Archive for the ‘ Barista Training ’ Category

BGA chapter rep in the Housh!


Julie Housh, MidAtlantic BGA representative, was in Providence last weekend repping the BGA, signing up new memberships and promoting Camp Pull a Shot.  Go to the BGA web site and sign up when you have the scratch, and then you can stop complaining that people don’t take you seriously as a Barista.  Advance the professionalism, Hun!

Jay’s Strange Jam

The eagerly anticipated opening of Jay Caragay’s second Spro location in Hampden, Baltimore, was pre-heated with a dawn to dusk Barista Jam last Saturday. The day was the organizational brain child of Lindsay Wailes, one of Jay’s Baristas for the new location.  The basic outline of the day went like this

-Eat a catered pastry and yogurt breakfast

-Coffee brewing Demos

-Eva solo, Clever drip, Chemex, Syphon, Aeropress

-Free play


-Competition rules and judging workshop

-Latte art workshop

-Catered diner


The crowd gathers early in the AM

Barista Joy "controls the moist" with a Clever Drip

It was a lot of stuff to pack into one day.  Jay’s Baristas had been put in charge of dialing in all the brewing parameters of all the methods using all the coffees they carry.  There were multiple roasters represented from Barefoot, Intelligentsia, Hines , Counter Culture, as well as local Baltimore roasters Bluebird and Zekes.  I like how Jay has delegated the brewing parameters to the staff.  Simultaneously empowering, instilling confidence, and raising skill levels, this ingenious training tactic has made the shop a better place before the doors are even open.  Each brewing method was demonstrated by the Barista who personally developed the shop’s technique for that particular method.  All the methods delivered extremely good presentations of the coffees specifically chosen for each brewing device.

Lindsay Wailes, event organizer, watches over a syphon brew

The space is located along a retail strip of old, narrow store fronts in an area where the architecture is reminiscent a little bit of Washington DC.  There is comfortable church pew (rarely do the two go together) and handful of two topper tables and chairs.  The bar area is designed with the Barista in mind.  An island of counter houses the brew bar, with a large hot water tower and it’s own sink, a single halogen burner for the syphons, a two bay stainless steel pour over station, and spare room for scales and things.  The old LaMarzocco Linea, developed and built as a prototype for Starbucks many years ago (but never placed in green apron service) now features bright halogen lamps that illuminate only when the group is activated.  The white light created by these babies is soooo much nicer than the blue shift of LEDs.

The white halogen shines on Hines

There was a cupping lead by Devlin, formerly a roaster from New Harvest in Providence, Rhode Island.  Scott Conary, USBC big time judge talked about rules and judges, and various interpretations of rules.  I lead a latte art workshop.  It was my goal to have a very informative workshop while keeping to a minimum of demonstration.  The only latte art I poured for the workshop was a single Monk’s Head design, which is something I like for people to practice.  It is a great “back to basics” skill drill.

Edit:  It has just occurred to me that Scott Conary is a big time WBC judge, not USBC.

Keep the glow alive

You can read about the latte art throwdown in the previous post, which I won.  It is the first latte art throwdown I have ever won.  I won a bag of people’s stuff, which was kind of cool.

Meg will bury you with her polish technique

Meg and Cait of Baked and Wired in Georgetown, Washington D.C. came to one of our (Counter Culture Coffee) labs at the D.C. training center last week for some quality time with the equipment. As my loyal readers will know (you both know who you are), I am fascinated with Barista techniques and lingo. I consider myself a collector of sorts. I noticed Meg spinning her tamper like a D.J. and I asked her to reproduce her actions for the camera. This is for the benefit of the Barista community at large, as I hope to expand the knowledge and understanding of the craft among those who wish to know.

It looks a bit grainy in the compressed video, but look for the spinning logo on the butt of the tamper.

Update Nibblets

A long and grueling weekend of Coffee Fest in Atlanta has left me depleted of the energy to write up something long-winded and socially insightful at the moment. You can use these nibblets to snack down and be satisfied, (I say that as though I have a reading public clambering for more material, but you know what they say, built it and they will come).

Octane Coffee Bar & Lounge is pulling off the balancing act of being coffee bar, liquor bar, Internet bar, art hub, haven of house music, social gathering point, shining star of coffee excellence, and high crime location all at the same time. Nice Job.

-Laptop and camera stolen, life is meaningless when disconnected from the outside world. We are accused of creating a “Crime of Opportunity” by parking a locked vehicle on the street, under the street light, next to a busy location, while “security guards” patrol the area.

-Creating a big atrium inside of a hotel with a restaurant, reception hall, and liquor bar is a bad and noisy idea.

Intelligentsia‘s Sarah and Alex are lovely and dynamic, Jay Cunningham’s hair is very curly, and the rest of the crew are great folks (sorry for forgetting the other names) and made me some great coffee. Ellie was also nice and hospitable.

-Phillip Search is a cornucopia of technical knowledge, and works a fine looking copper clad lever machine. Dan Griffin was also working the 49th Parallel booth; I thought he was from NYC.??

– The coffee consuming public wants to participate in cuppings, but they just need a little tug in the right direction.

Chemically Imbalanced‘s Ben Szobody is surprisingly calm in person.

-Dan Griffin wins $157 dollars on the spot in the spontaneous Latte Art smack down at the Dirty Dirty South CCC party.

-Most of  Peter Giuliano’s stories about sourcing coffee in remote locations of the world go something like this:

-I was cupping many coffees in ______________, and it turned out that all the coffees I liked came from the same place, the village of _____________.

-I asked them to take me there, and we began our long and arduous journey crossing the __________ in a makeshift ___________,  and were in real danger of being _________ by the __________.

