of the eight producing regions- Antigua, Huehuetenengo, Coban, New Oriente, Atitlan, Fraijanes, San Marcos, and Acatenengo has a unique and delicious flavor profile. Because of Martin’s history and relationships in Guatemala coffee we’ve had many examples of different regional coffees from Guatemala in the coffee house, as many as five at one time.

Central Plaza, Antigua

We also took time to visit the producers and fincas, and see some of the sights. In the old city of Antigua beautifully restored churches seem to be on every corner. The cobblestone streets of this former capitol of all of Central America weave through a town with absolutely no billboards, neon, or any of the trappings of our everyday life. I felt transported back in time strolling through the charming central plaza.

Iglesia de San Francisco, Antigua

Visiting the Zalaya Family Fincas in Antigua was especially moving for me. The Zalayas have been producing coffee for generations, and we’ve had many of their coffees at Kean since we opened. We toured through finca Santa Clara and viewed the Bourboncillo (dwarf Bourbon) plants as well as the wet and dry mill facilities. I am always struck by the amount of passion, care, and hard work that go into each individual 132lb bag of green coffee.

We also travelled east to visit the Keller’s finca Santa Isabel. Like Martin’s family, the Kellers began producing Guatemala coffee four gene

Central Plaza at Night, Antigua

rations ago after emigrating from Germany. They operate an organic farm, creating their own compost and natural fertilizers and keep their rows of coffee within the natural rainforest that grows around it. They’ve also set aside a large nature preserve adjacent to their finca to retain the habitat for the indigenous flora and fauna of the area .Although we are familiar with the concept of parkland, the Guatemalan government is not. The Keller family paid for and set aside this land because they feel it’s the right thing to do, just as they’re committed to organic practices. We’re currently using two of their coffees in our line-up, as a decaf, and in our espresso.

Bella Vista in the shadow of the volcano Fuego

Before heading home I took a side trip to Martin’s childhood home of Panajachel on the shore of Lake Atitlan. The charming village and breathtaking view of the lake with the two volcanos on the distant shore were worth the twisting, jolting, careening 5 hour bus ride from Guatemala City. My hosts the Jones (Jones Coffee Co, Pasadena) family showed me around the town and gave me a tour of Pana Kids, a multi-lingual school they support in the village. The school teaches Spanish, German, English, and the Mayan language to the children, most of them of Mayan descent. The Mayan language is becoming lost as Spanish and English become the lingua franca in the area, and the school’s aim is to preserve the Mayan culture and heritage while giving the students the tools to be integrated in the modern Guatemalan world. As I showed my photos to Martin and Stephen they recognized a few of the sights from their childhood- the churchyard where they played soccer, the marketplace, and the shambled docks on the lakefront.

Ricardo Zelaya pointing out the fincas in Antigua

fog-shrouded fincas, Antigua

Ricardo at the 150 year old family estate

On my journey home, my bags brimming with samples of green coffee to cup with Martin, I was again struck by the connection we have to the people a half a world away that nurture a seed from the earth that eventually becomes the cup of coffee that creates the community we enjoy at Kean. All the toil, the planning, the relationships we develop serve the village we’ve created in the heart of Orange County, and most importantly- in our hearts.

Happy cupping!

Ted Vautrinot

Head Roaster, Kean Coffee

Martin's hometown of Panajachel

The steep, rugged Haraaz Mountains of Northwestern Yemen are a world apart from the rest of the country. The terrain is dramatic, wild, rocky, and often inaccessible.The area has resisted the modern world and in the hinterlands one can still feel the pulse of medieval times. Ancient fortified hilltop villages of stone houses cling to the steep slopes, creating a near bibilical panorama.

Rocky mountain slopes are carved with ingenious centuries-old stone terraces to preserve the scarce soil and precious rain in this dry region, in order to grow coffee.

Approximately 500 families, living throughout the region, continue an unchanged tradition of coffee farming that goes back well over a thousand years.

Yemen is the origin of Coffea Arabica, which derives its name from Qahwa Arabiyah. For centuries, Yemen was the world’s only source of coffee which was exported from the Port of Al Makha and when permanently lent the name “Mocha” to the coffee of Yemen origin.

A FAIRLY TRADED AND ORGANIC COFFEE

The small holder farmers that grow the Yemen Haraazi Supreme that we are offering for 2011 are being rewarded for their coffee quality and efforts with a fair price. They are also getting agronomic and technical assistance to support the production of quality. These efforts and the fair prices are also supporting new wells, water treatment facilities, access to health care, and education in these communities.

Though not certified, this coffee is 100% organic. Coffee farming in Haraz is organic by default because there is no convenient availability of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. The coffee is farmed in traditional ways that have been practiced for hundreds of years – all by hand. This is in part why the coffee is so unique.

