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 first installment, and we invite you back on Thursday to read part 2. 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
Blue Star Coffee Roasters hosted the first ever 509 Barista Jam in Twisp, Wash., in early June, marking the first ever major coffee event for Eastern Washington. It drew not only local baristas and cafe owners, but a strong contingent from nearby Seattle and Olympia.
As most great barista-focused events often do, the 509 Barista Jam kicked off with a latte art throw down, which took place at TwispWorks, an old forest service complex that has been transformed into a center for local artists and entrepreneurs, nestled in the beautiful Methow Valley. The hot and dry wind blew across the landscape and the sun was intense—in other words, it was a typical Methow June day. The throwdown, hosted by Panda from Espresso Parts, was held outside during the Twisp Artwalk. A bright and shiny La Marzocco Linea was stationed underneath a pop canopy that billowed with the summer breeze. Thirty-five baristas, five industry folks, and a whole bunch of local coffee consumers gathered together for the first time to meet, greet, and show off some coffee skills.
“We felt that it was time to bring together some of the best baristas, coffee experts, and equipment, to not only create community and share skills and knowledge, but also to raise the profile of those who are doing beautiful things with coffee here is the 509 area code,” said Meg Donohue, co-owner of Blue Star.
As competitors got registered and put up their $5 for the winner-take-all competition, the crowd of tanned, outdoorsy, eccentric hippie types that characterize the population of Twisp crowded around the espresso machine with lots of excited energy. Looking around, it was easy to pick out the coffee people, who all looked a bit nervous and a bit younger than the general demographic, most of us sporting a style that could really only be characterized as the ‘barista look’. “It is a style that I take for granted as being mine, and then to look around and see a lot of other people that are going for the same thing. It makes me feel like a trope. That was actually my first impression, like, ‘Ah! He wears suspenders, too!'” laughed Paul from Walla Walla Roastery.
Compared to Western Washington, Eastern Washington is geographically huge with a small population and an even smaller specialty-coffee crowd. This was the first time many of us had met, and the competing baristas were all jitters, with plenty of sizing-up going on. I spoke with Cheyenne Grither, a Blue Star barista and Twisp local, who told me that in preparation for the throwdown, “I drank my Kava tea and took my Ashwaghanda tincture, so I am a weird combination of nervous and not nervous.” That’s typical Methow Valley style: there is an appropriate tincture for every situation here.
Don Ashford from KTRT 97.5, the Root, the local community radio station, stepped up to announce the event, giving a play-by-play over a microphone as the throwdown commenced. There were lots of ‘ahs’ and applause as the competitors presented their drinks on the table for the judges, and someone exclaimed, “It is art!”
“I like getting the consumers in, because it is really easy to impress them,” mused Panda, who has hosted these types of competitions all over the Northwest. “You always get really good reactions, like, ‘Oh my God!’ and it’s a simple heart, and I’m just like, ‘Yeah!!! I’m stoked that you’re stoked!’”
Panda was a judge, along with Bronwen Serna from the Barista Guild, and more and more locals, as people swarmed the judging table with their own finger to point at the drink of their choice. And they were eager to sip down the surplus of lattes after they had been judged. In an exciting moment, the wind whipped the heart right off the top of the drink submitted by Nikolai of Coeur Coffee in Spokane. But he remade it beautifully.
When Joe Williamson, a Blue Star barista, who had been pulling shots throughout the competition for the baristas, was called on to compete and ended up taking first place, Kara from Freebird Espresso in Okanogan exclaimed, “Shoot! I thought he was just the shots guy!” Ray Sanders, also of Blue Star, took second, and Sam Brandvein from Cherry Street Coffee in Seattle won third.
Come back on Thursday to read part 2 of the coverage of the 509 Barista Jam, wherein we discuss the educational classes, workshops, and networking that took place at this fantastic event in Twisp, Washington.
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(), 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.