Saturday, December 30, 2006

Merry Christmas / Happy New Year

It's been a busy season for me. Fun, but busy.

I know that the tiny blurb in the current issue of Barista Magazine has already been read by now, but...

I think it's high time for an update on my take of the first annual TX Barista Jam.

I was surprised by how many people showed up. Where are all these TX coffee people hiding? Most of them aren't active online, it seems. It's difficult to know your community when you don't have any contact with the people within it.

It was pretty nifty to see a Clover in person. LOTS of different coffees were run through the Clover. Not one of them were dialed in. I think the merits of the Clover would have been better displayed had the time been taken (or notes been followed) to properly adjust the brew parameters for each individual coffee. This may have happened later on in the Jam, as I left during the Lunch break to spend time with my girlfriend, and to see San Antonio. (we walked the entire riverwalk, including the entire riverwalk mall.. just for kicks. We saw the Alamo, and took a boat ride.. it was a lot of fun).

It was good to finally meet Mike McKim in person. I didn't have much time to talk with him, but things happen, I suppose.

The crew from Medici seemed to kind of stick together. None seemed to talk too much. I hope they had fun. I had a hard time telling. Maybe none of them talked to ME, but they talked to others. Who knows.

Edwin Martinez gave a fascinating presentation on the growing and processing of coffee. I learned a heck of a lot, but it was hard to hear. Luckily for me, he's going to give the same presentation in Tucson at the AZ Barista Jam. It'll be good to see him again. He's definitley "coffee people". (in the words of Aaron Blanco)

I have to give a lot of credit to Aaron for putting all of this together in such a short amount of time. Aaron is most definitely "coffee people". If you want to just talk coffee, these are the kind of people you want to get with.

I say that, because for a meeting of coffee people, I had a really hard time finding opportunities to talk about coffee with people. It seemed like there was a lot of focus on the demo equipment itself, and not so much on the coffee being run through it. Fair enough, I suppose, considering it was the first time a Clover had ever been seen in the Lone Star State. It was also the first time I had a La Marzocco GB/5 at my disposal, courtesy of Mike. I didn't spend a lot of time on it, but I think maybe I should have messed with it a bit more. I didn't think I would get much from it while using a blend I was unfamiliar with. It makes it hard to reference differences compared to machines I HAVE had experience with.

An interesting fact about this jam is that it was hosted by Ruta Maya Riverwalk Coffee House. Yeah.. not interesting yet. The interesting part is that they were open for business throughout the entire jam, and continuing on long after it was over.

This is where it got interesting. My workshop was to take place behind the bar of the shop, on their equipment, while they were open. That's right... I was teaching milk frothing to a group of people while on a live bar. It was a bit awkward, I have to say. I felt like I really didn't know my audience, which made it really difficult to put something together. Not everyone was at the same level, and I think the most enthusiastic people at the jam were the on-duty baristi at Ruta Maya. I havent' seen that kind of enthusiasm in someone else at any other shop, ever. It was quite refreshing to see, coming from a place where no-one seems to care at all.

To the mentioned baristi: if you guys are reading this, you guys rock. the heart outweighs the skill any day of the week. Skills can be developed, but the passion is inherent. Keep it up.

In any case, I can't say I was effective at instructing for latte art. The cups available to me for use were 6.5oz. Nuova Point cappuccino cups. This doesn't sound so bad, right? Except, that I had never used the type of cup before. The shape is drastically different than anything else I had ever used. Strange as it may seem. My first 5 or so practice attempts were beautiful. During the workshop, however, I had the hardest time focusing while trying to leave room for people to watch, and explain what is going on while doing it. It was a little ridiculous, and definitely a new experience for me. Something I'll have to work on for the SCRBC.

