A few weeks back, we profiled
local coffee bar and roaster Coava Coffee
, which has been grabbing the attention of the coffee world with its innovative brewing methods. This week, the company is making headlines for another reason: it just won both the Northwest Regional Barista Competition and Brewers Cup
, which were held in Tacoma, WA, on the weekend.
Also making the trip to throw down for Portland were baristas from Stumptown, Cellar Door, Barista, Water Avenue, Public Domain, Albina Press and Sterling.
In the Brewers Cup—a new competition for brewed coffee based almost entirely on taste—Coava’s Devin Chapman
took first place using the company’s new full-immersion brewer, besting a Seattle barista with a Hario V-60 and an Olympian wielding a Clever Coffee Dripper.
In the Barista Competition, his colleague Sam Purvis
scored the win, narrowly beating out Stumptown’s Ryan Wilbur by half-a-point in the finals, using the roaster's Guatemalan Xeucalvitz beans.
We rudely interrupted Purvis’s first shift back behind the bar today to quiz him about the high-octane world of competitive coffee making. WW: So how does it all work?
Sam Purvis: The competition is a structured time of 15 minutes where you choose a coffee that you’re going to make for the judges, four sensory judges and then you’re also judged by two additional judges on your work at the espresso bar. You serve four espressos to the judges, four cappuccinos and then you also have to take the coffee and integrate it into a signature beverage that’s very synergistic with the coffee itself. So you have everything from like food gastronomy to cocktailing. What was your signature beverage?
50g of water was infused with dried raspberries and goji berries. The water was infused for three minutes. And then that water was pressed out over 70% dark chocolate to melt it down. Milk was added and it was brought up to temperature and textured and then mixed with the coffee and dusted with dried raspberries. When we first dipped into [the coffee], it had a lot of raspberry and chocolate and goji berry, so throughout the drink you’ve got all those flavors that were put on display and accentuated both by the presence of the coffee and by the ingredients of the drink. How do you train and prepare for something like that?
Competition is very specific. The judges are looking for what’s perceived to be balanced in a coffee, you’re scored really highly on that. Basically I had months and months of tasting different coffees and finding the one that’s going to score well and then building a presentation around the coffee. You get scored very intensively too on the theme of your presentation.
So what I chose to talk about during my 15 minutes was the idea of quality, which I defined as five aspects: body, sweetness, structure, intensity and clarity. Each of those things were broken down and discussed by drink … and all those things were tied in with the contributors that happened at the farm.What about the Brewers Cup? I know you guys used Coava’s new Funnel brewer and Kone filter. That must have been pretty big vindication, going up against Chemex and Hario and Clever brewers.
The judges loved it, and they loved his presentation. He talked about the Kone itself, what the Kone produces in the cup in terms of allowing more oils through the filter. And the idea of sustainability—he talked about one of our wholesale accounts in Berkley who’ve gone completely paperless, and is now doing all stainless steel filter brewing. It was a really beautiful presentation and the judges liked it and he won! Is there a lot of competitiveness and rivalries?
No. I mean everyone is definitely competitive, but people I competed against were friends of mine. Two of the people I competed against in the finals were two people who I had worked with at Barista three months ago. So there’s a really high amount of camaraderie, and while everyone wants to do well and it’s very competitive, everyone also wants to see their friends do well. So there’s no sledging? You’re not yelling, “Your latte tastes like Maxwell House!”?
I don’t think so. Everyone’s out there for the right reasons. What was the best coffee there—other than your own?
I’ve had the Michicoy that Tyler [Stevens from Barista] used from Barefoot [Coffee Roasters], that’s a beautiful coffee and I love that coffee. It’s another Guat. And the coffee that Ryan [Wilbur from Stumptown] used from Columbia was beautiful as well—just really, really juicy. Then Laila [Ghambari from Stumptown Seattle]’s coffee, the El Injerto, the Bourbon, it’s another beautiful Stumptown coffee from El Injerto farm in Guatamala. It’s a coffee I fell in love with probably three years ago when I first tasted it, and I’ve been impressed with every crop they’ve brought in every season. What’s the point of competing against other baristas? Is it just to make a name for yourself?
It’s a lot of things. As a barista, it pushes you for sure. It brings all those things that you need to be a good barista in a café—intensity of focus, being able to personally explain coffee to people. Especially as the coffee industry gets more complex, I think a lot of people are interested, but also maybe intimidated. Being able to just break stuff down simply and say, “These are the nice things about this coffee.”
And also it’s not a lot of time, and if you’re working at a good café, it’s probably a really busy café, so you really need to be efficient and fast on the bar. So 15 minutes to prepare is not a lot of time. So it pushes you in terms of efficiency.
But I think outside of that, competition for the last X number of years has really set quality standards for the industry of coffee internationally. It starts all the way at the world level, then down to the national then trickles down to the regional level. For instance, Billy [Wilson] who owns Barista—a longtime competitor—that’s how he trains all of his staff: up to competition standards. And you see a lot of good cafes across the country doing that. Competition really helps set standards for how drinks are being prepared in everyday cafes for costumers. Everything from what a balanced coffee tastes like to milk and temperatures—it’s done a lot for the industry in terms of bringing recognition to quality standards and disseminating those quality standards throughout the country. So you and Devin are now headed up to Houston for the national finals in April. How are you going to prepare represent Portland against the best in the country? How are you going to dazzle them?
Honestly, I’m not even going to think about it for the next two weeks. It was intense leading up to this competition and it would be nice to just hang out and enjoy hanging out in the café and enjoy serving coffee to the customers. And then, after that, it’s game time again. OK, we’ll grant you two weeks before bringing the weight of Portland’s hopes and dreams and expectations down on you.