The (long awaited) Western Regionals.

Author: george Posted: August 28, 2008

There is really so much to say about the competition that I’m just going to try and recap what was going on the days leading up to, and including, Thursday.

This is a longer post than normal, so if you don’t have time to read it all because you should be working but instead you are reading cleanhotdry (good for you) you can just scroll down to near the bottom where it says, “Thursday” and go from there.

Also, I apologize for taking so long to update. I’m currently on a road trip in California and staring at a computer screen in the car sort of defeats the purpose of the whole thing. But without further adieu -

Monday: 3 days until doomsday.

This was the last day that ECM (the local nuova simonelli dealership) was going to be allowing competitors to come by the store and practice on the actual machines that were going to be used in the competition, so obviously I went. It was the first chance I had to go, and I ended up spending a couple hours there, just becoming fluent with the machine and such. The beauty of the machine (an aurellia) was that I literally walked up to it and had figured out how to use the entire machine within the time it takes to pull a shot. Super easy, and completely ergonomic I might add, unlike a certain machine I know, *cough marzocco *cough*. The guys over at ECM are pretty funny, and helpful too. A hilarious mix of old and new school Italians.

On Monday night I ended up going to Crema to practice. At 3 am, I was still standing behind the bar, talking to an imaginary table of judges just working on my opening speech, restarting it over and over anytime I made even one mistake in it.

Bed time? 3:30am.

Tuesday: 2 days left.

On Tuesday I was out most of the day finding the last bunch of things you forget you need until 2 days before the competition. Things like water glasses, rags, sugar bowls, that kinda stuff.

At 4 o’clock I had a quick 3 hour shift at crema, and after that I headed over to the JJ Lab on Powell Street. Spencer suggested a few days earlier that we meet and do a full performance together in front of a panel of fake judges (fake judges will from here on be referred to as “smudges”) and go over each others presentation and see what we can fix. Looking back, it probably was the single best thing that either of us did in preparation for this thing. Navid, John, my dad, and Annie (Spencer’s wife) played the part as the smudges and at the end of it we all dissected and discussed each other’s performances. What a huge help these 5 were. I don’t even want to think of what would have happened on Thursday if this session didn’t take place.

We finally got out of Powell at 12:30am – 4.5 hours after arrival. Naturally, we went over to commercial to grab some pizza from Uncle Fatih’s before calling it a night.

Back at home, my dad and I debated on aspects of my opening speech for literally over an hour. This would also prove to be hugely beneficial.

I should also mention that Monday night and all of Tuesday I dressed in the exact outfit I was going to be performing in on Thursday, right down to the very socks and shoes.

Why, you ask?

To get into character. And to get used to the heat and mobility issues. (You can obviously see in the pictures that you are expected to dress nice, at the least, while performing.)

Bed time? 3:45am

In a side note, I was still pretty wired from all the espresso during the practice session that I started to write a blog. I woke up the next morning to a pretty much blank post with the sentence “ddddddddddddddddddd” in it.

I guess I was more tired than I had thought.

Wednesday: 1 last day remaining.

Wednesday was long. Really long. I got to Heritage Hall at about noon with the intention to help set up and get some practice in. They didn’t need much help setting up, and I ended up hanging out with Robert Csar for pretty much the whole day.

At one point, while waiting for the machines to be set up, Robert suggested we just walk a block over to Main Street JJ and dial in our espresso there. For those who have been to Main Street JJ (probably most of you) you know how busy it can get there, and Wednesday was not a let down. At one point though, something rather fun happened.

Picture the following: Robert and I pulling shots on one machine, with our own individual grinders and espresso. No more than a few feet over is Mike Laroy and Ryan “the Bish” on the other 3 group marzocco, serving the masses, while Grady is hanging about and then Spencer walks behind the bar as well. While all this is going on, Sammy and Mike Young (current Canadian champ) along with 2 other friends of theirs come in and order 4 espressos. In a matter of minutes, Main Street JJ had 10 of Vancouver’s finest all huddled around 2 bars. It’s the most barista power I’ve ever seen in one cafe.

We headed back over to the Hall and Robert and I shared a simonelli and did a few dry runs together and things were looking pretty good. The espresso was shooting/tasting great, and once again, the machine was so easy to use.

