Gwilym is the 2009 World Barista Champion

And there you have it. A heart felt congratulations to Gwilym Davis from London, who emerged top barista in the 2009 World Barista Championship held this year in Atlanta GA after beating five other contestants with a total score of 623 points.

Sammy Piccolo of Canada came in second with 619.5 points and Michael Phillips third with 618.5 points. Pretty close race I must say. Rounding out the top six were Colin Harmon of Ireland, Lee Jong Hoon of South Korea (or Republic of Korea) and Attila Molnar of Hungary who came in fourth, fifth and sixth place respectively.

Gwilym Davis from London, England, in addition to winning Best Barista also took the Best Espresso and Best Signature Drink categories. It was a little harder for me to find out more information about Davis, but I guess he serves his espresso creations out of Gwilym & Crew’s Coffee Carts in London’s Whitecross Street and Columbia Road Martket Flower Market. They use Square Mile Coffee Roasters‘ beans. Apparently a lot of baristas and roasters go to him for their drinks… and now that the cat is out of the bag, I expect his lines to get even longer.

Sammy Piccolo is is highly regarded as the best barista in Canada and when I say this I think I am understating this. It so happens that he is the only barista to actually have placed in the top three spots in the World Championships four times in a row (including this just concluded competition). Now one of the reasons I am really excited about Sammy being in the top three is with regard to Caffé Artigiano and 49th Parallel. He and his brother started the Vancouver based franchise, Caffé Artigiano, a coffeehouse that I have visited on a few occasions, in Vancouver BC and also in Victoria BC. I have a blog post regarding my most recent trip to Victoria a couple of weeks back where I talk about my visit to Caffé Artigiano. I also didn’t know he is also the co-founder of 49th Parallel, a coffee roaster that does a pretty awesome job, yet, many that I have talked to, even in the barista/coffeehouse arena, have not really heard about. I can tell you that I think they do an awesome job and you can get 49th Parallel beans at Caffé Artigiano if you are in Vancouver or Victoria BC. For those of you in Seattle, head on down to Trabant Coffee. As far as I know, this is the only place in Seattle where you can taste 49th’s awesomeness.

Michael Phillips is a Chicago based barista with Intelligentsia Coffee. One thing interesting about Intelligentsia is that they are very actively involved in the coffee scene with regards to training baristas and tend to be well represented at the various barista competitions. The only place that you can certainly get Intelligentsia coffee is at Specialty’s Bakery and Cafe. There are a few in Seattle, however be warned that the Specialty’s on 4th Avenue does not serve Intelligentsia coffee but actually serves Peets Coffee. Unfortunately I don’t know of any traditional, non-chain indie coffeehouse or coffee shop in the Seattle area that serves Intelligentsia so Specialty’s is what I would go off on for now. Now if you happen to be in Victoria BC, you can get Intelligentsia at Dolce Vita Coffee Art but other than that, I don’t really know of any other coffeehouse in Vancouver or Victoria. If you do know of any other coffee shop in the Pacific Northwest that does serve Intelligentsia, please let us know in the comments.

I was not able to attend the competition but I was able to follow some of the buzz on twitter.

Volunteer Park Café and Marketplace Prefers Stumptown

Volunteer Park Cafe Coffee Cup, originally uploaded by andai.

I was somewhat surprised but not really when I went to Volunteer Park Café some months ago and found out that they no longer carried the Café Vita coffee beans but instead had switched to Stumptown coffee beans. I thought that was really interesting and at that time, the barista on duty could not tell me why they had done the switch. Though I have been there a few times since, I finally chatted with one of baristas who knew and told me the story.

It turns out that the reason they switched was not because Café Vita coffee beans was bad or anything like that. The reason was pretty simple actually. On the one hand, and in their own words, Stumptown has excellent customer service and are a great supplier to work with and they have great coffee so switching for those reasons alone was not a problem. But the even bigger deal was the fact that the owner of VPC&M just so happens to be one of the co-owners of ‘Oddfellows’ up on Capital hill. Now Oddfellows was already serving Stumptown coffee and so for the owner, it actually made sense for her to switch and deal with just one supplier for both premises rather than have to deal with two different suppliers. Of course if they actually thought that Stumptown coffee was not that great, then I doubt that VPC&M would have switched.

Now for those of you not from the Pacific Northwest region, Stumptown Coffee is actually pretty famous in the Seattle and Portland area and even up in Vancouver and Victoria. I remember at least two summers ago when rumor had it that they were going to be opening up their first shop in Seattle up on Capital Hill (now they have two) everyone was excited that this Portland based Coffee roaster was expanding to Seattle. At that time, the summer of 07, I went to the Stumptown located at the Ace (boutique) hotel and licked their coffee… and there super cool espresso machine even better. And so it seems, I meet a lot of espressonatos who think that Stumptown Coffee is just something really awesome. But I’ve also met a few who are not too impressed with Stumptown and think there are other, much better options, available for those who love their espresso.

