With more than 20 college-age folks milling about the packed parking lot in front of Stir Coffee just before 5 p.m., it was easy to spot the location of Monday night's barista jam. Especially for those who, like Roasted, had yet to pay a visit to Stir Coffee, Dallas' new coffee-centered coffee shop that shares a space with Good 2 Go Tacos in an old strip mall at Peavy and Garland Roads.
Opened January 13, Stir Coffee's owners, Rip Rowan and Vanessa Peters, clearly hope to gain a reputation in Dallas as a coffee shop that takes coffee very seriously. The menu boasts several "slow," hand-crafted brewing methods and their baristas are all said to be "expertly trained" in skills like shot timing, extraction, water science and milk texturing.
So, it's no wonder Stir's already hosting a barista jam, which are seen as community-building educational sessions, with tastings and speakers as well as knockout, tournament-style competitions where folks from different coffee shops go cup-to-cup.
And the stakes for these barista jams are higher than even the cash prizes hint at, because the winning baristas earn some serious cred among fellow tampers. And, with more than 50 people looking on, it was clear that jittery, over-caffeinated hands spelled disaster for a few contestants.
Before the event officially started, with the crowd outside chattering and chain-smoking away, Jon Meadows of Cultivar Coffee worked his way from person to person, jotting down the names of -- and collecting the $10 cash buy-ins from -- the baristas who had showed up to "throwdown," as it's called in the competitive coffee scene.
"This is huge, a really good turnout," Meadows said, glancing at the clipboard with all the contestants' names and the names of the coffee shops they represented. (Nowadays, when he's not roasting beans, Meadows himself slings shots at The Pearl Cup.)
To attend the event, baristas drove (and biked) from Dallas, Oak Cliff, Denton, Grapevine, Fort Worth, (with a few coming from as far away as Austin and Houston), representing area shops The Pearl Cup, White Rock Coffee, Global Peace Factory, Big Mike's Coffee Shop and Avoca Coffee Roasters.
"If we would've tried to organize this a year ago, we may have had 10 people here," Meadows told Roasted before heading inside to add more names to the list.
A small turnout would have made for a much less interesting night, if only because the number of participants in these competitions determines the dollar amount of the winner-take-all first prize. Which, on Monday night, ended up being $160 after 16 of the 50 or so people in attendance entered the competition. (Second prize was a $25 gift card to Good 2 Go Tacos, and the third place winner earned a free membership with the Barista Guild of America.)
The goal of these barista jams is to cultivate a coffee community while stirring up a bit of healthy barista versus barista competition and coffee shop against coffee shop rivalry. Bringing together so many baristas under one roof is also meant to foster a community passionate about seeing better coffee available and brewed in Dallas.
In addition to the latte art competition, attendees sampled a Guatemalan coffee brewed using three different extraction methods (French Press, Chemex, and Hario V60 -- single-cup brews available at Stir Coffee, and a few other shops in Dallas), with the idea that the baristas learn how much the brew method alters a bean's taste.
And then came the speakers....
David Buehrer, board member of the Barista Guild of America, came in from Houston to talk about the 23rd annual Specialty Coffee Association of America's exposition, that's expected to draw more than 9,000 people to Houston this year (from April 28 to May 1).
Next up, Lorenzo Perkins from Austin's Café Medici, who we happened to mention in our first post about Meadows. Perkins is the area's regional rep for Barista Guild of America, as well as the winner of last year's South Central Regional Barista Competition. (Perkins went on to place ninth in the U.S.)
Perkins spent a few minutes explaining some of the other types of barista competitions: pour-offs, throwdowns and all sorts of other exciting-sounding competitions where baristas are judged for their work. Judges determine the winners based on things such as taste, knowledge, symmetry, style, foam density and overall impression. In a latte art competition, stark dark-to-light contrast between the espresso with the creamy-white milk foam is critical.
And, speaking of judging, Roasted was asked to be one of the jam's three judges. Killing all suspense (because, really, these jams are more about the community created than anything else), Perkins won the event with Jared Hamilton from Global Peace Factory as runner up. Nathan Shelton of Cultivar Coffee, also one of Stir's baristas, placed third.
So, yeah, Austin whipped Dallas' ass.
After all, when Meadows competed in last year's South Central Regional Barista Competition he was the lone barista from Dallas to attend, and he urged the audience to participate in the future.
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"For the sake of Dallas, please, don't make me be the only one to compete again this year," he laughingly begged the attendees. "I don't know if you guys realize how huge this [turnout] is for the Dallas coffee community, but this is really exciting to see, and it gives me a lot of hope for the future of Dallas' coffee."
Before calling the night to a close, Meadows even offered to meet with baristas looking to better learn their craft.
Even after the majority of the baristas had headed home, the organizers and a few stragglers were still standing behind the espresso bar "throwing-down" against one another -- pausing to sip their creations.
It was a good night for the future of coffee in Dallas -- we warned you last year about those Cultivar Coffee guys stirring things up for the coffee scene.