At about 8 o’clock I finally left and headed straight to crema, to what I knew was going to be lungho of a night. And it was. My brothers and my dad were at crema until about 2am. We were mainly talking about my opening speech, and they acted as smudges while I poured water for them over and over. We also did a full run through of my whole performance again.

When they left, my brother Chris stayed with me and that’s when the real fun began. Fun, that is, if you like making objects look really shiny and clean, and making check lists of all the things you need. Fast forward another 2 hours and 15 minutes, with a crate full of equipment packed so perfectly it would make a tetris champion proud, and it was time for departure. At 4:15am, we left crema.

Bed time? 4:30am.

Thursday: Time for our feature presentation.

The competition started at 10, and while I had planned to go and watch the whole event, I just couldn’t possibly do that. I was way too tired, and still wanted to practice the delivery of my speech. I ended up arriving at the Hall at around quarter to 1, just in time to see the signature drink from the last barista before the intermission.

Did I mention how hot it was?

Unfortunately I missed Robert’s performance in the morning, but I did catch Spencer’s, who was 3 before me. He nailed his performance, but ended up going 15 seconds over time. You lose a point a second when you go overtime, which doesn’t sound so bad at first. That is until you realize that there are 4 judges, and you lose 1 point from each of them. For those of you who don’t like math, that equals 60 points, so it’s kind of a big deal. No worries though – it was still solid.

Prep Time:

freshly poured antipodes from a press.
freshly poured antipodes from a press.

After Spencer, I had to start setting up all my equipment in the back during the next performance so that it was nicely organized. You only have 15 minutes to set up your bar before the performance, Any time wasted doing something unnecessary like unwrapping things or looking for a certain something could prove fatal, especially if it throws you off mentally. You need all your concentration to focus on the performance and the coffee, not on where your whisk is.

Sammy Piccolo was the barista before me, and he is a man that is no stranger to the competition. He’s placed 3rd, and 2nd twice – in the world championships, that is. For better or for worse, I didn’t watch him perform as during his time it was my 15 minute prep. My presentation was pretty simple, and built around a “less is more” theme, so I didn’t have to worry too much about setting my area up in time. My biggest concern prior to the event was that I wouldn’t be able to dial in my espresso (set the espresso grind) and set up in time, but this turned out to be a complete non-issue. As a matter of fact, to be safe I had dialed in my espresso a couple hours earlier on the test machine and I didn’t even have to adjust a thing when I went up on stage. I even had time to sit at the judges table and take a view from their perspective to see if there was something I was missing, and to make sure it looked good aesthetically. It did.

I was off to a promising start, feeling good.

The Presentation:

I remember my time starting, and the mic cutting out a bit during my opening speech. No worries. Almost everything else though, is a blur. My hands were a bit shaky at first (rare for me), and it was especially noticeable when I picked up the espresso cups for the first time, but after that I just got into a zone and any nervousness I had disappeared along with my shakes. I free poured my trad capps while standing and talking in front of the judges, James Hoffman style – but with the underhanded Billy Wilson grip.

Unconventional? Perhaps. But that’s what I liked about it.

My signature drink – *deep breath* a 2oz white chocolate orange zested whipping cream breve macchiato with (proper) foam and nutmeg – went over perfectly. I named it “the punch line” but I didn’t say so in the performance. I heard only good things about the drink from everyone who tried it, with one judge saying it was best of show. I was really happy about the drink, it was something that I had worked on with Liza, Crema’s all star baker, for quite some time. It was also inspired from a chocolate I had over at Mink’s cafe, a white chocolate lemon ganache. If you are ever down near West Hastings (863 W Hastings to be exact) stop at Mink’s, buy one in combination with a clover’d coffee, and just try to tell me they weren’t meant to be consumed together.

I finished with 45 seconds left, and if you include my 2 minute opening speech, I really made all the drinks in a net time of 12.5 minutes, so I was moving pretty fast. I used the left over time to clean up the bar and take pretty much everything off my prep table as well, leaving an almost spotless area.

At the end of it, I couldn’t believe it was over. Nothing more than a blur.

