Leading up to the 2009 United States Barista Championship, I had an opportunity to participate in a run-through with Intelligentsia Coffee baristas Nick Griffith, Devin Pedde and Ryan Willbur at the company’s Glassell Park lab. They swept the top three slots at last month’s Western Regional Barista Championship and are hunting for greater glory in Portland beginning March 5. To prepare for the competition, they’ve been training together several hours a day. Willbur and Pedde work behind the bar full-time at Intelligentsia’s Silver Lake coffeehouse and Griffith is one of the company’s two L.A. based sales reps.
Intelligentsia built a lab adjacent to their roasting works that hosts coffee cuppings and training sessions. Yesterday, reigning United States Barista Champion Kyle Glanville – Intelligentsia’s Director of Innovation – presided over trial performances with Pedde and Willbur, complete with musical accompaniment and a stopwatch to make sure they didn’t exceed the 15-minute time limit. On one of the lab’s stainless steel tables, the crew set up a faux judge’s table, complete with four place settings, and they pulled shots from a four-group Nuova Simonelli espresso machine.
Glanville began Pedde’s run-through by asking, “What can we expect to be better this time?” That was the mantra for the day’s trials. The “judges” didn’t have official score sheets, but Griffith, Willbur, aspiring Intelligentsia barista Derek Griesbach and myself all took notes during Pedde’s presentation. During Willbur’s run-through, Pedde served as a judge. Pedde and Willbur prepped espressos, cappuccinos and signature drinks for each of us. After he called “Time,” each “judge” provided feedback relating to presentation and espresso drinks.
The Intelligentsia baristas all want to become United States Barista Champ, but they view their training sessions as collaborative and readily dispensed constructive criticism to better their co-workers’ performances. They took turns making points about voice inflection, the consistency of their crema, whether to pour their caps at the machine or at the judges’ table, how to maximize efficiency and which flavor descriptors to use when presenting the coffee. Willbur and Pedde have both competed before at the USBC, but Glanville still had some pointed comments about how to improve.
At the USBC, Griffith, Pedde and Willbur will all use the same coffee that they did during the Western Regional Barista Competition. “We all planned to use different coffees,” said Pedde, “but our coffees are tasting better than ever. Also, it’s nice to have the familiarity.”
Willbur is representing Intelligentsia at a latte art contest this weekend in Chicago, but Griffith and Pedde will be at the lab, grinding out training sessions.