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Pair of winners at SERBC took the long road to coffee

Pair of winners at SERBC took the long road to coffee

Posted: Feb 14, 2012

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It often seems that everyone is the specialty coffee sphere has had an interesting career or two before joining the industry. For Lindsey Kiser of Washington, D.C.’s Peregrine Espresso, those pre-coffee days included three years working for a U.S. senator and a few more pursuing woodworking and fine furniture making. For Matt Ludwikowski of Atlanta’s Octane Coffee, his non-coffee career has included stints as a touring musician and a music producer.

Kiser and Ludwikowski are full-time coffee people now, and after this weekend’s Southeast Regional Barista Competition (SERBC) in Atlanta, each one has a new title to add to the resume: Kiser as the Southeast barista champ, Ludwikowski as the region’s Brewer’s Cup winner. Both will move on to compete in the national version of their respective competitions at the U.S. Barista Championship, to be held April 19-22 in Portland, Ore.

Kiser’s start in coffee coincided with Peregrine opening its first shop in 2008, and she says she caught the bug from there. “I really didn’t know anything about specialty coffee, but we had such a great staff that was already passionate that it was just contagious,” she says. “I totally drank the Kool-Aid.” Now the manager of Peregrine’s Eastern Market location, the 31-year-old Kiser made her first foray into the barista competition world at the 2011 SERBC and followed that with the USBC. She says the feedback she received about those efforts from judges’ score sheets and Peregrine’s staff—which contains many veteran barista competitors and judges as well—played an integral role in preparing her for the next contest. “There was a large pool of people to get advice from,” she says. “It’s definitely not something that I did on my own, and I can’t attribute it to just me.”

For her competition performance, Kiser used a coffee from the Baroida Estate in Papua New Guinea’s Eastern Highlands from Peregrine’s roaster, Counter Culture. “I tend to never really like coffees from that part of the world,” she says. “They always seem a little bit too earthy for me. But something was different about Baroida.” Kiser says she was attracted to the idea of using a coffee from an up-and-coming growing region. “Because I liked Baroida so much, I wanted to give it a platform to hopefully get some attention,” she says. Kiser centered her competition on two words—personality and culture—and used those themes to delve into how people process a taste experience. “I used that in my presentation to introduce this coffee to the judges,” she says. “I talked about what’s going on inside the coffee being the personality of it, but then took it into what surrounded that—the processing, the roasting process and the development that happened.” But Kiser’s performance wasn’t all serious business; her onstage setup included a pink cotton candy maker that she employed to make her signature beverage.

With the win, Kiser became the first female to win a U.S. barista competition since Danielle Glasky’s 2010 win at the Northeast regional. Kiser says she and the Peregrine crew have discussed the gender divide, and she’s still processing her theories. “I think guys tend to gravitate toward the competition side of things and wanting to win and almost being fueled by it, whereas I don’t know if that’s the case necessarily with all the women,” he says. “I want to say I’m happy to represent, but on the other side, I can’t represent all the women baristas who have competed in the past few years. But I’m honored of course.”

Rounding out the top three in the barista event were second-place finisher Trevor Corlett of MadCap Coffee in Washington, D.C., and Michael Harwood of North Carolina’s Carrboro Coffee.

In the weekend’s other event, Ludwikowski, 30, became the first winner of a Brewers Cup to actually pick the coffee he served, a practice that emerged last year when Alejandro Mendez and Pete Licata placed first and second, respectively, at the World Barista Championship after handling their own beans. Ludwikowski’s coffee came from the town of Laguneta, located in the San Vicente municipality of El Salvador. Last year, Ludwikowski launched an importing company (called Brash Coffee) that works with three farms in the region; he ventured to the country three times in January, and on one of those trips he plucked the coffee at Finca Los Reyes that he would use for his Brewers Cup routine. “I picked the coffee and put it in a little plastic bag, which was the only thing I had when we were up there on the farm,” he says. “I brought it down, depulped it by hand into two little bowls, then dried it out on the raised beds that I had built, then brought it back with me here a few weeks ago.”

Ludwikowski wasn’t planning to compete in the Brewers Cup; in fact, he had so little of the coffee that he was barely able to muster a routine. He worked with friend David Delchamps to locate a sample roaster small enough to roast the miniscule amount of coffee he’d brought back; they found it at Athens, Ga.-based roaster 1,000 Faces. “I only had honestly about 200 grams of roasted coffee to start,” he says. “I did a cupping last week to taste it and then one practice round for Brewers Cup, but that’s it. I got to try the coffee twice.”

Fortunately for Ludwikowski, twice was enough. For the competition, he prepared the coffee in an eight-cup Chemex, in a ratio he says was about 26 grams of coffee to 416 milliliters of water, brewed for about four-and-a-half minutes. Ludwikowski says his extra connection to his coffee might have helped him score a few points with the judges, but because presentation is only 30 percent of the score (compared with 70 percent for taste), the coffee had to speak for itself. “The truth is that if the coffee wasn’t great itself, the presentation still would have been cool, but it probably wouldn’t have won,” he says.

Ludwikowski began working in coffee in the early-2000s and took a few years off for stints touring the country with the bands El Toro and Anberlin. He’s also spent time working as a songwriter and music producer in Nashville. He is now a barista at Atlanta’s Octane Coffee in addition to running Brash Coffee, and though he was a last-minute addition to the Brewers Cup lineup, he’s excited that his enthusiasm for coffee at the source netted him the win. “One of the greatest moments of my life was to look down at a finished cup of coffee that I was fully responsible for,” he says, “to know that from picking it from the tree all the way to drinking the last sip, that that coffee would not have been there if I hadn’t
done that.”

Also in the Brewers Cup top three were Jonathan Bonchak in second and Bryan Duggan in third, both of Durham, N.C.’s Counter Culture.

—Chris Ryan

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