Some of the Medici folks came in with the ability to already create microfoam, and some were able to pour art. I really felt bad, and unprepared, because I didn't have a lot to offer them while including those who did not already have the training to do either. I really didn't feel too good about my performance. I felt like I disappointed some people who had paid to come to the event. I can, however, say that I am pretty certain that every single person left the workshop with the ability to create beautiful microfoam. The shop's Futurmat's steam wands made microfoam nearly effortless. Seriously, it was the easiest time I have ever had in creating velvety microfoam with minimal effort.

Mike gave his workshop on espresso while I was doing the milk workshop, so I never really got to see what he has to say on general espresso theory. I would have liked to see that one. I didn't hear a whole lot about it either, so I don't have anything to report there, really. He IS our regional BGA chapter rep, so I'd imagine him to have presented a pretty solid workshop.

Aaron hosted a comparitive cupping session focused on flavor differences between varying (3) degrees of roast. It was pretty interesting to taste them side by side. I already knew that there was a huge difference, but that was the first time I had ever cupped the same coffee at different levels in the same session like that. The difference is more extreme than I gave credit for.

At the end of the day, I had fears of losing some items I had left available for use while I was gone. (synesso filterbaskets, microfibers, my tamper), but I got it all back, safe and sound. I can't say enough about this industry. I have yet to meet a single dishonest serious coffee person. I have not met a single one who I would not trust almost immediately to do the right thing at any given moment in time. Every time I attend a coffee get-together, I always feel right at home, even if everyone is a complete stranger. It's a beautiful thing.

I found it a bit interesting when David (of Clover equipment) asked what sort of rag I lent him. Apparently, the world of car detailing has something to give to the world of the Clover. The miracle known as Microfiber.


Up next is the AZ Barista Jam. Almost immediately afterwards, it looks like I'll be traveling to Tyler, TX to help train a new shop opened in a hospital.

Coming soon: an upgrade to an HX machine... 'bout time.
Soon afterwards: an upgrade to a better grinder.. hopefully a MACAP M4 Stepless. (fingers crossed)


Dan said...

Hey Jason,

It was good meeting you also at the Jam. I hope that you didn't get the impression that Mike, or I or any of the barista from Medici didn't want to talk to you, but truth be told we all know each other pretty well and it can be difficult to walk up to someone and start a conversation.

I'm sure in the future we all will get to know each other better. Honestly I was sad to see you leave at lunch, but wasn't surprised as I noticed your g/f didn't seem to be very into the whole coffee thing.

In the espresso workshops I taught the first one with some of the lessor experienced people and we went through the basics for the most part it went really well and people asked some good questions.

In the second one, everyone had a fair amount of experience so Mike moderated a discussion about different dosing techniques and we played around a little bit. I do wish we had a little more time for each group though.

Overall I thought the Jam went really well, and didn't hear any complaints.

Jason Haeger said...

In regards to the baristi from Medici, what you said is pretty much what I had figured was the case. I wasn't too worried.

You're right, my g/f felt very out of place. I think it was better that we left then. If I were there alone, I would have stayed for the whole thing, but I was very glad she was willing to come along. There were some sections I would have liked to have been there for.

I feel you on the time issue. By the time I felt like I had made any progress at all, it was time to switch.

I agree that the jam went well. I didn't hear any complaints either. I also didn't hear any positive feedback aside from what Aaron told me well after the fact. It made it difficult to know how people felt about what I had to say. Especially when most people weren't very outspoken.

Phil Proteau said...

Sounds like a good time all around.

So you'll be competiing? The experience you describe running the workshop sounds very similar to my competition experience. The routine I rehersed and had commited to memory evaporated on stage. It is a different mind set, one of performance instead of routine repetition. I was forgetting to tamp during my set up grinder dial in time. That is not an issue of practicing the technique, but practicing in front of an audience.

These things can be both affirming and humbling at the same time. There are so many extremely experience and talented and knowledgeble folks out there, but one can also see how far one has come up in the game.

I very well may be seeing you at the SCRBC. My new job may send me out there to represent. I hope so anyway.

Take care

Jaime van Schyndel said...

Good to see an update about the jam.


Jason Haeger said...

There's another one on the way. Stay tuned.