From March 5-8, the Oregon Convention Center in Portland is hosting the 2009 United States Barista Championship. Leading up to the USBC, I’m showcasing baristas who decided to compete for the American coffee crown. Meet Chris DeMarse from Alliance World Coffees in Muncie, Indiana, the 2009 Great Lakes Regional Barista Finalist.
Josh Lurie: Did anything surprise you about your regional competition?
Chris DeMarse: The fact that I placed was really the biggest shock to me. I was pretty limited with time constraints in prepping for my regional and found myself scrambling at the last minute to get everything together. I felt like, even though I knew I had a solid performance, I was just happy to do better than I did last year (20th place). 4th was a great surprise.
JL: Will adjust your approach for the United States Barista Championship? If so, how?
CD: I think that there are small finishing touches in my setup that could make things run a bit smoother. I know I want to build a custom drink carrier for my sig drinks and work out a couple other little things. I think, though, that it being less than two weeks away prohibits me from doing much more than that.
JL: What is your goal at the USBC?
CD: To compete confidently and solidly. I figured out that putting pressure on myself only inhibits my ability to perform. Therefore, I am only expecting to do better than I did at USBC last year. It would be nice to make it to semis, but I’m just happy to go for the learning experience.
JL: What did you learn by competing at your regional?
CD: What I learned this year fits more into a perspective issue. I want to start by saying that I think that training for competition and entering into competition is honorable and praiseworthy. A lot of people put a lot of energy into making it happen. However, this is all (for lack of better terminology) simply a game. It was intended to be fun and to help people grow in their craft. Somehow, for many of us I believe it has become an unhealthy way of defining our identity in the industry. I know plenty of amazing baristas who kill it on the bar everyday who wouldn’t be good competitors, but they deserve more respect than the guy who has a perfect routine but it unable to function in a real cafe setting. The real win is serving well everyday to keep customers happy.
JL: What’s your training schedule like until the USBC?
CD: Fundamentals are first. I am using a doser grinder, so I have a time pattern to keep my dose consistent. I work on honing that and making capps over and over again. If the coffee isn’t on, then forget my talking points and my crystal clear water glasses. That’s usually a two hour practice session in itself.
JL: What’s a coffeehouse you didn’t know about before your regional competition that you now plan to visit?
CD: Intelligentsia. Just kidding. Probably didn’t know much about Italian Coffee Bar until I hung out at their place the other day. I liked their tight little setup. Even though they had a small space, they were still rocking a FB/70.
JL: What’s your approach in choosing the music that plays during your performance?
CD: The letter U defines all my music sets for comp. I want to start high energy and really engage people. In the middle there needs to be a lull. This serves as a contrast for a crescendo to finish the performance. I want people to be emotionally engaged in the performance, and so music makes it more of a reality.