Report from Coffee Fest Seattle

My mom just sent me an email chiding me and Ken for not blogging throughout Coffee Fest Seattle. You know, because we hardly have anything to do besides blog while we’re there. A-hem. We apologize for not blogging while we were away, but it was a 1000-mile-an-hour weekend from start (Thursday, November 8, when we arrived mid-afternoon) until we left (Sunday, November 11, at around 5:30). Whew! Two-time Northwest Regional Barista Champ, Billy Wilson, who rocked the comp with one of the best performances I’ve ever seen from him on Sunday, sums it up best with this expression:


It was an awesome weekend for sure, not just in terms of the parties and friends, but for Barista Magazine business, as well. We had an incredible number of new subscribers sign up, and it was a chance for Leah, our ad sales director, to hook up with a lot of folks, too. The best part about any show for us is when our readers take the time to stop by the booth and introduce themselves, tell us about their shop, and offer up interesting ideas about what they see happening in the industry. We sold a ton of our new Barista Mag t-shirts. People really seemed to like the new Japanese cat design, as so nicely modeled here by Janie, Ken’s mom, who — along with Bruce, Ken’s pop — helped us out in the booth on Sunday:


One of the very coolest things about this Coffee Fest was the debut of the newly pimped out Millrock Latte Art Competition. Not only has the prize purse been beefed up from $1000 to a hefty $5000, but tons of other cool details have been added: there are now two machines instead of one, thanks to the mighty generous support of presenting sponsor Nuova Simonelli (presenting sponsor along with Dillanos and Barista Magazine), there is a way cool flat screen “leader board,” which displays the scores of each competitor as soon as they’ve finished.


These details alone have completely revamped the way people watch the competition: it’s interactive, fast-moving and super exciting. Every seat was filled for the entire competition, and tons of others stood around to watch. Or maybe they just came over to be in the presence of emcee Heather Perry, two-time US Barista Champion and highest female finisher in the World Barista Championship ever.


The last of the changes was the way we proceeded with judging. The three judges — Henry of Millrock, Chris De-furious of Carriage House, and yours truly, Sarah from Barisa Mag — were for the first time judging “blind.” More like deaf, actually. We were put into a recessed chamber in front of the audience and had to wear headphones so we couldn’t hear who was performing and therefore, possibly bring preconceived notions to the table. Henry, Chris and I have tried so hard for so long to be as fair as we can in our judging. But because we’ve been at it for so long — Henry has judged 12 Millrock competitions; I’ve judges 7 and Chris has judged 6 — we eally do know a lot of the competitors. So it was kind of cool to have that extra distance… The Seattle Times and Post-Intelligentser thought we looked wacky enough to warrant pictures in each of the papers:


In the end, of the 50 competitors in the Millrock Latte Art Competition, 13 people went on to the final round on Saturday night (it was originally supposed to be 10 finalists but there was a 4-way tie for 10th place. I tell ya, it was intense!). Former champion Layla Osberg of Blenz in Vancouver, B.C., took top honors ($5000). Colter Jones of 49th Parallel was in second place ($1000), and Justin Teisl of Alterra Coffee in Milwaukee, got third ($500).


But this being Coffee Fest Seattle, there was much, much more going on at the Washington State Conention Center this past weekend than latte art — like the Northwest Regional Barista Competition (NWRBC), for example. In a very cool move, the NWRBC was set up on the same sky bridge outside the trade show as the latte art competition, making for a big, airy, beautiful space for both competitions, and a perfect route for show attendees to pass through and catch a glimpse of barista artistry. You can sort of see what I mean in this picture of Kevin Fuller competing in the NWRBC finals:


It was super cool for sure. There was a 4th Machine set up thanks to Franke and La Marzocco, which was staffed by volunteer baristas all weekend who made drinks for anyone who asked. I got a delicious macchiato from Brett of Zoka right before the finals (no worries about the knife in his hand, by the way. He had just pried off a dirty basket):


There were 19 competitors, most from in the Northwest Region, but a couple, including Jon Lewis, who competed in Seattle for practice outside their region. (Jon, for example, will go on to compete for real at the Mountain Regional Barista Competition in February in Denver.) At the end of the day on Saturday, after two full days of preliminary performances, the top six finalists from within the region were announced:

• Orme Kellett of Lava Java (2005 USBC Champ Phuong Tran’s cafe in Ridgefield, Wash.)

• Billy Wilson of the Albina Press (Billy won the NWRBC last year and has won 2nd, 3rd and 4th place at past USBCs)

• Kevin Fuller of the Albina Press (Kevin won 3rd in the NWRBC last year, and also placed in the top 10 at the 2007 USBC)

• Philip Search representing 49th Parallel (This was Philip’s second time in the NWRBC finals. He’s a veteran competitor.)

