Editor’s note: When Meg Donohue, co-owner of Blue Star Coffee Roasters in Twisp, Wash., first told me about her plans to host a barista jam in Eastern Washington state, I was so excited. Seattle seems to get all the attention surrounding coffee, but Eastern Washington has it going on, too. Want proof? Blue Star Coffee Roasters won first place in Coffee Fest’s America’s Best Espresso Competition in 2012, for starters. I was incredibly bummed that I wouldn’t be able to join the crew of baristas, cafe owners, roasters, equipment manufacturers, and coffee pros in Twisp for the 509 Barista Jam due to a scheduling conflict. Lucky for Barista Magazine, local writer and photographer Madeline Naumann was on the scene to cover the event for us. So much happened at the 509 Barista Jam (509 is the area code for Twisp, btw), that we’re featuring Madeline’s article and photos in two parts. What follows is the second installment, and we invite you to also read the first part, which we published on Tuesday, HERE. We were very inspired by what the Blue Star team organized for Eastern Washington with this event—it proves that you don’t have to be in a big city to have an amazing coffee community event. Bravo, folks.
Article and photos by Madeline Naumann
After the latte art competition (which is described in part one of this article), the crowd moved into party mode as the local band, Serteshus, set up. Brats were grilled and the bonfire was stoked. Laura Gunnip, from Door No. 3, Print & Book Art Studio, orchestrated a ‘print-your-own’ t-shirt silk screening table where we all got to print our own 509 Barista Jam souvenier shirts, and we all got acquainted while sipping locally brewed Twisp River Pub beer and munching Washington cherries. There was laughter and plenty of conversation about coffee culture in the ‘509’.
“There are fewer places that are doing specialty coffee and those that are doing it whole heartedly. We have to work a little harder, be a little more passionate.” said Holly Williams from Anjou Bakery in Cashmere. “509 baristas have to really love coffee,”agreed Meg Donohue of Blue Star, which hosted the 509 Barista Jam. “ They have to go out of their way to achieve quality; it is harder to do in an area that has less population density, less access to good products and training.”
I spoke with Jenny from Lonepine Fruit and Espresso, who came with over 14 years of coffee experience and a lust for more knowledge, as well as Ashley from Café Columbia in Wenatchee’s Pybus Market, who has been brewing coffee for almost 10 years. “I came here to learn more,” Ashley told me. “You can always learn more stuff about coffee, it doesn’t matter how long you have been doing it.”
When the conversation shifted to specific 509 barista challenges, attendees spoke about customers with the the kind of humor that is specific to the coffee industry. “When the pass opens, west-side people come in and order the split shot—1/2 pump caramel Americano with three ice cubes—and we accommodate that,” said Liz from Noca Coffee in Winthrop. “But when they ask for goat’s milk [shakes her head]; why would we have goat’s milk?! Because we live in the woods?!” She went on to say that the locals are a bit more simple and earthy in their tastes, going for short Americanos, in contrast with those from the other areas of Eastern Washington that like 32-ounce white chocolate mochas.
In a region where specialty coffee is relatively new, and the coffee culture is budding. There was much discussion among business owners about how to cater to their customers’ tastes for lots of milk and syrup while still being able to showcase their artisan product. “Part of it [being a 509 barista] is also about training the customer, educating them in such a way that isn’t going to put them off, but also letting them experience what it is you have to offer,” advised Bronwen Serna, trainer for the Barista Guild.
Michael Tormanen and his wife Jenna own the Local, the first specialty coffee house in Kennewick, with another young couple, Zimri and Maria Barker. Michael said that a big part of being a barista on the Eastside is educating eager consumers. Then I was introduced to their ‘beloved barista’ Micah Luebben, who started out as an eager customer and became a star employee. “I love everything about coffee—the taste, flavor, and experience of it,” Micah said. “Being a barista has been a beautiful adventure and I want to be in this world for the rest of my life.”
Attendees really showed a genuine passion for the art of coffee and also a sincerity that seems unique to the Eastern Washington small-town barista identity. Kara, owner of Free Bird Espresso, really summed it up by saying, “My customers aren’t just people passing through, they are mostly all regulars. So I want to do nice things for them, because they are supporting my family. In general, I think Eastside baristas are a little less pretentious and a little more sincere. ”
The party went late into the night, (baristas know how to party and still wake up to an alarm), but people dispersed eventually to their campsites and hotel rooms, excited for the following day’s activities.
In the morning, we were greeted at the Blue Star Roasting Plant and Coffee Bar with fresh brewed drip and pastries from the Okanogan Bakery. “Welcome to the coffee nerd headquarters of the universe!” exclaimed Meg as she introduced the workshop program for the day. We started off with a roasting demo at Blue Star, led by Dan Donohue and Sharmarke Yusuf, and from there, we walked or cruised down the road on the ridiculously awesome fat bikes loaned to us from Methow Cycle and Sport, to the Port’s warehouse, a picturesque tin sided workshop, where the rest of the day’s demos were held.
Tables were spread with foods that represented a wide range of flavors for the ‘Flavor and Taste’ class taught by Bronwen and Sam. “We are going to calibrate all of your palates,” explained Bronwen as she instructed us to taste the bitter of baking soda, the sweet of chocolate, the sour of citrus, and the savory of peppers. Next, we delved into methods of extraction, technique, and intentionality, followed by ‘Water: the Main Ingredient in Coffee,” taught by Scott Guglielmino, product manager for La Marzocco USA.
Lunch was a delicious spread catered by Okanogan Bakery, and dessert was the perfect drink of our choice from the Blue Star crew, as we watched them demonstrate “The Zen of Workflow” while preparing drinks for all 35 of the Barista Jam attendees in less then 20 minutes.
The session lead by Scott G. on the in’s and out’s of the espresso machine was super helpful to anyone in the room that operates or owns an espresso machine ( so pretty much all of us), and then we tackled the art of milk steaming and latte design with Bronwen and Sam.
The day was concluded with Panda of Espresso Parts teaching, “How to Host a Successful Coffee Event” with the intention that some inspired specialty-coffee person in the room would host next year’s 509 Barista Jam. “People here know what they are doing,” said Scott. “They might be thinking, ‘Oh, I can talk about something like that, too!’ And hopefully next year they will.”
All in all, the first 509 Barista Jam was an enormous success both in terms of quality of education and growth of the local coffee community. This was a great celebration of the 509 barista, a strengthening of the Eastern Washington barista effort, lots of good coffee and skill building, and some super geeky coffee indulgences for every true coffee nerd’s soul.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR & PHOTOGRAPHER
Madeline Naumann is a born and raised Seattleite. She was trained as a barista at Fuel Coffee in Seattle while studying anthropology at University of Washington. Maddie presently lives in Omak, Washington with her archaeologist husband and two daughters. She is passionate about origin, stories, environmentally and socially sustainable practices and all things artisanal and regional. She is the owner of Wild Color Baby(www.etsy.com/shop/WildColorBaby), a company that uses natural, botanical dyes to create beautiful baby clothing. Maddie also works as a coffee trainer for Blue Star Coffee Roasters, her family business. She enjoys being a part of the budding coffee culture in Eastern Washington.