Photos courtesy of Mr. Shabbir A. Ezzi

Freshness means something. Most of us do not realize that some things need a little time to rest even after much of their dynamic process has finished in order to fully appreciate all that is inherently there. In coffee, it’s called the “gassing out” period where coffee, once it’s roasted, is allowed at least 24 hours before it is cupped (aka evaluated). The theory goes that if you taste it too soon, you are tasting CO2 gasses and other volatiles that are the byproducts of roasting and not necessarily what’s in the bean. Things need a little time. So it was with me after this year’s Roaster’s Guild Retreat up in Stevenson, Washington. I needed some time to let all the crazy and dynamic energy that fed into me for three days have a chance to coalesce into something tangible (and hopefully understandable).

Every year, the Specialty Coffee Association of America puts on a retreat for people connected to the profession of roasting coffee as a place to network with other professionals, learn from industry leaders, and have a good time while doing it. It’s called the Roaster’s Guild Retreat. This year it was at Skamania Lodge in Stevenson Washington. As a participant, you are assigned a team of other professionals and with this team you compete in competitions, attend classes, and have many of your meals together. It’s a nice touch to have teams on this kind of retreat, especially if you are attending without your usual social buoy system. An added benefit is that they mix up the teams with some sense of deliberateness and you find coffee folks from all sides of the spectrum. On my team was a coffee grower from Guatemala, a coffee importer, an espresso machine designer, a Q-grader, and roasters from all levels.

It was my first year going and I had packed a healthy dose of apprehension along with my carry-on as I traveled alone to this place representing Kean Coffee. This was a chance for me to touch base with my peers in the business, get a sense for where my skills were at, and where the collective “thought” of roasting is headed. Good thing I had my Kia rental car.     

Nothing says "it's business time" like a Kia.

After a brief embarrassing bout of being star struck in front of Josh Holloway, I was on my way out of the airport. On my way in I stopped at a few coffee and tea shops in the Portland area. Stop one was Albina Press- a killer coffee shop in the very hip North Portland neighborhood (but really, are there many places that are not hip in Portland??) where I met Rita, a very knowledgeable staffer/barista who seemed to know everyone in the business.

some of the artwork along the outside wall of Albina Press

After a near-perfect traditional cappuccino, Rita helped revise my list of places to visit down to the few that I had time for- including a lunch with the best biscuits in town.

Stop #2 was a delightfully small roaster/retailer called Sterling where I was treated to a single-origin Yergecheffe espresso. Great people that seemed very down-to-earth. They roast some of their coffees on a sample roaster made by San Franciscan.

Stop #3 was Tao of Tea. “What, tea? Tea, you say?” Yes, tea I say! This is a must see for anyone traveling through the area. Beautiful shop, and the tea expertise here  astounding. Tao of Tea also happens to be our tea supplier for Kean Coffee. I was treated to some chai with the owner who gave me the most extensive lesson on tea that I have ever had. Have you ever smelled Holy Basil?

Bing Cha cakes were some of the earliest forms of storing teas...

 Stop#4 was Stumptown off of Belmont. I did not have time to go their annex next door for a coffee cupping, but you cannot go through Portland without stopping by this Pacific Northwest icon. Stripped down, artsy atmosphere with a nod to the “artisan way” of coffee, Stumptown continues to make their mark on the coffee scene across the States.

Hairbender Espresso from Stumptown. It's like a Visigoth in your mouth...

Onward and upward, let’s talk about the retreat. I arrived at the beautiful lodge fully caffeinated and ready to go, I grabbed my SWAG bag (Something We All Get), checked in to my room, and got ready for whatever was coming my way. As said before, we were broken into teams. I met my team the next morning, we talked, and began to taste the coffees that were available for this year’s competition. Every retreat there is some sort of roasting challenge and this year it was to take up to six different coffees from different growing regions in Guatemala, roast them according to your team’s collective wisdom, and then blend them together to create the best tasting single-origin blend.

One of the best ways to get to know someone is to slurp coffee with them...

After mapping out a plan with your team, the next two days of the retreat consist of roasting up your perfect blend, cupping it, re-evaluating, roasting again, and more cupping. In between all of these things are seminars, classes, and discussions of various topics. Getting back to the freshness issue, the sooner you get your blend nailed down, the better because coffee needs that resting period before it can be fully judged. Some of my teammates tasted our coffee less than six hours after roasting it and wrote some of the coffees off only to taste them again the next morning and have a completely different experience.

My team and I getting to know different roasters as we roast up our competition blends.

In the end, our team came up with a blend we could get behind and we let our attention gravitate towards the different classes, lectures, and discussions we were being immersed in.

