The Nationals.

Author: george Posted: November 3, 2008


For starters, on Monday night, the day before the competition – I found out that 2 things had indeed broken on the flight over, despite my previous thoughts. One was a shot glass and the other was one of my signature drink glasses. I had an extra one anyway though, no biggie. About an hour later I would open my bag to have 2 more shot glasses spill out and shatter all over the floor. Again, nothing the dollar store couldn’t fix.

While you are setting up/ unpacking your own things at these contests you can’t help but glance around at what the other competitors have in their arsenal and visually I definitely had the least amount of things. It must have been a nightmare bringing over some of the things the other competitors had. Having more or less things has nothing to do with anything, mind you. The guys from Fratello had this gigantic crate that reminded me a lot of something the Coyote receives whenever he orders anything from ACME to catch Roadrunner. It was sweet, but I forgot to get a picture of it. All the brothers from Fratello are good guys, and hilarious. Joel ended up placing 3rd overall, which is more than respectable. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see some Fratello Roasted Beans used in Vancouver sometime this next year.

Back to Monday – each barista gets half hour to try out their espresso on the actual machines they’ll be using, make sure all the grinders are working, stuff like that. I got to try to my espresso for the first time since roasting it. It was everything I hoped for. I used the same blend as the regionals for my espresso and capps: Harar + Guatemala, 60/40. For my signature drink I had a single origin Ethiopian Yirgacheffe.

After the practice session I had dinner with some relatives who live in Montreal. When we got back to our hotel, I still needed a blank cd to put my music on. There was something incredibly hopeless about walking around downtown Montreal at midnight looking for somewhere to buy a blank cd. Then it started to rain, just in case the moment wasn’t cliche enough already. In a bitter but better contrast, I also needed oranges for my signature drink, but since Montreal is open 24 hours for food, finding those at random morning hours was not a problem. Mission half accomplished. I gave up and decided I’d find it in the morning. Fast forward a few more hours of speech practicing in the hotel lobby and it’s bed time, circa 4 am. (Reminds me of the regionals.) I Requested a wake up call from the lobby, and set about 4 alarms on my phone for 8. I was set to compete at 11:15, but we were told to be an hour early, and I still had to find that blank cd somewhere.

Good night.

8 am arrived fast. I found my cd up the street (much easier when stores are open), burnt the tunes, and made the trek on the metro over with John, my cousin, and a friend of ours who used to work at crema who is now living in Montreal – Eugene. Somehow, I arrived really late and I was walking into the convention center at 10:45. After finally getting my pass that allows you entrance to the show, I was stopped at the entrance by security saying I needed a blue sticker to actually go inside. Really? Not only was I competing, but I had even talked with that exact security guard the day before during the practice session, we knew each other! Abused.

At about 10:55 I got in, and dealt with my next problem – my grinder. Since I was using 2 coffees I was going to use a Mahlkonig Twin grinder, borrowed from the Mahlkonig booth. I won’t bother getting into the details – but I ended up having to make a last minute decision to use 2 K-30s instead of the twin.

My prep time went ok – timing both grinders definitely took a good chunk of the time, (I used 2 different espressos) but I managed to get everything ready. I forgot my apron at the hotel though – Oops! Cue in Anthony, who ran off to lend me his without even giving me time to say ‘please’. He ended up winning the ‘Mr(s.) Congeniality Award’ at the end of the event, and it was much deserved. It’s chosen by the competing baristas and is given to the nicest/most helpful/any other good adjectives you can think of barista. So, apron tied, espresso dialed in – I was set to go.

I thought it went pretty well. I did everything I wanted to, said everything that I wanted to say, and really just had fun with it. I’m actually quite pleased. Perhaps I took the whole thing a bit too light hearted? Either way, I had a lot of fun served up the best coffee I could. I ended up finishing 7th, one spot out from advancing to the finals. Talk about a bitter sweet finish, (all puns aside).

I found out after my performance that back at home in Vancouver my parents had been projecting the live stream on our wall (we use a projector for a menu at crema) and played the sound through our speakers and everything. Since it was 8:15 Vancouver time lots of customers were coming in and out and throughout the week I’ve been getting a lot comments and compliments. I was surprised (and humbled) to hear how many even stayed to watch the whole performance, that was really cool of them.

To summarize the rest of the trip, I will regurgitate the rest of my thoughts in paragraph form, with no particular order.

Jean-Francois Leduc.