-All the villagers knew we were coming, so when we got there all the people were in the street to greet us with their hands in the air, cheering and signing while someone wearing a _____________ began the ______________, which is the local custom.

-That night they served roasted ______________ which I ate anyway, and it was delicious.  Then they poured me some _____________, which is a fermented ale made from ______________.

-They threw the big party because it was the first time since the ___________ that they now have the ability to sell their crop for good price, and now they can afford to feed their children.

Another Job Change


OK, OK, I swear this will be the last change of jobs for me, hopefully for ever. After four jobs in the last four years, my wife and I have decided to get her back up to her large, touchy-feely, Italian family in Philadelphia. For years it has been a source of stress for me to even consider trying to relocate and find a house, a job for both of us, a good school for Anna, a swim club (for those nostalgic moments created), and the stuff that needs to happen at the right time and in the right way to make a big move like that happen. Well they all happened.

After spending the summer training for my new job here in the Triangle, I will be off to Philly to open the not-yet-existing Counter Culture Coffee training center. I was offered a roasting apprenticeship by CCC in 1994, before they ever opened their doors, but the planets just would not line up at the time. Had I taken it, Daryn Berlin would probably be selling insurance right now. Good thing I didn’t, because he is going back and forth right now building the nest for me in Pennsylvania.

The good folks at Stockton Graham & Co. gave me their blessing to make the shift form one roaster to the other, and I thank them for that. Hopefully everyone will be happy with way it all turns out. I will always be grateful to them for giving me my first full time professional coffee position that did not involve working behind the counter all day.

I will be staying at my parents house through out the summer while my wife and daughter proceed without me for the time being. That is sure to be fun time. Really. No I mean it.

See you at the Rocky Ballboa statue.

Atlanta trip

I will be in Atlanta for the next two days to train on LaMarzoccos and Frankes.  I have come down in a rental car from North Carolina with my co-worker, John, and we had a filling dinner at a restaurant called The Vortex.  My chili dog was the biggest wiener I have ever seen.


Tomorrow we take our first class with the knowledgeable folks from ESI, who have been kind enough to travel here to the East coast, despite the ongoing East vs. West rivalry.

 On our drive down, while passing through South Carolina, it became clear that the further South you go, the more stuff people are willing to store in the front yard and out of doors.  These miscellaneous items include but are not limited too: old cars, old tractors, various and sundry bits of farm equipment, sheet metal, scrap metal, metal shavings, rusty metal, furniture, clothing, piles of shoes, bare peach trees (alive or dead, I cannot say).   They also seem to take great pride in their agricultural produce.


Tomorrow I’ll be visiting a cafe in town as well as a secret host in an undisclosed location.  Pictures to follow.

Level Tamp

I have noticed an incoming link to the Onion-Bean this last week from a European coffee forum for home baristas (Blogger be damned for your inability to keep track of these things). The link directed unfortunate coffee drinkers to my Naked Vs Spout acidity blog entry. On that whole matter I will say that for whatever reason (I will not try to link it necessarily to the acidity issue for lack of accurate scientific data) spout shots I have taste tested adjacent to naked shots have been noticeably and repeatably mellower and less bright. Shots split into two different demitasses by a spout are yet slightly less tangy than shots split by the spout but dripped into the one demitasse. Crema from the naked PF is enormous in the first few seconds, but dissipates quickly as the bubbles congregate rapidly into larger bubbles that pop, and spouted shots have produced tighter crema with more stability. But all that nonsense put aside, that is not the topic of this entry.

The forum topic which liked to this blog was more or less dedicated to techniques for tamping level in cases where spouts were wobbly, or for whatever reason unstable (it’s always the pool que, never the pool shooter). They seem to think the idea is to keep all the equipment level with the sea. For crying out loud, trust your instincts and use the Force, Luke. To be more specific, use your damn senses. You have finger tips calibrated to an extremely high level of sensitivity. Have you ever seen a Barista in a cafe, or during a competition for that mater, whip out a carpenter’s level, place it across the top of the basket, and make the needed adjustments to the tamp? I thought this would be an opportune moment to illustrate the technique I use. The simplicity, ease of use, and instant feedback make it perfectly desirable for any environment, professional, home, or competition. Allow me to illustrate.

tampin level

There is no need for tools or devices. I receive instant feedback from my fingertips and that allows me to make the necessary adjustments to the levelness on the fly. To the casual observer it may not even look as though anything is happening other than compression. I am also detecting the amount of grounds in the basket. As I make drink after drink, I can keep the total amount of coffee brewed at a very constant quantity for each shot because I always know if there is a tiny bit too much or too little in the portafilter.

This picture was taken in my kitchen, not at the cafe, so the portafilter is not a commercial brand ($70 Hamilton Beach-“15 Bar Italian pump”, still havn’t gotten a great shot out of it). I am placing the bottom edge of the pf at the edge of the table so that the spouts are dangling over the side. This keeps them from picking up grounds, which are all over the place at the shop.

Everyone has their own thing that they do. I try to make every step in the preparation of the shot purposeful, every action producing a particularly desired result. Many Baristas have habits they repeat every time, but when questioned, they have no reason other than they like how it feels, or that is what someone showed them. But everything has to point in the direction of great espresso. Even when you understand all the variables that should be under control, it is still hard to get great shots one after another. If you are not paying attention to every little detail, you can kiss your flavor good bye. But most importantly on the subject of level tamping, you do not need a bunch of prosthetic devices to hold everything in place and aligned with the magnetic poles in order to get good results. Just “feel it” into place, and make it feel exactly the same every time.