 One of the more fascinating sessions I was able to be apart of was Ric Rhinehart’s roundtable discussion about the future of specialty coffee. Specialty coffee represents a distinct portion of the world-wide coffee trade. Only a small portion of all the coffee in the world is considered “specialty” grade. Not only does it have to be free from most defects considered common in other, lower grades of coffee, but also it has to have positive, pleasing qualities based on it’s growing origin. The trouble with coffee right now is that supply and demand are completely in-step with each other. The troubling part is that demand is on the rise, and supply is on the decline. It is a lot more viable for landowners to grow condominiums than to grow coffee plants. The specialty market is beginning to polarize towards higher quality and higher cost on one side, and lower quality and lower cost on the other. Typically specialty coffee has enjoyed a pliable middle ground between the two where consumers could get very high quality coffee for a very low price. This is increasingly rare and it is becoming more difficult to source high quality beans. Martin himself has stated that he has probably spent twice as much time sourcing coffee this year as he has in previous years. There are a lot of factors involved in all of this but whether you are free-trade, fair-trade, direct-trade, or just a plain traitor, it is a subject that speaks to lasting changes coming down the specialty coffee market.

 Back to the blending. Our team placed in the top five in the blending competition. For those that think this is not a big deal, all I’m going to say is that the judges are the people who have collectively cupped thousands of coffees throughout the world- many of whom do this for a living! Booya. While it would have been great to take the top spot and donate a Probatino to a coffee charity of our choice, I was more than happy to place where we did and we had a great time while doing it.

April 26, 2010; Ocotal, Nueva Segovia, Nicaragua. Twenty four judges, all coffee professionals, focus beyond the 90 degree heat and humidity in the classroom/cupping lab to give their undivided attention to flight after flight of the very best coffees Nicaragua has to offer. Every detail is scored to a strict protocol on the journey to find the ten absolute best coffees in Nicaragua this year. The event is Cup of Excellence Nicaragua, and I am one of the international judges discovering these often stunning coffees. The panel hails from Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Central America, and the United States. Our purpose is to identify the best examples of Nicaragua coffee for the international market to bid on at auction, which gives the local producers a clear idea what extremely high quality specialty coffee is, and their impetus to produce this is the higher prices the top coffees are awarded at auction.

At the end of each day of cupping we travel out to the country to view the coffee production firsthand. The first evening we toured a Benificiado (coffee mill) where the entire cooperative’s coffee is dried on basketball court-sized patios and African-style raised beds. It’s then milled (removing the parchment covering from the bean) in towering three story machines; graded by size, color, and quality; bagged in jute and stored. The facility was pristine and well-organized by certification; organic, fair trade, and organic fair trade. This cooperative is committed to raising their standards of quality to meet the demands of the specialty market so their members can earn a good wage to care for their families. We shared a Nicaraguan meal of beans, rice, pork, and blood sausage with the farmers and operators that had come out to meet us and share ideas about our common passion- coffee. Back at the Hotel Frontera (4-star by Nicaraguan standards, think Motel-6) we sat by the pool and shared our own personal experiences and coffee stories until late in the night.

Ted cupping in Nicaragua

Next morning we are back in the hot, humid lab for round after round of cupping. No discussion is permitted while we are scoring, we save that for the breakout after each flight of 9 or 10 coffees. Then we share, and sometimes defend, our scores for each coffee. These are skilled coffee experts, all with strong (sometimes varied) opinions on what separates very good coffee from excellent coffee. The Nicaragua national judges spent the previous week weeding through the 300+ entries that weren’t good enough to make the final cut. Our job is to sort through the top 60 fine coffees to determine the 10 best. We’ll choose the top 30, cup again to find the top 10, and cup yet again to rank the 10 winners. By the time a coffee has reached the finals it will have been scrutinized on six separate occasions by exacting, discriminating judges.

One evening we travel close to the Honduran border to visit Finca Santa Lucia and walk through the rows as the Patron explains which varietals of Caturra, Catuai, Bourbon, and Pacamara are doing well and why. We trudge down river a bit to view the nursery where 20,000 tiny coffee plants are beginning their life, to be transplanted into the finca in two more years. The Patron also describes the trapping methods they’re using to suppress the pests that attack and devour the ripe coffee cherries. The trapping is less expensive and less harmful to the environment than pesticides, and seems to be very effective.

Cupping begins with evaluating the dry aroma of the precisely roasted ground coffee. Each table has 4 examples of each of the 9 or 10 coffees in the flight- inconsistencies within the samples of a particular coffee are penalized. The hot water is then poured, four minutes later we’re ready to “break” the crust of coffee that’s formed at the top. A rush of aromatics bursts up and we discern and score that. The coffee is still too hot to taste so we wait another few minutes, then the real tasting ensues. Aroma, flavor, acidity, body, balance, sweetness, and finish are all evaluated and recorded. Sometimes only half a point will separate two superb coffees (out of a possible 100 point score). Is the body in harmony with the acidity? Does the aroma match the sweetness in the cup? Having one or two great qualities isn’t enough; the coffee must be excellent in every area to advance to the top ten. We continue cupping for 45 minutes, noting and scoring the changes as the coffee cools, then turn in our scores and retire to another room to discuss.