I was backstage cleaning up my stuff while he was performing, so I missed out on seeing him live. Having later watched it online, I really regret that. It was a masterpiece, really. It’s funny from the moment he starts, (“good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen of the jury”) all the way up to the end when he calls “time”. You can watch it here. We made the trek over to his cafe, Caffe In Gamba, a couple days after the competition and it was incredible. In Gamba also won the krups cup for Montreal this year. Johnny called the cafe, ‘an Ode to Coffee.’ They have like 9 different espressos on hand, from all different roasters across the continent, and he uses 2 different blends at all times on the bar, changing them daily. Random coffee accessories and products are for sale throughout the store, and the best part is, all the different espresso he uses is fully available for purchase. It’s the first cafe I’ve ever been where you can buy Intelligentsia, Vivace, 49th, PTs, Zoka (to name a few) all in the same place. He sat down with us for about an hour and we had a great time talking. Here’s a few pictures of the cafe.


I met a ton of awesome people, many of whom I’ve only known from reading their blogs, seeing them in pictures, or watching them carry 4 espressos at the same time over to a table of judges during the world championships. Speaking of the latter, seeing/meeting Stephen Morrissey was really cool. (He’s the current world barista champion). He helped me get my hopper off the grinder during practice sessions when I thought it was stuck. Too bad it wasn’t stuck at all, and all he did was simply twist it off. I wouldn’t be offended or surprised if he second guessed my competing in the nationals after that. I know I did. Ha. I also met Brent Fortune. He’s pretty cool, but doesn’t have twitter yet, so there is some more room for cool if he wants. My understanding is that he trains and certifies all the judges before they are allowed to actually compete. Pretty sweet gig.

Funny enough, one of my most memorable moments of the contest was when Alistair took control of one of the demo Simonellis and pulled shots for everyone for about an hour.

John Neate was there too, and the two of them must have been having some kind of funny conversation.

Anthony Benda.

You’re watching his performance and pretty much laughing the whole time. Not because of his lack of skills, on the contra-re, mon amis! Rather because he’s throwing out jokes left and right not only about himself but about the judges too, all the while making the finals and finishing number 6 in the country. Boo ya! He just opened up Myriade (the cafe from the last post) 5 days after this. What a week.

As promised, here is my soundtrack. Joel Armstrong mixed it for me, just like in the regionals. He’s a local Vancouver DJ that plays around town, and if you like electronic music definitely check out his shows if you’re in the city. The tracks are:

Kids with Guns (hot chip remix) – Gorillaz
Boy From School – Hot Chip
We Share Our Mother’s Health (ratatat remix) – The Knife
Magic Kraut – Teddy Bears.

Download it here. It’s best played loud, like all good music should be.

Spencer did amazing.

I’ve seen Spencer’s routine a lot. I was a tech judge during the JJ In House Competitions back in June, and we practiced together for both the regionals and nationals. His performance in the finals was easily the best one that I’ve seen in all that time. Hands down. An amazing finish of 2nd place, behind first place by only 7.5 points. He roasted his own coffee, and mine. I think I would have still been testing blends if it wasn’t for his help. Thanks for everything. Next year. (I’d link but I can’t find his finals performance on ustream, are the finals not there?)

The picture above was taken just seconds before they announced the winner. You can feel the anxiety just from looking at them.

And so, Sammy won again. Can you believe that? 4 time national champion. And he did so with a ridiculous amount of pressure. Everyone and their mom was watching to see if he has still got it. Ladies and gentlemen, he does. Congratulations again Sammy. And hey – you might as well take the world title this year while you’re at it. We’ll be watching.

Krups gave everyone competing a grinder and a home espresso machine.

The entire event was recorded and you can watch it here.

Next years nationals are in Vancouver, by the way.

Until then…

6 Responses to “The Nationals.

  1. John Giannakos says:

    “Judges, I want you to put down you pencils, as the espresso I’m about to serve you, will be worth zero points”

    - Jean-Francois Leduc.

    Great week, I’m absolutely thrilled for next years Canadian Nationals to take place in Vancouver. Back to the grind.

  2. jo says:

    stellar post george! it gave me more of a picture of what went down while you guys were there. i like it A LOT.

  3. Russ Prefontaine says:

    Nice post George, you really captured the event from a competitors point of view.

  4. Chris says:

    Russ any relation to Steve PreFontaine?

  5. Troy says:

    Great entry man and great job at nationals. Must have been a great experience not only going there but the work and effort to get there.
    Barista Skills +2?

  6. Laura says:


    this blog is fabulous! Great post, I noticed your 4am bed time… that’s when I woke up that fine day. Yikes.
    Hope to see ya sometime sooner rather than later.

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