Report - Day Three (Sunday, 17 April)

Day three started just like day two... with the Beginning Espresso Lab.
This time was a bit rougher than the previous day as my ankle was noticably more sore - resulting in a lot of hopping and one legged tamping.
At the same time - it was another good chance to have a positive impact on coffee. This time Andy from Barefoot and I co-instructed which was super fun. We both have very different styles (of teaching and when it comes to being a barista) but I felt like we reached an easy set of compromises and the folks in our group seemed to really enjoy the experience.
Again, as with the previous day, there were far too many people acting as instructors who were doing more damage than good.
The BGA really needs to own the espresso labs. Seriously. I've said it before but I can't say it often enough or loud enough.
Oh... and whoever stole my nice heavy leaded glass shotglasses sucks.

Anyway, did the quick wrap up and clean and cruised to the BGA booth. This was one of the highlight times of the weekend for me. Working the booth - playing around on the Synesso - serving luminaries, stars, heros, peers and coffee folks of all types good espresso. So much fun! I freaked a few folks out with my whole "what flavour profile do you want from your shot" spiel. It's really odd that more people haven't played around with the effects of different styles when it comes to extraction. Being a barista is all about understanding all the levers - the inputs - the variables. If you can understand them and their inter-relationships you can start tweaking the results. I pulled some shots for Kees. I pulled some shots for various alt.coffee folks. I pulled some shots for JimmyO. I pulled some shots for some Colombian producers who had never really understood espresso (very cool). I felt pretty good about the shots all things considered. It was weird to be on a totally new machine, a totally new grinder and with coffee I'd never used before. I think next time we might want to do things a bit differently.
The Synesso was pretty damn cool. I still am not a fan of their pre-infusion, but otherwise it's a damn fine machine.
All the grinders pretty much sucked. Then again, all the grinders available right now pretty much suck - so...

Actually, this is probably a good time to talk about grinders.
Espresso grinders were a constant theme throughout the show. Pretty much every single good barista at the show expressed a huge amount of frustration with the grinders that are currently available. And all the grinder vendors at the show showed no real interest in meeting our needs or listening to our feedback.
I don't understand what the problem is. Seriously. I mean - it's all very clear to us. Grinders right now all have two huge failings. First - the doser mechanisms (regardless of type, style, whatever) are all terrible. Second - they cook the coffee. The solutions are also pretty damn clear. First - they need to build a doserless grinder that doesn't clump and doesn't spray. It needs to drop the coffee directly into the basket without imparting a huge static charge and with decent distribution. Second - they need to decouple the motor and the burrs.
Imagine a Mazzer Robur in a wider case with the motor offset to the side and a clutched belt to connect the motor and the burr set. Now imagine it with a doserless system that meets the above requirements.
done. fixed. solved.

Instead, we get "oh, it would be too expensive" and we get "we'd probably sell 12 of them in the world" and we get "no-one really needs that."

Our complaints are not minor. When I say that the doser mechanisms are terrible what I mean is that all of them either:
1 - are designed to not grind to order and as a result, when we do grind to order, they trap stale coffee, they get dirty and compromise flavour, they create additional waste, they break due to metal fatigue and require expensive replacement and they result in RSI finger injuries.
2 - clump and/or spray coffee and create static charges which results in poor distribution and the resulting inferior shots, result in additional waste and create terrible problems with grind adjustment.
When I say that they overheat and cook the coffee I'm not exagerating. Some examples:
1 - With any of the grinders used in the booth (and the other two top tier options out there) the coffee is coming out of the grinder hot to the touch after less than 30 minutes of use. Not warm, but hot. Obviously, this not only compromises the resulting coffee but also creates terrible grind and extraction problems.
2 - When you disassemble these grinders after heavy use, you will find a hardened, baked-on crust of coffee slurry around the burr set areas. In some cases, I've needed to use a screw driver to chip it off.

Espresso machines have advanced dramatically in the last 15 years. Grinders, in the same time, have seen (at best) incremental progress. Someone needs to fix this.

After a great time at the BGA booth I ran over to the WBC to watch some more competitors.
Then back over to the show floor with Lizz and Steve from Stumptown.
Then back to the WBC to see the announcement of the finalists.
It was heartbreaking.
Phuong was in 7th - a half a point out of the finals.
She did such a good job. At the point where you're a half point out of the finals, you have to know it all came down to a roll of the dice. It all came down to the randomizing influence of judging selection and subjectivity.
She did a great job and should be proud.

Then off to the BGA party at Gameworks.
This had some highpoints without a doubt (sitting around a table, shooting the shit with various peers like Jay, John Hornall, Jimmy et al - talking about grinders and about beer and realizing yet again how different Stumptown really is). But it also had some low points ($5 bad beers and a space that made it really not feel like a party per se).
Wrapped this all up and took off for more drinks at Del Rey with Alex et al from Royal, Doug and the whole Intelligentsia crew and Duane and Jodi.
Actually... I think this was the first time all weekend that I got to spend time with them. It's weird to think that we were at the show together - they were so focused on the green bean/producer side and had so many meetings and I was so focused on the barista/espresso side and had all the classes and booth duties... it was like were at two different shows.
Had the first good beers of the day (thanks Alex) and then over to the Cyclops where the party was RAGING.
More beer, Nick doing an amazing impression of Dismas, various Australians out of control, various baristas misbehaving in public, a long talk with David from Counter Culture and a really great conversation with Doug Zell about the common issues facing our cafes. I think Intelligentsia is probably one of the few companies that has some of the same challenges we have. I really hope we can work together to solve them more effectively.
Eventually, Bronwen gave me a ride back to my hotel and I passed out.

A long day.

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