Another evening we journey to Dipilto to see how the cooperative and USAID are assisting the coffee producing community. A school has been built to support the children of the region, some travel up to 12 miles each way for the opportunity to attend. In many families the elementary school children bring home health and sanitation education that would never otherwise reach the family. The goal is to create a healthy, sustainable life for these families so generations can continue to thrive while producing the fine quality of coffee the market demands. The children were sweet and shy, the teachers were proud to present the programs they were teaching and the rising test scores the children were achieving. More children than ever before are matriculating their grade and they are staying in school longer. Later at dinner we chatted with exporters about the political climate in Nicaragua and some of the slight-of-hand movement of lower-grade coffees from Honduras and Nicaragua to Colombia to fetch higher prices and fulfill contracts. I am grateful for the transparency we insist on at Kean Coffee, we know exactly where our coffee comes from.

Next morning we’re back to the selection rounds, scrutinizing each coffee again to determine the top ten. Between rounds our head judge Paul Songer shows us the statistics on our scoring. Not surprisingly, our scores tend to group together by geographic region. The cuppers have tastes that are specific to their own part of the world. Generally, the Japanese/Koreans seem to favor a very bright acidity, the Scandinavians favor a medium body, and the Americans favor a deep sweetness. Because the scoring is compiled on a curve only a truly exceptional coffee will achieve a high score, because individual preferences will average each other out. The level of concentration is intense, these are all wonderful coffees and only the slightest nuances separate them. When we submit our final scores after four rounds all the cuppers are spent, and our tongues are a bit raw.

That afternoon six of us have been invited to join a local producer, Sergio Ortiz, to visit his finca and view his methods. Sergio is a super-passionate young man committed to producing the best quality coffee. He’s one of the few producers with a Q-cupper certification, and he’s constantly tweaking his methods and tasting the results to produce better coffee. He’s hot-rodded a Brazilian pulping machine to separate the ripe from not-ripe cherries better, and has an air-conditioned storage room for his pulped coffee to slow the fermentation process. Sergio was like a mad scientist as he clambered up and down the three-story machine pointing out the modifications and adjustments he’d made. We traveled back down the hill to Ocotal to a local beneficio to cup the 6 different production variations, as well as 14 coffees from other producers in the region. The different variations all had distinct flavors, the time Sergio spends refining his methods are making a noticeable difference. By the end of the day we had cupped 53 different coffees, our brains and tongues were ready for a rest.

On our final day of cupping we had the 10 finalist coffees; our job was to determine the order of placement. The entire group of judges was fired-up and focused, this was the reason we came to Nicaragua. Every single coffee was wonderful, and we bent to the task with relish. We spent the next hour becoming intimate friends with each coffee, listening to what it had to tell us about where it had been and how it had been cared for. I left the table confident that I had given my complete attention to every offering and been open to what each had to present to us. As always, we compared and discussed our scores afterwards, but we wouldn’t know the final results until that evening.

The Awards were held in the local sports arena downtown, all the Finalists were present to see who would place well. After all the opening remarks and adulations, and a sweet, moving folkloric dance presented by a children’s group, the winners were announced one by one. The capacity crowd cheered and supported each contestant; this was a big honor for each producer to place in the Cup of Excellence. As the top eight scores were read the crowd applauded louder for there were an unprecedented 8 Presidential Awards (scores above 90 points). This was a truly outstanding showing of dedication and hard work for the year. Picture after picture were taken afterwards, families beaming proudly, friendly rivals shaking hands, winners displaying their awards. Eventually the celebration moved down the street to a local hall where food, drink and music flowed freely. The students from the region’s coffee college who had spent the week assisting us professionally and stoically were there, dressed to the nines and ready to cut loose. The entire community was bound together by their passion for excellence in coffee and celebrated their achievements that night.

The next morning we said our good-byes, some judges leaving for home while I stayed on with a small group to visit some fincas in Matagalpa, about 4 hours drive away. Our band was hosted by Dr. Miersch and his family, one of the top 3 winners in the competition. Over the next three days we toured half a dozen fincas owned by the family and I got an in-depth education on varietals, grafting, land management, and the care and respect the family show the workers that live on the fincas and husband the land. A few fortunate villages have small hydroelectric generators installed on the streams that flow down the mountains, providing lights, and amenities unavailable even a few years ago. As we drove the few hours it took to get to each finca I got to listen to Paul Songer discuss with Erwin Miersch the changes in the countryside and the techniques being employed to produce the coffee at each location. The family’s operation is well-considered and thoughtful, trying various methods and keeping all the best. We toured a few miles of hillside on horseback; hardy, strong cowponies used to negotiating the muddy terrain. Our attempt to rescue a young cow that had fallen doubled over into a ravine failed, we eventually got her pulled out but she couldn’t stand on her dislocated hip. Dr Miersch told us the hands would come back later to put her down and distribute the meat to the village. There is little waste in this part of the world.

The country is beautiful and green, yet still hard and unforgiving. Plantations left untended were choked and overgrown in only a few years time. The work of pruning, caring, and tending is never ending; it is a way of living for the people who do it. A few pounds of coffee on our retail shelf is the result of years of careful labor by the people that live in this rugged paradise, I try not to forget to be grateful for the effort they put forth generation after generation. My journeys to origin have forever changed the way I see a 132 lb bag of green coffee on the roasting floor. 

