To give a more detailed picture of what it was like to participate in the event, three very special Northeast Chapter members have taken time out to write about their unique experiences.
- Todd Mackey, NE Chapter Rep.
Benjamin Turiano, Joe Bean Coffee Roasters, Rochester, NY
'Life at our coffee bar is always insanity. From the every day tasks of making
the bar function, to carrying out the long-term vision of our company, it feels that
there is always too much to do. In the midst of all of this, we are trying to focus on
raising quality standards and increasing our focus on customer experience. To be
honest, this can be hard to constantly approach from an internally motivated
standpoint. So an industry level competition is always a welcome opportunity to
challenge abilities in skill and customer service in a real way.
As a company, barista competitions have always been a large inspiration. I
love how focused they are on customer interaction. Everything is aimed at
education and experience. This differs greatly from the typical café interaction,
where you are cycled through an industrial revolution style assembly line. Your
order is taken, you drink is made, and you take your seat. Now granted, drink
quality might still be impressive, but the whole process still feels somewhat
reminiscent of a fast food establishment. Barista competitions offer a perspective
completely opposite to this. Drinks are explained while they are being made. The
barista is dressed professionally. Quality is matched with atmosphere and
presentation. I remember attending my first NERBC in Ithaca back in 2007, and
being captivated by the whole process. This is the type interaction I’ve always been
interested in pursuing. By participating in competitions, I can better understand
these interactions and better cultivate the skills that they require.
This year has been a particularly important year for me to compete in. While
we’ve been roasting for over 4 years, this is the first year that our company has had
a retail operation. In house, we are trying to match these barista competition style
experiences. Our establishment is set up as a bar, with no specific place to order and
pick up. Baristas try to engage and explain the process as they brew coffees. We
feature signature drinks, similar to those found in competitions and have even
started to feature coffee flights. So when I started preparing this year, everything
took on more significance. These weren’t just standards I was learning for the sake
of it – they are standards for quality that we will be implementing every day at the
That being said, my experience this year at the actual competition was quite
interesting. From a positive perspective, I feel that I was able to present drinks that I
felt proud of. Looking back at my score sheets, I can glean some useful info in terms
of technique and flavor balance. I really liked how competitors pulled shots of their
espresso for spectators after they competed. From a negative perspective, watching
the competition was frustrating. It was difficult to hear and follow presentations.
There was very little standing room as a spectator. I also wish that there were an
easier venue for meeting and dialoguing with other participants in the competition.
They hosted an after party, but having an actual conversation was a bit frustrating
in a loud bar. Overall though, I enjoyed the competition, and will definitely be
participating again in the future.'
Amanda Tucker, Seven Stars Bakery, Providence, RI - Volunteer
'While I was at NERBC there wasn’t much time to think about how I felt, I just had to focus on the tasks at hand. However, when I got home and people started to ask me how it was, I all I could say is “amazing.” It was amazing for so many reasons, I had heard about competitions, I had watched videos, but nothing will ever compare to the live event. It doesn’t matter, if you are a volunteer, competitor, judge or spectator the energy in the room was indescribable. I volunteered this year in order to see what it would be like to combine the two things that I love doing: coffee and events. I spent the weekend as a busser, which allowed me to be up close and watch almost all of the performances while being an integral part of the event process.
As a busser I was in charge of clearing the first and second courses then helping to pack up the station before the next competitor began. While all events are run with the precision of the clock, the bussing position is about listening to what the competitor is saying, and watching the judges to see when they have finished their evaluation. While working in this position I was fortunate enough to meet some great people, whom I would have never met otherwise. As volunteers we shared a common passion for coffee which was only intensified by the surrounding events. I watched as family members and coworkers cheered on the competitors, as spectators, from the tradeshow next door, sat in complete amazement of each performance. The community that comes (even at a competition) when you put a group of “coffee folks” together is one that you will not find anywhere else.
Volunteering at NERBC was an experience that I won’t forget. I encourage everyone to volunteer, go and experience it for yourself, volunteers are always needed.'
Dylan Evans, American Coffee Trader, Boston, MA - Sensory Judge
'For this particular sensory judge; the 2012 NERBC (in New York!) was such a surreal, inspirational, and rewarding experience. In addition to being held at the foot of the Empire State Building, the actual venue was very well planned logistically, and coordinated, by the SCAA & Dallis Brothers Coffee. In conjunction with Coffee & Tea Festival, the event was a sight to see. So much hustle and bustle seemingly centered around this one, truly remarkable event.
The judges calibration started early Friday at Dallis Brothers' training facility in Queens and lasted all day. Full of written tests, cuppings, group evaluations, and mock run-throughs, I felt empowered and confident to give the competitors a fair shake at something they've worked on for month after month,.. with sleepless nights no doubt. During the lunch break, Dallis' VP, John Moore offered a tour to willing participants of their entire roasting facility. This was the quintessential roasting facility. This was an awesome time to be training as a judge. This was the perfect moment.
To see first time competitors facing judges with such confidence and poise was so heartening & humbling. To see seasoned competitors just completely "lay-it-down" was invigorating and inspiring, as well, though it'd be tough to say which group of people I took the most from. At the end of the day, I was really looking forward to talking with some of the competitors
about their routines, though unfortunately, none showed. As a past competitor, I felt like I did have some insight I would've loved to share, as I benefited from speaking with my judges after my competition time.
Ultimately, this has been such a great thing to be a part of. I feel I have a much more solid understanding of USBC rules and regulations. What an experience. NERBC NY '12.'