Barista Camp: A Huge Success!

I just got back to Portland from the first annual Barista Guild of America Camp Pull-A-Shot—and what an amazing experience it was!

Fun outside the Mess Tent! The food we were served (yep, all meals were included in the low camp price tag of $550, along with lodging and all classes) was hella tasty! Holla!)

I do apologize for not being able to blog throughout the event. Maybe lack of internet was annoying, but if that’s the only problem we really encountered during Camp, then can we really complain? It’s absolutely unbelieveable how smooth Camp Pull-A-Shot went: activities were well organized and executed, speakers were engaging and approachable, social activities were original, educational and totally kick-ass fun. In asking the campers—more than 110, which means the event was a sold-out success—what they would change about future BGA camps, the overwhelming idea was to make camp one day longer, so there would be more time to absorb all the varied hands-on workshops and the discussions. So as far as complaints go, that’s a pretty good one to have, don’t you think?

One thing I was totally stoked to see was that not only was the winner of the Camp Pull-A-Shot video contest (sponsored by the BGA and hosted on Barista Mag’s blog a few weeks ago, which found 11 baristas submitting videos telling us why they desereved to win a free trip to camp), Sanford Bledsoe, there, but a handful of the other video contest entrants were there, including Sam Brown and Codty Kinart of Alterra Coffee, and Cameron Peterson of the Coffee Ethic, who said their friends, families and coworkers were so inspired by their level of enthusiasm that they made it possible for these guys to attend camp, even if they didn’t win the contest. Pretty great, huh?

My man Sandy. He traveled from Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he works at Comet Coffee, to attend Camp Pull-A-Shot as the BGA/Barista Mag video contest winner.

Sanford will be writing an article about his camp experience for the next issue of Barista Magazine, so look for more details about all the education and the crazy, barista-style fun that took place at El Capitan Canyon in Santa Barbara, Calif., this past week.

Until then, here are some photo highlights from Camp Pull-A-Shot…

Gianni of Nuova Simonelli, and Jamin of Cafe Imports. This camp wopuld not have been possible without the incredible support of the sponsors!!

First night of Camp: campers are divided into 11 teams, told to determine team names, captains, and assemble various information about the team members, and then announce themselves to the group.

One team name was Team Better Than A One-Armed Barista, in reference to camper Chris Baca, who showed up at camp with a fractured wrist (I think... it was in a sling). Booya!

Team captain Jacob tells the crowd about his team, while Marcus gets all the deets down on the board.

Camp attire: Strictly casual. Originality welcome.

Barista Guild of America Barista Certification tests for level one and level two were administered on the first and third nights of Camp. Testing on the first night of camp—which is what BGA Councilmember Anne Nylander is administering here—went until about 1 a.m. On the third night, it went til sunrise. These are some dedicated baristas, wouldn't you say?

It wouldn't be camp if there wasn't some mischief, right? So my roommate and dear friend, Aida (yup, THAT Aida, i.e. the Salvadoran coffee producer whose Santa Ana farms have won the CoE) and our pal Robert who owns an espresso catering company in Las Vegas, raided the mess tent, borrowed equipment and coffee, brought it back to Aida's and my cabin, made coffee, cleaned the equipment, and then returned it, all under a cloak of darkness!

Teams each had to work a shift at the Camp Cafe. They were judged by a secret shopper on their organization in their "shop," the quality of drinks served, customer service, cleanliness, and ability to market their team. This was Team Brown Seahorse and the Power Animals.

One of the awesome instructors for Camp was Ms. Sarah Kluth, who is just delightful in the way she imparts her knowledge on baristas and inspires them to commit themselves to coffee.

This photo is from a discussion that took place on what newbies need to know about entering barista competitions. It was a lively discussion, with conflicting opinions about how seriously to take competing and what it was possible to get out of the experience. With such veterans of competition as Heather Perry, Sammy Piccolo, Mike Marquart, Chris Baca, and Nick Cho, there were a lot of theories to explore.

Baristas couldn't get enough of the hands on workshops, which included plenty of playing with espresso on the beautiful La Marzoccos and Nuova Simonellis on hand, but also on the bevy of manual brewing equipment. Here is one such workshop.

On the second night, SCAA President Peter G. gave an inspiring speech to the baristas. He also let them know that he is the first person who has ever been president of the SCAA who actually got his start in coffee as a barista. He told them how important the barista community is, how essential and how integral to the future of our entire coffee industry.

So back to what I was saying about Aida: over the course of the three days of Barista Camp, Aida Batlle became the first coffee producer in the world to become BGA certified. She practiced HARD -- no one let her slide by here, and she wouldn't have wanted them to. Instead, she relied on the help of her friend, Allie Caran, who runs the coffee program at Woodbury Kitchen in Baltimore, to help her practice and train for the test. And she passed! And Allie passed, too! They were so, so, so excited. A whopping 73 baristas passed certification over the course of camp. That's really something incredible.

More proud—and certified—baristas: Joshua Boyt, Sandy Bledsoe, Sammy Piccolo.

Here are the members of Team 2060, which was the big winner of the Camp Cafe challenge. They said they decided to name their team 2060, because it is currently the year 2010, but they think they should focus on what they can develop specialty coffee into in the next 50 years. They were so successful in the Camp Cafe challenge because they really understood their coffee, offered unbeatable customer service, and celebrated their coffee producer in a special way.

Is this what you think it is? Yes. Yes, it is. It's Gianni of Nuova Simonelli getting ready to do a keg stand.

BGA Executive Council members gave each other the level 2 test. But of course, these guys are dedicated enough that they made sure every other barista had finished the test and gone off to bed before they got going with testing each other... that means that it was 3 a.m. -- as seen on Anne's phone in this photo -- before Trevor got underway testing Scott. Seriously, some of the best people I've ever met, coffee or otherwiese, on this BGA EC.

This Camp would not have been possible—no, wait, make that: this camp would not have been TOTALLY AMAZING, much less possible, without the hundreds and hundreds, and I’m talking HUNDREDS of hours of work that the members of the Barista Guild of America’s Executive Council volunteered over the last year. So a very special thanks to them, as well as their fearless ally, Marcus Boni of the SCAA.

BGA Chair Scott Lucey

BGA Vice Chair Jason Dominy

BGA Immediate Past President Heather Perry

Council Member Chris Baca

Council Member Daniel Streetman

Council Member Trevor Corlett

Council Member Anne Nylander

Council Member Ben Helfen

Word.

About the Author

Sarah Allen is co-founder and editor of Barista Magazine, the international trade magazine for coffee professionals. A passionate advocate for baristas, quality, and the coffee community, Sarah has traveled widely to research stories, interact with readers, and present on a variety of topics affecting specialty coffee. She also loves animals, swimming, ice cream, and living in Portland, Oregon.