Kean Coffee Tustin

March 23rd marked the one year anniversary since opening the doors of our second Kean Coffee at 13681 Newport Ave, Suite 14, Tustin, CA. The opening of our Tustin store was not so much a new venture as it was a return to our roots, as this was the exact location where Martin opened his first full-scale Diedrich Coffee coffeehouse many years ago, which had become a popular hangout in the community. With coffee roasted fresh onsite in a roaster built by Diedrich Manufacturing, the company created by Martin’s brother Stephan who went into the roaster building side of the coffee business, Diedrich Coffee became a local institution.

New Tustin Kean Coffee

After control of Diedrich Coffee was taken over by an ambitious investor, the entire Diedrich Coffee chain was sold to Starbucks, and Starbucks opened in the Tustin location sometime after we had gotten our new start with Kean Coffee in our original Newport Beach location. In September of 2008, Starbucks announced the closure of the old Diedrich location after @ one year in business, and we immediately received numerous calls, letters and emails from old customers and community members asking if we would please return to the Tustin location. With Kean Coffee  thriving in Newport Beach  since December of 2005 and no immediate plans to open a second location at that point, Martin could not pass up the opportunity to be back on his old stomping grounds and return to the welcome of the Tustin community. This particular location held many fond memories for Martin, the Diedrich family, and the many wonderful folks who had worked and played there. So the planning and designing began.

We completely stripped out the Starbucks buildout and started anew

As we had done with our first “baby” in Newport Beach, Martin and I combed antique shops, fabric swatches, studied color palettes, pondered lighting, flooring, etc. in an effort to create an environment that would be beautiful and rich, yet warm, inviting and personal, reflecting our personal tastes and aesthetics at this time in history. After considering various options, we again could not resist including a gorgeous Fortuny  lamp imported from Venice, Italy, having fallen in love with these lamps on a trip to Venice in 1995,  like those we utilized in in our Newport Beach coffeehouse. It became the centerpiece of our lighting in Tustin.

Silk Fortuny lamp at Tustin Kean Coffee

 Martin envisioned a floor of stone and wood, and sourced a French limestone to combine with a rustic American hickory to create an interesting pattern and texture. Our antique American art deco condiment stand was borrowed from our Newport Coffeehouse,  while Newport received our new aquisition, an antique Chinese sideboard we had discovered in our latest antiquing forays. The iron building stars that adorn our counter fronts, historic architectural elements, were very hard to find, but with persistence Martin located a company back East from which we aquired some.

Kean and his little cousin Julian hanging out during pre-opening days

We fell in love with a rustic antique Himalayan bench,  I found some well-loved wood-carved wingback chairs that were begging to be re-upholstered and loved anew, and we found a delicious green marble at the marble yards for our Tustin countertops, among other ecclectic elements that ended up in our final coffeehouse environment. Martin combed through many old photos he had taken on his trips to coffee origin and selected some of his favorites to hang on the walls behind the coffee bar.

Metal sculpture artist Molly Varese with her work

We wanted some sculptural elements in the coffeehouse, so decided to commission my sister-in-law, artist Molly Varese to create a unique metal sculpture as a backdrop to our fantastic  bench. We loved the look and feel of the finished effect, but after “road-testing” the space between the bench and espresso bar, decided that for safety reasons the sculpture should be relocated to the spot it occupies outside on our  back seating patio today.

The first days and weeks of opening Kean Coffee Tustin were not so much a “grand opening” as they were a reunion and a homecoming, with many old friends coming to welcome us, and even a number of past Diedrich Coffee staff who re-joined to launch the new evolution of Martin’s coffeehouse vision. Jerry Folwell, who had been our roaster in the Tustin Diedrich Coffee location for years, even came back to roast on weekends on the latest model of Stephan’s incredible coffee roaster, which this time was located in the front window of the coffeehouse.

Latte art by Paul in Tustin

 The newly trained staff headed by manager Paul Valdez was eager and excited, and the air crackled with enthusiasm. In accordance with Kean Coffee’s “next evolution” in coffee excellence, Tustin baristas worked hard in the first few weeks to hone their espresso shot pulling and latte art skills, assisted by some of our by then expert baristi from our Newport Beach coffeehouse. After a bit of a learning curve, a healthy “competition” began to develop as Tustin baristi worked hard to achieve the Newport standards that had been established.

Kean Tustin: 13681 Newport Ave, Ste 14, Tustin, CA

At this writing, it seems hard to believe that one year has already passed since opening the doors of Kean Coffee Tustin, and just a few months longer than that since we launched into the flurry of unexpected, yet exciting activity that led to that day. In honor of our anniverary, we wish to deeply thank from the bottom of our hearts all of those who “wished” us into returning home, offered support and loyalty, and have filled our Tustin coffeehouse with life, love and warmth for the past 12-months and counting. We also wish to thank our incredible Tustin staff who have infused the coffeehouse with their energy and provided a welcoming space for our guests. We look forward to many more wonderful years ahead at Kean Coffee Tustin!

