Tuesday, June 21, 2005

   from Nick


What phrase strikes more fear in the hearts of competition-level coffeebar owners more than any other?

"Hey, I finally get to go to your shop tomorrow!"

(On a side note, I'm trying out the term "competition-level" to describe retail shops that are going for that "ultimate espresso experience." Actual participation in barista competitions isn't the issue... the skill, knowledge and passion that the competitions are trying to embody is.)

The thoughts and feelings that I'm feeling at that moment are mixed for sure. Of course, it's always a pleasure to receive guests, and I'm always appreciative of the fact that our passion for coffee is being recognized. On the other hand, there's this anxiousness that usually accompanies a visit by your parents to your third grade teacher. What will happen? What will they talk about? Will I be praised? Will I be embarrassed? Should I just ground myself now?

The anxiousness that I speak of is, of course, due to the fact that though my shop has gained some sort of good reputation out there, not every barista in my stable is competition-caliber. Horrible images pass through my brain. Crema... breaking atop the moderately overextracted double espresso, as the just-started-solo-on-bar barista hands the not-quite-preheated-enough demitasse across the counter into the expectant hands of a "V.I.P." Maybe it's Mark Prince. Maybe it's my third grade teacher.

The next thought as perspiration begins to appear on my forehead and my breath quickens, is, "Who the heck is gonna be working bar?" Then, "Maybe I should try to be there and make their drink," then, "No, if I do that, then I'll seem like I'm trying to cover-up poor barista training." Then, you resort to the mantra that any coffeebar owner in any sort of stressful situation repeats in their mind on a daily, often hourly basis: "W.W.D.Z.D.?" (What Would Doug Zell Do?)

True role models nowadays are a rare commodity for sure, but there's nothing that can inspire someone like seeing someone, as Aaron likes to say, "BRING IT" on a consistent level. I might even add, if you're finding yourself in situations where you feel like the most hard-core, most passionate coffee person around... pick up yo ass and get yo self to somewhere that will humble you.

I started out just rambling about the whole anxiety thing, and hadn't really planned on how to finish this entry. But as I stare at the letters: W.W.D.Z.D., I realize that it's all about inspiration. I took a trip to Chicago a couple of months ago specifically to see Intelligentsia in action, and you'd better believe I came back even more fired up about "BRINGING IT" than before. With all due respect to the others in our fair industry, I have never seen a group of people with their cumulative level of passion and professionalism.

This still being June, and the first USBC Regional Barista Competition this year still at least a couple of months away, I just wanted to reiterate what I've been saying a lot these days. These competitions and barista jams can make a huge difference in igniting some real passion in a barista. It's not really about education or skill-building. It's the experience of spending time with other coffee professionals who are clearly MORE dedicated to the craft than you are.

Thankfully, I'm feeling this "barista anxiety" less and less these days. It's because I have a full-time barista trainer and coffee manager like Aaron, a general manager like Ryan, and baristas like Katie, Mandy, Dan, and the rest of the crew.

While I'd love to just credit them as people for their passion and dedication, there's one more fact that has undeniably been what turned the corner for them: participation in barista competitions and jams. Not coincidentally, that's what the competitions and jams have really been all about. They are the match that can really start an explosion.

On the other hand, you need a good fuse... though I guess that may be the harder part... and a topic for another post.


Anonymous ThaRiddla said...

I'm totally making bracelets :D

Seriously Nick, those are some very kind words. Many thanks.

6/22/2005 07:50:00 AM  
Blogger chris said...

Doug deserves all the praise - but so do his folks. He's got the team to die for.

on the other hand I hate the "competition-level coffeebar" thing

6/22/2005 10:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The espresso I had at your store was wonderful.

Your third grade teacher

6/22/2005 09:31:00 PM  
Blogger Ellie said...

Thanks for the kind words to nick and to chris. Coming from you 2 it's very humbling to be complimented.

6/23/2005 07:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Murphy -

That was an awesome post. Its knowing there are people like you, and Phuong, and Ritual (Elaine/Jeremy) out there, that make it fun to be in this business. And that help me to not feel so alone as a business partner-less owner. I know zactly what you're feeling. Thanks for putting it into words.


6/23/2005 10:44:00 AM  
Anonymous slinger said...

"Theologians, they don't know nuthin' 'bout my soul." J.Tweedy

I met those guys at the Jam and you are in good hands. Thanks for throwing some their way. And your customers, be they rockstars or regulars, are in good hands. Fact is we can all get caught on a bad day. I love my customers who will tell me when something wasn't "the way you would do it." And then tell me who pulled their shots after I assure them nobody is going to get in trouble. The point is to get that barista to the same level. That being said, please give me a week's notice before coming to the Burg.

6/25/2005 03:18:00 PM  
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