Conversations from the Specialty Coffee Expo: Dee “Walt Deezy” Traylor

Name: Dee Traylor, better known as Walt Deezy
Company: Rosalind Coffee Company
Position: Owner, Roaster, Barista, Green Buyer, Renaissance Man
Based: New York, New York
Expos Attended: Lost count (“Double digits, for sure”)

JJ: So you love Expos?
WD: I’ve been doing this for a long time and I love Expos. I go to every tradeshow I possibly can go to.

JJ: What are you typically going for? What are the typical activities that you seek out when you’re at an Expo?
WD: Definitely support the baristas when they’re competing with the Brewers Cup and all the major competitions. But I personally love the latte art competitions. You meet so many fun new people, even just now people who are just getting into coffee, they understand latte art, they understand what pretty is. Right? So it is really cool to be around like-minded people competing. I’m very competitive so, I win a lot. I’ve never been to a tradeshow and not won.

JJ: What all have you won here?
WD: This time? So far I’ve won Breville latte art throwdown, the Elmhurst latte art throwdown, the Pacific Latte Art throwdown, and the Califia latte art throwdown. And there’s three more going on today.

JJ: Have you seen any unique trends this year at the Expo?
WD: Yeah, a lot of good latte artists and a lot of alternative milk producers, a lot of them are turning to oat milk, it seems like everyone is doing a really good job at it. I like how [there’s] a lot of competitions with artists, milk providers, and also machine providers. So everybody’s getting better cause everyone wants to overtop the person. Competition makes us great, lack of competition can get us stagnant. I’m liking how everybody’s getting better, at a rapid rate. It’s awesome.

JJ: Before, we were chatting about how you’re a hustler, you really like to make things happen. I’m curious how you got into coffee and what makes you so excited about it.
WD: A guy named Jason Ally, we were at like Starbucks, and he told me to get passionate about something. He looked around and he like, “Why don’t you work here?” Why not? My first job was Starbucks, and working as a barista was so much fun, I was like, “Oh yeah, gotta have that!”

I also wanted it because I wanted to hang out with a lot of people from all walks of life. You can’t just go up to a guy in a really nice suit and say, “Hey, let’s be friends,” that’s weird. But you could do that over coffee. You can do that while you serving. You can do it like, while speaking about a like-minded thing, and coffee was my vessel to have those relationships. So that’s why I stuck with it, and did for as long as I have. I’ve never done anything else for as long than being in coffee. I am an old man in coffee.

JJ: Oh? You’re an old man in coffee?
WD: Yup, a thousand years.

JJ: Really? You’re looking really great for a thousand.
WD: Thank you! See? I got the… you know. What’s that disease called? Benjamin Buttons! So I look good, but I’m old as dirt.

JJ: Hey, whatever works. So for the newbie baristas, coming into their next Expo or their first tradeshow, what advice do you have for them?
WD: Watch the show. Watch, learn, and also, don’t be afraid to talk to people. Point someone out like, “Man, I love that art…can you show me?” Compete. Don’t be scared because it’s your first time and you see these guys that are like veterans. Losing builds progress. Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent. I get those muscle memories going and you’re facing really good people, you see what they do and you’re like, “Oh man, next time I’m gonna do this,” and don’t be afraid of losing. After you take a couple of L’s, you’ll stop shaking, you’ll stop getting as nervous, and that helps you get better. Don’t be shy, seek a sensei, and be open to new ideas and new pours, and new adventures.

JJ: I feel like you’re pushing what a barista competition looks like. You’re pushing it in new directions and I’m curious what your strategy is when you’re developing a presentation?
WD: For a longtime, I used to go to throwdowns and they weren’t boring, because there was still competition, it was cool, but it was just cool. I’m like, “What we’re doing is amazing right now,” it should be presented as that. I really wanted to make it big, so started working on “Okay, how can I make this even more fun? How can I keep people’s eye on us? Okay, I’m gonna throw some baby powder around now. Okay?” People are amazed when they’ve never seen me do that before. Throw in some fireworks. Oh? Y’all used to me doing fireworks now? Alright, let me get a fog machine and a cape. Cool. Alright, y’all seen that before now too? Lemme get a panda head. Who knows, maybe next time I’ll get a panda and me and the panda come down the stage together. I don’t know. I got to keep topping it, keep making it fun and a spectacle because what we’re doing is a spectacle and people love it. A lot of people don’t understand the barista competition. Even though I love it personally, a lot of people don’t understand it. A regular guest would not understand a barista competition. It’s very tactile and its very unique and it’s very niche. You’ve got the cream of the crop competing, like those are the best baristas possible! But regular customers kind of only understand regular stuff and they understand pretty. What we do is pretty, let’s keep doing it. It’s something that everybody can relate to and come together and watch. I like to put on a show.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Read all of our conversations from the 2019 Specialty Coffee Expo.