Catching up.

I can hardly believe it, but the Nationals are just around the corner!  I’m finally out of the store full-time now, with one full day’s worth of practise tomorrow before I board a 6am flight to Toronto!  Everyone talks when you tell them you’re planning on competing in the barista championships, and I’ve learned as much as I can, as fast as I can, in the last 30 days. 

Since returning from Tokyo, it’s been a steep learning curve, both in Park Royal and at 49th Parallel.  Finally managing a store on my own is completely akin to, pardon the cliche, the first time you ride a bike on your own, without training wheels or dad’s hand on the back.  I know what I’m supposed to do, I know what I want done, and I know what I have to use in order the accomplish it, but the pieces of the puzzel just don’t always seem to fit together.  Eight hour shifts quickly turn into 14-hour marathons on the bar, on the till, and on the grill.  I’ve heard it many times before, but for the first time in my life (I don’t have school anymore) I completely understand when they say: the first three weeks of September in the service industry just kill you.  There’s so much that I want to accomplish in Park Royal, which came from me feeding off the energy that I had when I left Kerrisdale. 

At Kerrisdale, Kyle and I had fostered from the initial training onwards a dedication to coffee and service excellence that not only taught the employees what was great coffee, but instilled in them a desire to push themselves to look for the “next step,” so to speak.  Monthly coffee-knowledge nights were always extremely well-attended and lasted long into the night.  Weekly French Press coffee tastings were mandatory for all staff.  You know things are going well when your newbie baristas are asking you why a 25-gram dose is so different from a 28-gram dose and why the “rules” that we set are meant to be broken.  “Taste the coffee!” we always say.  Maybe today’s 25-gram dose will turn into a 27- or 28-gram dose next week, if that’s what tastes best.  When your till people are asking you complicated questions about espresso extration techniques in order to sell a ristretto instead of the customer-requested double-lungo, it can’t help but bring a smile to my face.  “Baby steps,” is what I find that I’m telling myself lately.  I know that there are miles to go before I sleep… and one more hurdle to jump through first!

I can’t say that I’m completely prepared to compete in this weekend’s barista championships, but I know that I’ve got the desire and hope that somehow the knowledge and skillset will come through.  I’m completely indebted to several key individuals who have been nothing but encoraging and helpful to me throughout the last three weeks.  I’ve had late-night practise sessions and early-morning shopping trips, all in the name of a perfect routine.  But in the end, does a routine have to be perfect in order to score perfectly?  I believe that the the product is more important than the process, and that the process takes precedence over the package.  Goofs are natural, nerves are too.  It doesn’t help that the vast majority of the people who will watch the competition will already pre-judge me, based on what they know about the company that I represent.  I hope that I can break free of any such moulds.  My signature drink speaks clearly on that I hope.  While by no means will I use anything like kangaroo meat in my drink, I hope to change some opinions on espress-based beverages when I arrive in Toronto.  I’ve had a very precise idea of what I’ve wanted to accomplish with my drink from the month before, and I believe that the finishing touches that Mike Piccolo and I added today will make my drink incredibly memorable for those who have a chance to taste it.

CNBC Practice Rounds

I depart Vancouver at 6:00 am local time on Thursday morning.  I’m still debating whether or not to take my laptop with me; in any case, I’m sure you will all find out the results from other various fora before I have a chance to update my own little blog.  I can’t wait to see you all in Toronto!

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Currently Sipping

10/07/07: 12 oz. Panama Hacienda La Esmeralda Especiale @ 49th Parallel Cafe, prepared on Clover. Barista: Vince Piccolo. Aroma: Lush citrus and floral notes. Taste: Smooth body, intense grapefruit/yuzu (citrus fruit, Japanese origin) sweetness. Hightened acidity as the cup cools. Finish: Lingering sweetness and more yuzu.

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