Espresso Excellence

Coffee Crazy

Baristas, beans, and beats.

By Sam Holder March 9, 2009

Well, there’s always next year.

Homeboy Alex Pond, of Fresh Pot on N Mississippi, failed to make the final six this weekend at the United States Barista Championship held in the Oregon Convention Center. After slogging through the first round of 51 baristas and carving out a slot in the semifinals, Alex’s signature espresso cocktail, the Continental, just missed the cut yesterday afternoon.

Chicagoan Mike Phillips, of Intelligentsia Coffee, took top dog honors yesterday evening—a prize replete with 12 months of bragging rights, a $1,000 check, and a fully bankrolled (Phillips loves DaVinci Gourmet) trip to Atlanta for the World Barista Championship next month. Check out his winning signature drink, a hot and cold approach to espresso extraction here.

While we mourned the absence of our local thoroughbred, we managed to find some bright moments:

Representing Alterra Coffee of Milwaukee, WI, Scott Lucey presented the Trifecta of Excellence: a giraffe tie, whipped cream, and Wu-Tang. His homage to the 13 chambers boys, "liquid swords," was as flavorful as it was strong—much like the Clan. Portlanders know all about the connection between coffee and hip hop; it’s almost as natural as Jack and Coke or Sergio and Rudy. After his beat–heavy performance, we subsequently threw our full support behind this midwestern dark horse.

LA–native and strong favorite Nick Griffith, of Intelligentsia Coffee, tried to fatten his score with some cute points. He not only gave a shout–out to his adorable daughter, Lily (it was her fourth birthday, whatever), but he also pulled her up on stage and—puke—acted like the great Daddy he probably is. Shameless.

In addition to the tasting judges, baristas had to satisfy the tech judges as well. These coffee umpires reminded us of a kitten duo: like following an errant blue jay through a picture window, their heads bobbed and weaved, in tandem, with the baristas’ tamps and pours.

We do have a nagging concern: with Intelligentsia’s baristas rounding out four of the top six slots, we P–town natives feel as though we’ve been usurped by the cognitive caffeine peddler. Champion Mike Phillips claims that Intelligentsia’s "zealot–like passion" for quality has driven them to the top. He does also point out that "Portland is in no way lagging behind" in taste and excellence. Diplomatic champion, indeed.

We’ll grudgingly follow Mr. Phillips’ wild, global espresso ride next month at the World Barista Championship. However, we do expect some Blackalicious or Mos Def to be involved.

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