Posted by: keancoffee | May 30, 2009

Yemen Mocca: Coffee, not Chocolate – by Martin Diedrich

If coffee were a tribe, Yemen Mocca would definitely be the shaman.

Yemen

Cappucino, Cafe Latte, or Cafe au Lait are unmistakably coffee beverages, while Cafe Mocha is thought of as a hot chocolate with coffee or espresso, or generally a chocolate based drink spiked with coffee. To get to the point of setting the record straight on this matter we must travel back intime to a distant corner of the globe. At the very Southern tip of the Arabian Penninsula, flanked by the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, is the remote country of Yemen. Coffee Arabica was named for this place. It has resisted the modern world until just recently, and then only in the most readily accessible places, while in the mountainous hinterlands one can still feel the pulse of medieval times.

The steep, rugged mountains of Western Yemen trap enough rain, generated by the monsoons off the Indian Ocean, to sustain vibrant coffee growth. In the often inaccessible highland valleys, the terrain is dramatic, wild and rocky. It seems as if every ince of arable land is terraced with ingenious irrigation systems to trap the precious rain. The camels, donkeys, goats, and ancient fortified villages of stone houses clinging to the steep slopes create a biblical panorama.

In Yemen, coffee has been in use since at least the sixth century, and very probably much earlier. For nearly three centuries, Yemen held the world monopoly on coffee. The port of Al-Makha (from which we get “mocha”) on the Red Sea became the most important coffee port in the world. Meanwhile in Europe and North America, the growing popularity of coffee made it nearly a necessary staple of life. In time, the name “mocha” from the port of origin Al-Makha, became interchangeable with coffee in the same way we use “java” today.

Yemen coffee cherries

Chocolate, originating in the new world, came to the attention of Europeans at about the same time coffee did. It was customary in the early days to drink it as a beverage in the coffeehouses right alongside coffee. In the late 19th century, when solid “eating chocolate” was developed, it was often flavored with “mocha” as coffee was called in that day, and thus was called “mocha chocolate”.

Yemen eventually lost its predominance in the coffee trade as coffee was now growing in colonies throughout the tropical world. The port of Al-Makha fell into dis-use. Sand bars filled the once busy harbor, and today only ruins are left of the famous port. The name mocha didn’t disappear as did it’s namesake port. Although its name was more often associated with coffee flavored chocolate rather than coffee itself. Soon, outside of those in the know about coffee, mocha and chocolate were used interchangeably.

Today mocha has become a dog chasing its tail, where coffee is often described as being chocolaty in flavor. Let history reveal that in truth, a Cafe Mocha is really coffee flavored with chocolate.

Though almost forgotten by the rest of the world, Yemen has never given up growing coffee. A genuine Yemen Mocha/Mocca is rare and expensive, and yields one of the worlds’ most distinctive cups of coffee. Most of the usual adjectives for describing coffee do not apply. It has been said that “to compare it’s flavor with other coffees is rather like comparing wild rice with Uncle Ben’s.” It is a taste that is every bit as exotic as the environment that produced it. Piquant, fruity acidity, winey, dried cherry, a sharply pointed aromatic character and oriental spiciness.

     Lush mountainous rainforest, beautiful warm people, countless hectares of coffee, miles of rutted dirt roads, stunning Mayan antiquities; I experienced all these just days ago on my trip to Capucas, Honduras. I made the journey to view the coffee production firsthand and evaluate this year’s production at the cooperative. I found people that live a life I’d never imagined- difficult yet joyful and built on a commitment and love for producing coffee that continues to improve in quality.

     Little Feet, a non-profit whose mission is to provide soccer equipment and instruction all over the third world, made the trip possible. The private label coffee we roast for Little Feet is from this particular cooperative in Capucas. Trevor, Brittany, Errol, and Akrom brought the soccer, while I brought my cupping spoon.

Luis teaching Trevor to Cut Coffee

Luis teaching Trevor to Cut Coffee

 

 

     De-planing at San Pedro Sula, we piled into a minivan for the six-hour ride to the village. Capucas rests at 1,100 meters (about 3,500 feet) elevation in a mountain valley 15 miles from the nearest paved road. I could feel the heat and humidity fade with every meter we rose. The last hour we pitched and bumped along the dirt track to Capucas, a true Honduran massage.

     A walk through the village the first morning revealed a collection of low-slung homes, many with dirt floors, each with a concrete drying patio set aside for coffee. Inside the women cooked on wood-fired stoves, grinding the corn for masa and making tortillas for each meal all by hand. Domed wood-fired ovens for baking (delicious pan dulce) stood behind most homes. The children crowded the fence of the school courtyard to catch a look at the gringos and ask about the soccer equipment. Although these people are also butchers, builders, and teachers they are first coffee farmers, the entire focus and economy of Capucas is centered on coffee.

