Letter from Camp: Alex LittleJohn’s BGA Camp Experience

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Editor’s note: I loved seeing photos posted to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram from the most recent Barista Guild of America (BGA) Camp, which took place in Delevan, Wisconsin, last week June 2–5. I chatted with friends who were there about the experience—some said it was more conference-y than camp-y, and I wanted to hear more about what went down those four days at Lake Lawn Resort. I asked our friend Alex LittleJohn of Verve Coffee Roasters, who is also a member of the BGA’s Executive Council, write about it for us, and she was excited to share her story. And by the way, if you’re not tuned into Alex’s awesome personal blog, you should be! So without further ado…

Camp!
Text by Alex LittleJohn
Photos by Nick Spector

Once again, the Barista Guild of America and SCAA have hosted a stellar event! This summer was our first camp in the Midwest, and the community there was thirsty for coffee education. Summer camp in was held at the Lake Lawn Resort, near Lake Geneva in Delevan, Wisconsin, bar none the swankiest spot we’ve been to! Like in years past, there were team challenges, BGA certification courses, as well as exams and a ton of interesting lectures. This was also the second year we were able to have a round table discussion, entitled “Symposium at Camp”, with the topic of microlots and whether they are worth paying for.

BGA Head Dude Trevor Corlett welcomes camper to Delevan.

BGA Head Dude Trevor Corlett welcomes camper to Delevan.

Author Alex at right discusses something—I'm thinking probably about coffee—with a fellow camper.

Author Alex at right discusses something—I’m thinking probably about coffee—with a fellow camper.

The team challenges have evolved, keeping game show night on opening night, but changing from Jeopardy and The Price is Right, to Family Feud. Since I am an avid Family Feud fan, I was impressed and surprised by the survey answers. I really enjoyed that the campers could participate in the survey before camp and witness the results together! Questions ranged from “Name a common green coffee defect”—which can be a hard question when you don’t buy green coffee—all the way to “Things you would find in a 3rd wave coffee shop.” Through that last question, it is apparent that we absolutely stereotype ourselves, considering two of the top survey answers were “facial hair” and “tattoos.”

Each team had to organize and open a cafe during camp.

Each team had to organize and open a cafe during camp.

The coveted prizes the teams were playing for.

The coveted prizes the teams were playing for.

Teams this year had some of the most creative and fun names yet! #team12, who won most team spirit, had a team captain in nothing but a toga for challenges, and had their very own Twitter, Facebook and Tumbler account by the first night! The Curd Herd was another great team that won the best signature beverage challenge, where teams were given a bag of 4 secret ingredients to make 2 distinct sig bevs and present them to two judges. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Some of these ingredients included Dr. Pepper, tomatoes, barbecue sauce, butter… the list goes on. Making a tasty bev without preparation was impressive. The Curd Herd won with a beverage made with tomatoes, clove, honey, and chocolate. I had the privilege of being a member of the team that won the coveted golden cow trophy, team Retro Nasal, that excelled in all the challenges, including winning trivia night!

Michael (left) and Anne knockin' em back.

Michael (left) and Anne knockin’ em back.

Perhaps my favorite team name.

Perhaps my favorite team name.

Toga-wearing team leader.

Toga-wearing team leader.

Camp’s curriculum is constantly evolving and growing; not only were the level one and two course requirements offered, but two new classes were beta tested; including “Intro to Sensory Analysis,” which will count as credit towards the SCAA’s new cup tasters certificate, as well as “Advanced Customer Services,” a 300-level course that will eventually be rolled into the level 3 cert, or “Master Barista Certificate,” and last but certainly not least, the lecture, “Turbo Charge your Café Sales.” Dr. Laura Lee Larson, who is an expert in training, sales, and category management, presented both the café sales, as well as advanced customer service lectures. Her experience with companies like Wrigley, Solo Cup, and Miller Brewing gave the attendees a better overall perspective of how we as an industry can do better and learn more from larger, and more corporate companies. I believe these two lectures are an invaluable addition to the camp curriculum, especially for café owners.

The always-entertaining Joe of Cafe Imports.

The always-entertaining Joe of Cafe Imports.

Teams working their make-shift cafes.

Teams working their make-shift cafes.

Alterra dudes in the house.

Alterra dudes in the house.

Brian from UNIC shows the barista how the Stella di Caffe boutique espresso machine works.

Brian from UNIC shows the barista how the Stella di Caffe boutique espresso machine works.

Symposium at camp was another huge success and a joy to have the opportunity to discuss microlots in a way I don’t believe anyone was prepared to. Kim Elena, who is a green buyer and sustainability manager at Counter Culture, has been conducting research on if buying these more expensive microlot coffees really does change the lives of the farmers we purchase them from. The data, which is still being collected, showed that quality is important, but that these higher prices are in fact not life changing for these producers. Most of the data showed that although a sence of pride and accomplishment was achieved, pay was not really going up. The roundtable discussions were intense and extremely revealing on the way we as baristas talk about these coffees to customers, what we really understand about quality, and mostly that we need to be charging more for a cup of coffee, because as of now, these farms are sustaining but not thriving. And neither are our baristas. Personally, I am thirsty for more studies such as these and am, again, overwhelmed by how much I still don’t know about coffee. Intriguing, insightful, compelling, and transparent are just a few words to describe Kim Elena’s work—keep an eye out for more fantastic information coming from this lady!

Kim Elena of Counter Culture had the crowd riveted.

Kim Elena of Counter Culture had the crowd riveted.

Lectures were integrated with hands-on exercises.

Lectures were integrated with hands-on exercises.

Building wacky signature drinks.

Building wacky signature drinks.

Teams had to work together technically as well as creatively.

Teams had to work together technically as well as creatively.

Wisconsin barista camp was by far the most organized, efficient and (in my humble opinion), well executed. On top of the lectures I covered earlier, there was also the “Man vs. Machine Debate,” hosted by the fabulous Rusty Angell of Bunn and myself, “Deconstructing the Espresso Machine,” hosted by the legendary Jim Karr, and the results from Emma Bladyka’s coffee staling study, which I have to say was just icing on the cake! For all of you still using craft bags, check out those results from Emma; I guarantee you’ll want to look into other options for packaging coffee.  I would encourage anyone in the coffee industry to attend at least one barista camp; it is by far my most favorite event of the year and hands down where I grow the most as a professional. I’ll see you all in October for Palm Springs, California, Camp!

Deborah accepts a cupping spoon prize.

Deborah accepts a cupping spoon prize.

Everyone's a winner at Barista Camp. But these guys were the winner winners.

Everyone’s a winner at Barista Camp. But these guys were the winner winners.

 

 

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