The third annual MidAtlantic- NorhtEaster Barista Jam has come and gone. Troy Reynard of Cosmic Cup in Easton PA, and Gerra Harrigan of New Harvest Coffee in Providence Rhode Island have once again put on the largest, longest, most “star studded” Barista Jam in the North America. I am fortunate enough to have this event in my region, and as such I have gotten to participate in an intimate and exhausting way for the last two installments. Here is how it went down.
The first day of the Jam involved unpacking the four Nuova Simonelli Aurelias from their shipping crates. Tommy Gallagher Counter Culture’s technician in NYC, and I spent some time with the top off of one machine and speculating at the nature of it’s ability to hit a consistent brew temperature. Lou Barba from N.S. then showed up and gave us the the best explanation of the heat stability that I have heard thus far, and it truly is a simple and elegant solution. I can’t explain it in one sentence, so I will just leave it at that. Tommy was just fantastic, always keeping a positive and upbeat attitude, with a wrench and screw driver literally in his pocket at all times.
The crowd started thickening as Baristas began to arrive and tentativley playing around with the Aurelias and the Compak doser and doserless conical grinders. I was facilitating the Alternative Brew Station, which became the biggest draw of the weekend. Mark Inman was the key note speaker, poignantly illustrating the need for local flavor and personality in coffee business, and the evils of nationalization. Jay Caragay spoke about the commercial value of offering alternative brewing in a retail coffee business. I gave a short talk about the beauty and ironic simple complexity of non-automated coffee brewing, and challenged the Barista community to apply the same critical eye and skill level to brewing as they do to their espresso. Then it was a free-for-all.
I do not know of any other Barista event that involved such an expansive and Barista interactive brew station such as the one we created at this Jam. I brought several types of pour overs, the Takahiro kettle, French presses, and a siphon brewer, while New Harvest supplied us with Bodum Konas and an Areopress. A Compak bulk grinder was there for our use, and seems to produce a very nice quality grind. It also feels really nice, and has very little chaff fly-out. This was not a demonstration booth by any stretch of the imagination. If a Barista wanted coffee, they had to pick a bean, pick a brewing method, and create the final product for themselves. One after another they came and brewed. I encorged them to pick a method they had never used, and gave them throw weight and grinding suggestion. After a little talk-through of procedure and technique, they were on their own. Most of the results did not hit the bulls eye as far as flavor, but I tasted and discussed the results with each Barista. No one could complain that some famous Barista, using renowned coffees, brewed them a poor cup at this coffee event! We talked about what parameters could be altered to improve the drinkability for next time. As the three day event went on, the brews became better and better, until at the end we were brewing great cups almost every time.
The Spro down was the big event for the first night, with entry fees benefiting the Grounds for Health Organization (groundsforhealth.org). The espresso sponsor, Barismo, provided their Soma espresso; a mix of a Kenya and two Guatemala coffees. This is a combination that I think punishes the ristretto puller, and benefits the Barista who is not afraid of a little blonding. The first place winner was a 16 year old Barista, Casey Killo, from one of our accounts, Perk On Main in Emmaus PA, and our very own Kim Elena Bullock took third place. The field was about 30-40 Baristas deep.
Day two featured a Sustainability Panel that included Rob Stephen, Mark Inman, Jamie Shoenhut, Rik Klinfeldt, and Kim Bullock. The questions were pre-selected and were crafted, among other things, to illuminate many sides of the Direct Trade and Fair Trade issues, as well as the complications of organic farming and certification. Oswaldo Acevedo of Finca El Roble in Columbia was present as well, and the town of Easton officially named June 24th Oswaldo Day. Happy Oswaldo Day! Ellie Matuzak’s espresso extraction class proceeded Mike Love’s latte art class, and the day was rounded out with the latte art smakdown. The winner was a newbie named Mick from Boston Stok, with Tommy Gallagher coming in the top three with a daring single cup pour. Baristas were allowed to split their shot and submit their best of two pours.
The last day seemed to descend upon us quickly. Rob Stephen from Coffee Solutions actually brought along roasted coffees with green defects for us to sample. This was a very illuminating excessive, as we never get to taste much in the way of defects at this end of the supply chain. Mark Inman lead a giant cupping, where there was actually only one person in the room who had never cupped. I brought all the cups, spoons and hot water.
The attendance was a little lower than organizers had hoped for, probably due to fewer folks being able to afford travel this year. But for those who did make the trip, I think they couldn’t have asked for a more informative, beneficial, and exciting time. Plans are already being made to improve the functionality of the Brew Station, as we now feel it is indispensable at this event. Can’t wait till next year!