     The harvest was mostly finished at the lower altitude of the village, so we set off for Pablo’s, up in the mountains, to cut (pick) some coffee ourselves. Carlos took us to the end of the track in his pickup, the ubiquitous Toyota 4-wheel drive. From there we’d have to hike in, four miles of steep, muddy, slippery trails over two rickety suspension bridges. I marveled at the realization that to deliver his coffee to the cooperative, Pablo hikes this same dangerous trail while leading a mule loaded with four bags of parchment beans. Every brick, board, tile, and piece of equipment that makes his home and living on the mountain was walked up the same way. The solar panel on the roof provided just enough juice for a portable radio and Pablo’s cell phone, his only link to the village below. After a much-needed rest and some soccer for Pablo’s two adorable daughters, 5 and 3, we left the hospitality of his wife and family to cut coffee, about “five minutes away”.

suspension-bridge-capucas

     An hour later found us finally at the harvest, Catura coffee growing wild on the steep mountainside under the dense canopy and choked with brambles and fallen timber. It was a challenge to remain upright, much less to maneuver close enough to select the red, ripe cherries from between the green cherries not ripe yet. An hour of concentrated cutting yielded us ¼ of a small basket of cherry each, while the eleven-year old girl cutting along with us nimbly bagged three times as much in the same time.

     Returning to Pablo’s home, we loaded the cherry into the pulper and cranked it by hand, he uses a small gas engine for larger amounts. The fruit and skin fell into the compost pile while coffee beans, still in mucilage and parchment, dropped into the wooden tank for fermentation. The next day he’d wash the beans and begin the drying process. Our afternoon’s work would yield about 6 pounds of green coffee for the five of us combined.

     We slogged our way back to the trailhead where Carlos’ twelve-year old son Carlitos waited with the truck. With his 4’6” frame, his feet barely touched the pedals, yet he had no difficulty negotiating the twisting rutted track while talking on his cell phone and calling out to the local girls simultaneously. Western culture is making inroads.

     Back at the cooperative the pulping process was humming along, huge mechanical pulpers spitting beans into concrete-lined fermentation tanks for a day, then releasing them into washing channels before being spread onto the ½ acre of drying patio to be hand raked and dried. For extremely wet weather there were two mechanical dryers, but they weren’t needed today.

drying-coffee-capucas

drying coffee

     In the lab the cupper and roaster, (another) Carlos, had prepared a cupping of six micro lots and one mélange for us. The coffee was still quite new and not rested, yet cupped out quite nicely with chocolate and caramel sweetness and mango and apricot acidity, with one exception- Carlos snuck in one example of a two-year old coffee just to make sure we were paying attention and scoring honestly. We discussed with Omar (the leader of the cooperative) and Becky (the peace corps volunteer) the challenges facing the farmers, the biggest being the need to impress upon them the importance of picking only the completely ripe cherries to unlock the depth and sweetness inherent in their coffee. Each year Capucas coffee has improved, and this year’s harvest shows fine potential.

     The next two mornings found us on the local soccer field, organizing 150 excited kids into groups for basic drills, fast-thinking exercises, and pick-up games. The kids were delighted and eager to please, following Omar’s translations of Akrom’s instruction energetically, and sometimes comically. The kids, and adults, seemed completely grateful for the attention and the scores of balls and equipment distributed. Our last night Britt and Trevor organized a bonfire, teaching the kids to roast marshmallows just the right amount to make S’mores (the amazing norte-americano delicacy), while Errol and I jammed on guitars we’d brought with Luis and Luis. At the end of the night we said our good-byes and Errol presented the guitars to our musician friends to keep. Luis, the pastor of one of the two churches in the village, was particularly touched by the gift.

campfire-capucas

Capucas Campfire (Ted playing guitar in red shirt)

 

 

     The next morning we headed out early, the rest of the group for the airport at San Pedro Sula while I jumped out half way there to catch a ride to the Mayan ruins at Copan. I spent the entire day soaking in the energy of the beautiful, massive architecture and intricate hieroglyphics of a culture that rose, flourished, and faded over 1600 years ago. The early temples became the foundation for the next, larger temples as the structures grew in size and complexity over 400 years’ time. The Hieroglyphic Stairway stretched upward imposingly, the largest single collection of written history in all of Meso-America. Just a hundred years ago the entire complex was still swallowed by the jungle around it, years of patient study and restoration have brought it back to a shadow of it’s former splendor. Meditating quietly, I could easily picture the throngs of Mayan people inhabiting the courtyards, playing at the ball courts, worshipping at the temples, breathing life into the huge stone edifices.

