Editor’s note: Don Niemyer and his wife, Carissa, operated Speedboat Coffee in Portland, Ore., until not too long ago when he and his family decided to make a big change: not only were they relocating to Fort Collins, Colorado, but they were going to take their sweet time doing it. Don, his wife, and their two daughters ages 7 and 8, decided to leave Portland in their Volkswagon Rialta RV to travel around the country visiting cafes. My old pal Chrissy Hoag, who had gotten to know Don when she was in wholesale at Stumptown Coffee, put me and Don in touch originally, and we’ve been chatting about Don writing a column for the Barista Magazine Blog for a while. We got serious about it in May when he emailed saying he was ready to get rolling with it. He wrote, œOver the past year, we actually DID move into an RV just to be prepared for the trip, but haven’t gotten around to leaving town yet. We decided to go ahead and do a portion of our trip starting in June, and do the rest whenever the shop sells. In the meantime, if you happen to have an idea of how this type of trip could be used to create a story for BMAG I’d love to talk about it. I’ve been thinking of collecting œbest practices or maybe doing a œstate of the nation kind of approach or maybe coming at it from the standpoint of highlighting some lesser known folks who are out there doing great work, which might be encouraging to readers ¦ I’ve been blogging a little to kind of experiment with finding an approach at two sites, if you care to check them out: www.rialtacoffeetour.wordpress.com,www.pdxcoffeeconsultants.wordpress.com.
So I told Don to go for it ”this is exactly the kind of story we love featuring at Barista Magazine: real stories from the field about people who love coffee so much they want to explore it in an entirely unique way.
Here is the fourth installment of Don’s column, The Rialta Coffee Tour. Don will be exploring different themes as he continues to write for us, so check back often to see what he and his family have been up to on this most killer cafe tour of the United States!
(Pssst! You can read Part 1 of the column HERE, Part 2 of the column HERE, and Part 3 of the column HERE!)
ALL ABOUT SIGNATURE DRINKS
By Don Niemyer
There are a lot of reasons to judge barista competitions. The professional development. The new friends you make and the old ones you catch up with. An excuse to experience a new city you’ve never been to. All great and legitimate reasons to do it. But right at the tippy top of that justification pyramid is the one thing that a USBC Sensory Judge gets to do that no one else does: Taste all of those amazing signature beverages! Everyone in the audience, all the people watching on the live stream, and anyone who reads about them has to wonder: œSounds great, but I wonder what it TASTES like?!?
Each signature beverage must have at least one shot of espresso and at least one other ingredient. And when those other ingredients include things like caramelized brown sugar or gummy worm reductions or carbonated strawberries, they can be awfully enticing! So for the past couple years, Carissa and I have had a front row seat to this exclusive experience as we have judged at several of these competitions, tasting dozens of these amazing drinks.
But as we’ve traveled the country in our 21-foot Volkswagen Rialta RV looking for innovators in the coffee community, we have realized that the exclusivity of this experience is dwindling. That’s right: signature-style beverages are increasingly making their way onto menus in cafes across the country. They’re frequently kind of tricky to pull off (these suckers don’t usually lend themselves to mass production) and not always understood by consumers. But it’s a trend we have spotted nonetheless, and we thought we’d mention a few folks who are taking a run at it. Check these guys out!
In 2013, barista competition superstar Pete Licata became just the second American ever to win the WBC. And one of the components of his competition was this tasty little devil. It’s basically a non-alcoholic, espresso based cocktail, and when we passed through last August, it was on the menu for 6 bucks at Pete’s home base, Parisi Coffee in Kansas City, Missouri.
Another competition legend is Heather Perry, two time United States Barista Champion and 2nd place finisher at the 2007 WBC. Heather’s family owns Klatch Coffee in San Dimas, Calif., where custom beverages are a regular feature on the menu. When we drove through Southern California recently, we got to try this little jewel called the œCooling Coconut Lime , featuring espresso, coconut milk, and a twist of garnish over ice. Sorry for the bad pic. It was so hot that day we forgot to take the picture before we tried it!
Single Origin in Los Angeles is really just a little stand at a farmer’s market ”but don’t let the small size fool you! These cats take their espresso very seriously. Check out this menu. It screams œwe know what we’re doing. But one other thing it screams? œWe’re not afraid to create espresso-based, cleverly named, competition style concoctions and put ˜em right up on there.
When we stopped in at Revel 77 in Spokane, Wash., we were met with a sleek, dialed in decor; a passionate, knowledgeable barista; and the Revel Fizz. Think Italian soda with espresso and house made vanilla syrup. Beautiful and delicious!
So that’s just a few of the places we saw delivering the sig-bev goods to their customers. I think our main takeaway was simply to not be afraid of it! Push some boundaries, get out of that dreaded box, and tap your creativity. It’s a great way to keep your baristas engaged, give your menu a fresh twist, and encourage a few more customers to enjoy your delicious coffee in a whole new way. And when you do create something magically delicious, would you do me a solid and let me know about it? I’d love to share it with our readers. You can post it up over at www.rialtacoffeetour.wordpress.com. I’ll be looking forward to hearing from you!
Meanwhile, I’ll be working on our next installment of the Rialta Coffee Tour, where we’ll have a look at some of the interesting places people are coming up with to stick a coffee bar. From Farmer’s Markets to bamboo workshops to mobile trucks and loading docks ”turns out you can put a coffee bar just about anywhere! See you then!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Don and Carissa Niemyer have owned three different coffee shops in Portland, OR over the past 5 years. They are planning to relocate to Fort Collins, CO where they will continue in the coffee industry, but the opportunity to visit the nation’s finest coffee houses on the way seemed too good to pass up. In preparation for this adventure they moved into a 99 square foot, VW Rialta RV, where they currently reside full time with their two daughters, and travel around pouncing on unsuspecting baristas when they can. Read more about their adventures at www.rialtacoffeetour.wordpress.com.