By Emily McIntyre
Get out of the suburbs of Portland a bit, into the winding green hills of the Willamette Valley, and you’ll find a coffee company that’s consistently doing good, producing quality coffee, and doing it all without a hint of the snobbery that the coffee industry so often engenders. Caravan Coffee, led by owner Pete Miller, recently held its second Barista Show-Down in collaboration with the American Barista and Coffee School.
It was a hot Oregon day outside, but we didn’t mind because we were living the fine life, sipping local wine and beer, tasting handcrafted sodas using Monin’s Organics line, and watching six baristas from the area strutting their stuff in a competition with some damn-cool prizes. The best part is that all proceeds ”including the auction where a barista’s signature drink went for $51 ”were donated to the local Newberg Area Habitat for Humanity.
In my own way I’d been helping put this event together ”sending out press releases, shooting photos, and smiling madly at all concerned. Still, over the course of the day, I was surprised by the micro-cosm of good vibes that buzzed around me.
The judges were three: Paul Allen, Caravan’s head roaster and one of the first Q Graders; Marcus Young of Sustainable Harvest, a WBC judge and stunningly kind guy; and Mica Villaseno, also a roaster for Caravan and acting as technical judge, tango shoes and all. Since this is the second year for the Show-Down event, the judges had a pretty solid idea of what they were looking for in competitors, and I enjoyed the ways this competition differed from the usual barista competitions.
The competitors were six: Cole Werfulman of South Store, colorful in dress and blindingly fast in technique; Courtney Croft of Java the Hut, young but determined; Isaiah Pottle of H&H Coffee Co., sporting some of the coolest tattoos of the event and a cheerful stage presence; Nick Walton of Mud River Coffee & Chrysalis Coffee House, who would have looked at home at an MMA tournament but who evinced a convincing enthusiasm for cardamom; Sam Nelson of Java the Hut, veteran (12-years!) barista and painstaking in technique; and Maeghan Hebert of South Store, whose creative take on cold brew pushed the envelope in her signature drink.
When at the end of the day, Nick Walton received 3rd, Cole Werfulman 2nd, and new barista Courtney Croft 1st place, we were startled and gratified.
Each competitor prepared espresso, traditional (5.5 oz) capps, and a signature drink. Thirty minutes were allotted for prep, performance, and cleanup, and as the day passed the crowd grew. Families enjoyed pizza, a young barista/musician offered live guitar music, and Roger and Claudia Hirsch enjoyed their first real shot of espresso. Roger said, œIt gives me goosebumps! It’s like drinking single-malt scotch!
Throughout the event, raffles and even an auction were held for the Newberg Area Habitat for Humanity, and we were privileged to hear details from leader Lisa Thomas about how Hab4Hum operates ”even learning from a participating family what the process looks like on the ground and how lifechanging it is.
All in all, it was an event that built community and celebrated all that is wonderful about coffee culture. People, skill, connectedness.
A barista married to a Q Grader, Emily McIntyre wears plenty of hats in the coffee industry: as one of the kick-ass teammates at The LAB the West Coast Caffeine Crawls are her baby; she’s the newly-appointed “marketing person” at Case Study Coffee in Portland, Oregon; and as a freelance writer who is obsessed with the people who create and love coffee, she writes her way across the country as well as provides business writing services to coffee companies small and large. All social media handles ‘mcintyrewrites’. She also produces an intermittent travel / beverages blog at www.softexplosions.com.