So was the switch worth it? Does it make sense to switch because you get great customer service and it’s also more convenient? Yes, I think so, but only if the coffee is at least comparable if not better than what you are currently serving. I certainly think that it does make sense from the ‘dealing with only one supplier’ perspective since having to work with multiple suppliers across multiple locations simply adds overhead and complexity.

Now you don’t very often get a chance to actually compare how well one particular coffee house does if they have serve coffee beans from different roasters. In this case, it would have been interesting to try and reflect back on the Café Vita that VPC&M used to serve and the Stumptown they now do. But alas, it was quite a while back since I drank Café Vita at VPC&M and to be honest, I don’t remember too well how it was compared to the Stumptown they serve now.

However, for some reason I am really leaning towards saying that in my dim memory, the Café Vita might actually have been better than the Stumptown. And I can tell you for sure, I recently ordered a double 8 oz latte at VPC&M and I didn’t think the double shot in an 8 oz cup was a good as it should have been. I do know that I have had a few good double 12 oz Stumptown lattes at VPC&M though and so this makes me wonder if in general I should simply stick to 12 oz cups when I’m ordering Stumptown lattes.

Visiting in Victoria

Submarine Deck, originally uploaded by andai.

This past weekend we were in Victoria BC. It was a pleasant trip for the most part. At the same time I was reminded how dismal the customer service is at the Victoria Clipper. I mean you have a number of people working for the clipper who simply cannot think outside the box and will not lift a finger beyond their stated responsibilities. Without going into specifics, what I can say is that we had a small problem and when we tried to present this problem to the people at the Seattle terminal to help resolve, they were totally helpless, they simply could not even offer any sort of suggestion towards resolving the issue. This incident alone really makes me appreciate even more, good customer service when you encounter it and especially when those helping really go out of their way to find a solution to the issue at hand.

The actual journey to Victoria was uneventful. It was also interesting to note that the TV screens were advertising Tully’s coffee when in-fact the coffee they were serving was actually Appassionato coffee. This to me was another example of the staff’s inability to take any sort of initiative outside their stated responsibilities. The seating was a little cramped but I guess that is the norm on a lot of public transport. We sailed into the Victoria harbor at about 11:00 AM. This was after a 2 and a half hour boat ride.

But I must mention the excellent customer service we experienced at the Empress Hotel. It was absolutely top notch and a big, big contrast to that of the Victoria Clipper.

Saturday was fun and relaxing, but Sunday, even though short, was really a highlight of the trip. This was a trip to the Royal BC Museum. I really liked the Royal BC Museum and even though Victoria is a relatively small city, I think the museum did a marvelous job with the exhibits and I was impressed. In fact the only regret is that I only had two hours to spend at the place rather than 5 hours or a couple of days. They had a great selection of exhibitions including the natural history and the history of the First Nations people. With so much to see and read, I had to hurry through the exhibition so there was a lot I felt that I missed.

I also feel in general that Victoria, though small, does have a lot to offer for the visitor. I don’t know when I’ll be back to visit, maybe this summer, maybe years from now, but visiting in Victoria is always a fun experience for me.

Looking Back at Bauhaus’ Transformation

Bauhaus, originally uploaded by andai.

So the one thing that will always encourage me to go back to a coffee shop, besides decent espresso drinks of course are baristas who are friendly and reasonable. It is also equally, if not more important to me that the place is one where I would feel comfortable hanging out with the rest of the regulars who frequent the place, enjoying espresso drinks and hanging out. It is being in the midst of that ‘community’, even if you are not necessarily interacting directly with those around you. This community and great customer service are what I really believe is king when it comes to having a great coffee shop and coffee shop experience!

Now with customer service, I think that sometimes we as customers forget to really appreciate baristas who are willing to go out of their way to make sure you enjoy your experience at their shop until we get into a situation where the customer service is really bad or you are surrounded by idiots who are making your enjoyment of your coffee an unforgettable experience… unforgettable for all the wrong reasons that is. Case in point is one of my favorite places in the lower Capital Hill area, Bauhaus Books + Coffee.

