Kansas City & Competition Recap
All of the competition hype has calmed down, and I'm just now getting back into the swing of things here in Phoenix. The weeks leading up to Kansas City were absolutely insane with a promotion, moving, and practicing on top of it all. Even with competition on my mind, getting out of the desert and into a brand new city proved to be refreshing, enlightening, and waaayyyy too much fun. I'm already thinking about when's the soonest I can go back for a visit!
I could probably go on for a long time about how much I fell in love with KC. We visited so many cool shops, bars, and boutiques, and there were still so many more we didn't get to. Whatever assumptions you may have about this Midwestern town, toss them out of your mind and go see for yourself! Downtown Kansas City is very eclectic with tons of brick buildings, hills (PHX is quite flat, so you have to understand why I was stoked by this haha!), and some of the nicest people I've ever met. Locals were more than willing to suggest places to go and things to do. A majority of them were aware of the Qualifying Event happening and started to (correctly) assume that was why we were in town. The city screamed community, which is probably why I liked it so much. The same could also be said about the KC coffee scene. I learned quickly that the coffee community there is pretty tight-knit and everyone is extremely supportive of one another. I was able to snag a t-shirt that read, "Kansas City Coffee Scene: It's Like One Big 'Ol Coffee Shop." Those vibes were definitely felt throughout the week.
Here's a quick short list of places we went to and others you should definitely check out if you ever make a stop in this cool city:
- PT's at the Crossroads
- Parisi Coffee
- The Sundry
- Kansas City Union Station
- Little Freshie
- Westside Social
- Oddly Correct
- Quay Coffee
- The Westport District
- Also peep an in-depth look of KC Coffee in the Coffee Scene video series here.
Before I dive into the details of the actual competition, I have to briefly talk about the panel I attended titled, The Coffeewoman. Founded and hosted by the 2014 US Barista Champ, Laila Willbur, the panel not only delve into some of the struggles of a female coffee professional and barista competitor, but also provided some really awesome tools and advice for female entrepreneurs. I went to the event with two badass female competitors from Augies Coffee in Redlands, CA, Blair and Suzy, who is also a former Phoenix barista. The talking points of the panel truly deserves its own post, but I highly recommend you watch the recording of it here, thanks to Sprudge.com. There were moments when I was overcome with emotion while looking around and listening to these awesome female coffee professionals share their thoughts, concerns, and hopes for being a woman in a male-dominated industry. I even spotted a few guys who were moved by it, too. I walked out of there charged up and inspired to make some of my coffee dreams a reality, including bringing a similar event to Phoenix. Please watch the recordings when you have a chance! Feel free to send me an email with your thoughts about it. I'm always open to more discussion about topics like this.
As I mentioned in the last post, this was my second time going to competition with Cartel. With the aid of our Green Coffee Buyer & Head Roaster, Paul Haworth, I decided on a naturally-processed coffee from Antigua, Guatemela, Santa Clara, produced by Ricardo Zelaya. His farm is situated on the southern slopes of Volcan de Agua, one of three volcanos in the region, allowing his coffees to grow on some of the richest soil around. My routine was based around Zelaya's methods of experimentation with different processes and how his focus on quality starts with bettering the lives of his farmers. Santa Clara has been a part of his family for four generations and he is the last coffee-producing member of his family, so he takes extra special care of how this coffee is harvested and processed. It's been really awesome to learn and understand that Zelaya goes the extra mile to produce coffee for the specialty market and not commodity. It truly was a pleasure and an honor to serve this coffee at competition.
Dialing in Santa Clara and coming up with a signature drink was a group effort. The final tasting notes I focused on were mesquite, pineapple, and a root beer-like/creamy mouthfeel. I wanted to serve a signature drink that was cold and refreshing, but still kept the mouthfeel that I really enjoyed in the espresso. After playing around with a few ideas and experimenting, the final product was what I call the Ricardo Zelaya Refresco de la Fuego. The literal translation being, fire refresher. I pulled the espresso outside of the typical 30g-50g range and extended the output to 100g. A shot like this is called an allonge. The lower concentration really calmed down the mesquite flavor note and made the pineapple more prominent. I cooled the espresso in an ice bath during my routine so the beverage would be cold without the inclusion of ice. Going that route in building my drink maintained the root beer-like mouthfeel. In a chilled 5oz Old Fashioned cocktail glass, I muddled a slice of jalapeño, added the cooled espresso, and mixed in a mesquite-grilled pineapple syrup that I'd made with one of my good friends. I topped off the beverage with sparkling water, creating a very thick, aromatic foam on top. The florality and sweetness of the pineapple, as well as the smokiness of the mesquite came through in the foam, while you experienced a combination of effervescence and spice from the sparkling water and jalapeño. I finished by garnishing the magma-like foam with a slice of jalapeño and charred pineapple, which I torched on stage because I am a lowkey pyromaniac!
Overall, I'm really happy with how I performed and represented myself, CarteI, and Arizona. I did not qualify for Nationals, but my final score was only ten points less than the last competitor who did qualify, which is still really good! There were so many moments in the weeks prior to the event when I questioned myself and my ability to do this amazing coffee justice. But the passion Zelaya has for producing specialty coffee motivated and energized me, because I share that same passion for serving coffees like his. I'm already looking forward to the next competition, and this time I'm going all the way!
None of what I did in Kansas City would've been possible if it weren't for the amazing support and guidance of so many freaking people, who I would name if it didn't make this post any longer than it already is, but you all know who you are! ;)
You can watch my routine on YouTube, thanks to my friend, Richie, who captured and uploaded it! Want to have this coffee for yourself? Santa Clara will be on the shelves of all six Cartel stores by Friday and is already on our website! Please don't hesitate to contact me or find me at Cartel if you have feedback or questions about my routine, competition, in general, or anything else! Thanks for reading and following along.