• Maki Campbell of Zoka (Beloved by her peers, Maki won 4th in the NWRBC in 2006)

• Jordan Barber of Wandering Goat (Jordan’s very first competition! He was impressive)

Here’s what the crowd looked like during the announcement of the finalists:




At the finals on Sunday, Billy was up first:


Here he is pouring cappuccinos for judges at the table and making witty conversation that kept the mood light and natural.


A glimpse of Billy’s signature drink, pre espresso.


Billy talking to his judges.

Next up was Maki, who was poised, modest and endearing.


Maki tamping.


Judge Arturo writing motes about Maki’s espresso.


Maki’s cappuccinos.


Maki beginning preparation of her signature drink.

Jordan took the stage third. He was nervous but so well practiced. A delight to watch.


Jordan’s sig drink was apple based.



Jordan’s sig drink: beautiful.


Judges enjoying Jordan’s sig drink.

Philip Search was up next. Philip didn’t even decide to compete until the last minte so he as extra excited to be in the finals!


Earnestly explaining something to the judges.


Beginning prep on his sig drink, which was inspired by his love of whiskey.


Prepping to muddle the limes.

Here is Orme, the fifth competitor. I knoww him as Cam, so I’m a little stiff calling him Orme. He’s a super nice guy and was trained by one of the best baristas I know: Phuong Tran.


Cam is incredibly detail oriented!


Let’s hope he plans to compete at the USBC!

Last but not least was one of my favorite guys, Kevin Fuller. Kevin got hooked on barista competitions when his pal and business partner, Billy Wilson, turned him on to them. And he’s gotten very good, very quickly.


Kevin’s a joy to watch compete. He obviously enjoys it a ton and also makes sure to have a good time and not over stress.


He also poured cappuccinos at the table. James did it in Tokyo and I’m so glad to see more people doing this. I think it gives the baristas a great chance to connect with the judges.



Here’s Kevin preparing his signature, which was “essentially a caramel macchiato.” This got a laugh from the crowd, which included Billy and Chris Baca from Ritual.


Scores were tabulated and the awards ceremony commenced! Here is Billy at the moment his name is annunced as 2007 NWRBC Champ!


They were pretty cool trophies, made by a glass blower in Seattle. Kevin took third place, and Maki won second place honors. Congratulations to all the NWRBC competitors!


And STILL, this was hardly the end of what transpired in Seattle this weekend. Basically, it’s all about hanging with your friends and making some new pals. Here are a bunch of photos we took at the show throughout the weekend.


This is Jules from Intelligentsia. She poured some rockin latte art in the Millrock competition, and was also a cool person to hang with at Linda’s on Thursday night.


There’s Phuong (left) with Bronwen (Hines) and Matt (Albina Press).


Good to see Craig from Zoka smiling! He worked his butt off on the NWRBC this weekend.


Lizzy from Stumptown, Ryan from Intelligentsia, Baca from Ritual, and Billy-Boy Wilson.


Lorrie of Trabant looks on during Philip’s performance.


Classic Baca shot.


Dave White from Espresso Parts! Espresso Parts hosted a latte art smackdown in their booth throughout the show to raise money for Bikes to Rwanda. They raised $140 and kicked in the last $60 to make it an even $200 donation. These guys are so great. Here’s Dave displaying a photo of the winning pour which came from — no surprise — Justin Teisl of Alterra!


Here is Dismas (Borogove) at the Espresso Parts booth putting in his $5 for a chance in the latte art smackdown.


Richard Hartnell talking the talk.


What’s wrong with me?


One of my very best friends, Michelle of the SCAA, working like crazy to make sure the NWRBC went off smoothly. And of course, it did.


Emcee extraordinaire Nick Cho. I think Nick should get famous clothing designers to sponsor him for his emcee engagements. He always looks damn snappy.


One of the best and most trusted judges in the world, Mr. Andrew Barnett of Ecco Caffe in Santa Rosa, California.


I stopped by the Batdorf & Bronson booth more than a few times for shots of Dancing Goats. Here are Cherie and Heather sharing a laugh during the show.


The lovely Jen Boelts of Batdorf chatting up customers.


Matt Milletto (American Barista & Coffee School) and Kevin talking about how excited

they are to get back to Portland (just kidding).

But seriously, I am so happy to be back home in Portland with the cats and dog, and the new Huskies sweats Ken bought me at the UW Bookstore!! Unfortunately, freshman QB Jake Locker took a helluva hit in Saturday’s night. Ken’s only comfort was that when we got back home last night, he watched the 2 Trailblazers games he had recorded while we were in Seattle, and they won both of them!! Go Blazers!

And that’s my report.

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