Many years ago, I used to live about two blocks away from Bauhaus and at that time Bauhaus was really the only decent coffee shop in that area. And so naturally, I used to frequent the place a lot. But over time I remember that the place started becoming really shady. At that time, smoking was allowed in the establishment. But then for some reason unknown to me it all of a sudden seemed like the place started attracting more and more shady characters who would simply hang out all day smoking and ingesting illegal substances. The shop has a cozy, dark, almost out of the way upstairs sitting area and a lot of these folks tended to gravitate towards this sitting area. If you were the kind of person who brought your laptop with hang out and work form there, you certainly didn’t want to leave any of your stuff unattended. This meant that after the second cup of coffee had done its work and you needed to go to the bathroom then you were faced with a small dilemma… your belongings or your wet pants…

And because of the smoking allowed policy, locals would easily know that you were at Bauhaus because you not only smelled of coffee, but you also smelled of cigarette smoke… pretty nasty. So as a result of this, I decided that I was simply going to have to find a better place to hang out… and this is partially why I ended up getting very familiar with Vivace, which was a little bit further, but worth it all the same.

I probably was not the only one to notice that the clientele at Bauhaus was mainly riff-ruff… and so a lot of folks would simply go get a coffee ‘to go’ and not hang out at the place at all. This certainly presented a problem for the owners of the place with regard to brand and image and so they did what was an obvious but smart move, they banned smoking within the establishment. This came as a surprise to me when I happened to drop by the place after a few months absence. I was simply going to go get a latte to go and when I stepped into the place, the first thing I noticed was the place smelled only of fresh coffee… no hint of cigarette smoke at all.

So I asked the barista what happened because the place looked different and actually was starting to look like its old self. This barista, who I believe is no longer there, told me the story of how they had to ban smoking within the premises because that plus the fact that they would allow anyone and everyone to hang out all day even if they really were not buying coffee had attracted the crowd that was doing all sorts of negative stuff and causing legitimate customers to shy away. In other words, it was bad for business.

The long and the short of it is that by simply going back to basics and creating that environment where legitimate paying customers were able to feel comfortable, relax and enjoy good espresso and good company is what helped bring Bauhaus back on track. And so even with more than 3 great coffee shops each less than 5 minutes walking distance from Bauhaus, you find that Bauhaus is doing great and looks like it will be around for quite a while.

My Dilemma… Bauhaus, Victrola, Kaladi or Stumptown?

Bauhaus Hardcore Coffee Drinkers, originally uploaded by andai.

Coming back from the dentist and on the way to work, I wanted to get a latte for the road but I wasn’t quite sure where I wanted to get it from. The drive from my dentist’s office to the freeway would take me through a part of Capital Hill where there were at least four awesome coffeehouses.

These four coffee shops are Bauhaus Books + Coffee, Kaladi Brothers Coffee, Victrola Coffee and Stumptown. Kaladi and Victrola are both on Pike Street while Bauhaus and Stumptown are on Pine Street. Within a space of about 10 minutes, you can circle past all three coffee shops on foot, so the folks who live in that part of lower Capital Hill and love espresso are totally spoilt for choice.

Now right off the bat I didn’t want to go to Kaladi today because the last time I was there, I had a great chat with one of the barista and I promised that the next time I showed up, the following Friday, I would have my portfolio of espresso related photographs to share with them. Since I was not able to make it that Friday, I don’t want to go there until I have my photos printed and organized in a portfolio book. So for this morning, Kaladi Brothers coffee was out of the question.

Next in line for consideration was Stumptown. Now Stumptown is an interesting dilemma because a number of the places that I am been visited recently on Capital Hill do serve Stumptown coffee and I felt that I have been drinking quite a bit of the stuff in the recent past. The one thing I don’t like about Stumptown is that whatever coffee shop you go to that serves Stumptown, you are just about guaranteed to get the Hairbender blend. It would be nice if they actually did roast other espresso blends so we could fully enjoy a wider range of espresso blend flavors. Hence for this reason, I crossed Stumptown of the list.

This then left me with two choices, Victrola and Bauhaus. Now this was a rather tough decision for me. I started leaning towards going to Victrola but as I was driving right by the place and looking at an empty parking space right outside the store, something in me told me to drive to the corner of the block, make a right and go to Bauhaus instead. What happened?? I think there were two things that helped me make that quick, snap judgment and go with Bauhaus rather than Victrola. The first was that I tend to like the older, darker feel that Bauhaus has with the wall to ceiling bookshelves and books that sort of down-to-earth feel about the place. This is very similar to places like the original Top Pot, the original Fuel and even the original Victrola coffee. The Victrola on pike has a much more modern interior décor. But the other and probably the factor that swung me towards Bauhaus’s favor was that I hadn’t been to Bauhaus in a while and I had been to the Victrola on 15th at least three times in the recent past… so the decision was to go to Bauhaus and get my breakfast latte there.

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