     As the plane left Honduras late the next day I reflected on the people whose labor make this country and their coffee. Their warm joy and enthusiasm permeate all they do, and I am grateful for the opportunity to share a taste of their experience.

coffee-at-pablos-capucas

The Western Regional Barista Competition for 2009 took place on January 23, 24 and 25 in Downtown Los Angeles, hosted by Intelligentsia Coffee in Silverlake. This is an intensive competition where talented, diehard baristas from all over California come to practice their craft and show their personal best in front of a panel of judges from the specialty coffee industry for the chance to obtain valuable professional feedback, see how they measure up, and possibly win a spot to go on to the national competition. Winners on the national level ultimately compete in the World Barista Championship, a title currently held by Ireland’s Stephen Morissey.  

Mike Richardson at WRBC 2009

Mike Richardson at WRBC 2009

Kean Coffee’s own Michael Richardson competed in the Western Regional Barista Competition this year and made us very proud. Mike has participated in a number of barista events including the Ultimate Barista Challenge which takes place in L.A. every August, so with the WRBC Mike took it up a notch. This competition is not for the faint of heart. It requires nerves of steel, steady hands under pressure,and the ability to speak eloquently and in an engaging manner while your every move is being analyzed by seven expert judges – a head judge, two technical and four sensory judges. As a competitor, you must prepare four espressos, four cappucinos, and four of your own personal creations, signature drinks, to the closest level of perfection you are capable of in such circumstances. And all of this in exactly 15 minutes, as competitors who go overtime even a few seconds are disqualified, which happens every year to at least a few in the lineup.  Competitors are scored on every aspect of their routine from their technique in preparation, to the aesthetics of their table presentation, to their verbal presentation to their cleanliness and efficiency as they work. All of the scoring categories being said and done, ultimately the winning elements in the scoring come down to the taste of the espresso drinks – the definitive element in any barista’s talent.

Barista competitions are events that are crackling with energy. With a room full of fanatical coffee geeks who have all gathered together to indulge their passion for excellence in coffee and the coffee trade, how could one expect anything less? The coffee companies which sponsor competitors in these competitions are almost exclusively the small independents, with chain coffee companies altogether invisible in this world of serious coffee culture. It is a youthful culture characterized by creative intellectuals – philosophers, poets and artists, even “mad scientists” if you will, who use coffee as their medium and life as their canvas. Younger and older enthusiasts alike, the WRBC has a definite rock n’ roll vibe, with the championship baristas being the “rock stars” of the scene.

Mike speaking to the sensory judges

Mike speaking to the sensory judges

On Friday, the first day of the WRBC event, Mike along with another of our top Kean baristas, Shane Richardson, (no they are not brothers…. just two great baristas with the same last name!) spent close to two hours serving Kean espresso on the “Fourth Machine”. The Fourth Machine is an opportunity for spectators at the event to sample expertly pulled espressos from a variety of the different independent coffee roasters who have sent representatives to the competition. Mike and Shane had a great time featuring their espresso skills and sharing our own Kean Coffee espresso blend, and enjoyed the opportunity to hang out with other highly skilled baristas from up and down the state.

For his competition performance, Mike was scheduled close to the end of the day on the second day of the event, Saturday, which necessitated staying pumped up but conserving energy and remaining cool and collected through hours of watching other competitors performances. With Martin [Diedrich] and fellow Kean barista Michael Coultier in the audience to cheer him on, (along with Kean Coffee barista alumni Nick Brewer as well as alumni Janelle Bel Isle, who entered the WRBC 2008),  and before a live streaming video internet feed, Mike went through his routine for the judges smoothly and calmly, and made his time in just under 15 minutes.

The competitors pick their own music to accompany their routines, all part of setting a mood and creating theatrics, in addition to helping to put themselves in “the zone”. In the background of Mike’s video you can see Stephen Morissey, current world barista champ, watching… talk about pressure! In the end, Mike’s scores placed him just about smack in the middle of the field of 23 competitors including baristas from Intelligentsia (which swept the finals and took the win, but this blog is about Mike..heheh), La Mill and Caffe Luxxe in L.A.,  Vivace, Verve, Ritual, the Abbey and Barefoot Coffee from the Bay Area, among others. Two baristas from Zoka in Seattle, Washington competed out-of-region just for the practice, as many serious competitive baristas do to hone their skills and develop their routines. For a first-time competitor, smack in the middle is pretty darn good! Verve’s Jared Truby, who placed in the finals, almost seemed proud to brag on camera that the first time he ever competed, he came in dead last. This just underscored how far he had come and how much he had learned by competing in his craft!

Mike and Ike at WRBC 2009

Mike and Ike at WRBC 2009

Mike came away from his weekend adventure at the Western Regional Barista Competition 2009 newly inspired to continue his pursuit of ultimate barista perfection, and excited to pass along this inspiration through training  fellow Kean Coffee baristas both in the coffeehouse, and working one-on-one and in small groups in our newly built barista training lab in Costa Mesa. All in all the weekend was both exhausting and exhilarating. Congratulations, and way to go Mike! We look forward to seeing him in the next WRBC, should he choose to dive under the hot lights once again…stay tuned!

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