Once the time finished, I was pumped. A few fellow competitors, along with plenty of friends and family in the crowd, congratulated me and sent kind words my way. I also got interviewed by a guy with a video camera for the multicultural channel. I’m assuming everyone did, but I have no idea. If you see me on tv though, do tell.

The hall was also full when I was up on stage – partly because lots had come to see Sammy, who was before me, and also because I was the last to go.

And The Winner Is…

Barrett Jones, the MC for the second half of the day, called up all the competitors to the stage, and there we stood. Starting at 11th place and moving lower, he called names. It was tedious. Every time he spoke you were just hoping not to hear your name – and for a quite a bit, I didn’t. The top 3 move on, keep in mind, and when we got to the top 4, the following were left standing:

Spencer from JJ Bean, Colter Jones from 49th Parallel, Sammy Piccolo from Artigiano, and yours truly from Crema.

Then, just abruptly as this sentence, my name was called, and it was over.

I ended up placing 4th, coming up 1 short of my goal of the top 3. Spencer came in 3rd, with Colter (who has also gone to the worlds) placing 2nd. The big winner of the day was Sammy. Now don’t get me wrong, there is no shame in finishing behind these guys, each of them are top notch in my books, but I would’ve loved to have gone to the nationals.

Next year? We’ll see. For now, big congratulations to the top 3, especially fellow friend Spencer.

More than one of the judges come up to talk and congratulate me after, and that was pretty cool of them. One in particular shared some rather encouraging words.

And silly me, I didn’t introduce my espresso blend to you – It was a two coffee blend made up of half light roasted Guatemalan Palou (spelling?) and half Ethiopian Harar. Super simple, fun, and different. Lots of blueberry. I called it fifty-fifty espresso, not even so much for lack of a better name, but because to me it represents the simplicity of the blend, as well as the obvious fifty fifty mix of coffee. I like it most in a poured trad capp, but it’s cool as an espresso too. I said to the judges that for me it was an espresso you would have when you feel like changing things up, as oppose to something you would have everyday. We might start using it at Crema for our short drinks, so be on the look for that too. I’ll make mention of it in a post if we do end up doing that.

I got another sweet tamper for plcing in the top 6 from Reg Barber, who was in attendance. It says Western Regionals on it. Yea buddy!

My music was a mix of 4 songs from a group called Ratatat, whom are flippin’ sweet. My brother’s friend/dj Joel Armstrong actually mixed them for me, and you can download the mix free, fast and easy by clicking here. The run time was condensed to 15 minutes and 3 seconds – perfect for the competition. I had more than a few people comment on the music, so take it and enjoy. Play it during a rush in your cafe. Loud.

And that is that. Thanks to everyone who helped out prior to the competition, and to those who came and watched. Between family, friends, crema, and JJ – there was a whole lot of people involved.

Keep in mind that I had been preparing since the end of May for this competition. By reading this you might get the impression that I only trained for 3 days. That would be false. Like usual, all the little things seemed to just fall into place at the last moment.

The nationals look like they are going to be pretty awsome – much success to the top 3 over in Montreal this October.

7 Responses to “The (long awaited) Western Regionals.

  1. Todd Sieling says:

    Top 4 ain’t so bad at all. Congrats on a good showing, even if one short of your goal.

  2. Chris says:

    Nice post George,
    we have been using 50/50 the last week, it has been unbelievable.

  3. Joel Armstrong says:

    woot. rockin George!

  4. Al says:

    I may be wrong but 15 seconds over time is a 15 second deduction on points not 60.

  5. Troy says:

    It was my understanding that the top 4 were going to Nationals.
    You landed in 4th yet you don’t get to go.

  6. george says:

    @ Troy -

    What happens is the top 3 from each competition are guaranteed a spot in the nationals.

    The people who placed 4th and 5th at each competition get their names all thrown into a hat and drawn at random. 4 people are chosen this way, out of a possible 8.. (4 regional competitions x 2 names.)

    So, you can actually come 5th and still go to the nationals.

    @ Al -

    I’m sure somebody reading this will clarify the 15 second thing, (Anthony, that’s probably you…) but I was under the impression you lose 15 points from each of the 4 judges. Anyone?

  7. Danny says:

    You did an awesome Job George..Congrats. Next time you will do better for sure!

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