Denver Coffeefest Competitors Showcase

The Coffeefest in Denver is happening this weekend at the Colorado Convention Center. We have 6 competitors from Houston competing in the Latte Art World Championship Open , which offers a 64 competitor bracket to all latte artists over the world. We Houston makes up almost 10% of the bracket!

We also have one roaster competing in the America's Best Espresso!

It's an intense event which starts Friday (8th June) morning and through the weekend. Here for this month's Coffeezine we want to bring to you a series of interview showcasing our Houston Competitors.

All the best of luck, y'all, and for our Houston audience, let's root for them in their hometown Houston, and show them some love through social media!

Consolidated by: Anita Tam

Editorial Credit: Rachel Lanigan / Third Gen Coffee, The Woodlands @thirdgencoffee

 

Emilee Bryant

Emliee Bryant

Greenway Coffee & Tea

 

#1

Emilee Bryant - Competing in the Latte Art World Championship Open, Denver 2018

How long have you been working in coffee?

E: I’ve been in coffee for 2.5 years.

 

Is this your first time competing?

E: This is my fourth time competing in the Coffeefest - I’ve also competed in other latte art competitions before.

 

How does competing help you with your career?

E: Competition has hardened me as a barista.
It has helped me develop my skill - not just only for a better milk texture,  but also a better overall drink quality.

 

What motivates you to compete?

E: The really positive feedback from the community - especially on social media. I feel very motivated when positive comments show up under my post.

Antoine has been a big motivator and an amazing competition buddy. Antoine is super consistent in his drink and work flow - something that I see as an example for all of us.  He is also an incredible friend.

 

Emilee Latte Art

"It feels great to be good at something, not just at latte art but coffee in general . The real motivation also comes from the first drink in the morning after dialing in the coffee - the taste, the texture, it’s just perfect. "

Looking back :  What was that “Aha moment” that got you into latte art / coffee and what kept you going?

E: My “Aha moment” - I was working at a popup facility downtown, and that was the first time I worked on a machine that allowed me to work on the texture of milk. Once I understood that texture element it was like a coffee epiphany for me.

What kept me going - it feels great to be good at something , not just at latte art but coffee in general . The real motivation also comes from the first drink in the morning after dialing in the coffee - the taste, the texture, it’s just perfect. The satisfaction I get is enormous. It’s about knowing that you are delivering quality. It’s a satisfying and comforting feeling.

 

Emilee

Looking forward:  What do you think we need in the Houston coffee scene?

E: I think Houston should host a large expo to showcase the shops and brand as well as bringing everyone from the country here to see what Houston has to offer. All the shops here in Houston are like a big family, but they are at the same time, all unique. It would be interesting to have an expo here.

 

What are your goals for the coming year?

E: Coffeefest!  Work to place in Coffeefest, as well as start tapping into other competitions - I’m  especially interested in cup taster. I want to expand my knowledge threshold.

 

You are the only female competitor on our Houston List. What do you want say to the ladies who want to get into competing?

E: Hey ladies, just submit, make your presence known, and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Yes, it is definitely a male dominant stage, but together, we can make that one percent larger.

 

 

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Rob Sykes

Retrospect Coffee

 

#2

Rob Sykes - Competing in the Latte Art World Championship Open, Denver, 2018

How Long have you been in Coffee?

R: 1.5 years.


Is this your first time competing?

R: Yes.

 

What motivates you to compete?

R: Firstly, I just like to compete, and I find it fun.  Secondly,  I thought it would be a good chance to improve by being around baristas that are more skilled than myself. Thirdly, this would also give me the opportunity to explore the coffees in other cities. Fourth - its just great chance to network with other coffee professionals!

 

How does competing help you with your career?

R: Networking!  It really helps to learn things from other baristas that I can bring back to Houston with me.

 

Looking back - what was that "Aha moment" that got you into coffee?

R: At first, I didn't like coffee. It tasted too bitter to me. My first specialty coffee experience was a cappuccino at Catalina, which now it’s my favorite coffee shop. Over time I started going to coffee shops in town with nice patios so I could kill time before hitting the Zen Center. While being at the shops, I started noticing how coffee is made and the craftsmanship that’s involved. Specifically Blacksmith, Catalina, and Boomtown are the three shops that I would spend time “investigating” about coffee.

In a nut shell, if it wasn't for Zen, I wouldn’t be in coffee. The attention to detail to create coffees that are great and pretty. I appreciate that, and I see how that is related to Zen practice.

My "Aha moment" in Latteart:  @Shinsaku_Samurai, who works at St. Ali, and his IG was one of the accounts I watched to learn latte art. (Plus he has a cool name. ) He was also very new into coffee when he won at Coffeefest. His style and his pours really caught my attention.

"I try to practice paying attention and focus from moment to moment. I would say that in my experience when you pay attention to the moment, there is clarity within us or a sense of calmness that will naturally reveal itself.  Photo Credit: Paul Yoon

"I try to practice paying attention and focus from moment to moment. I would say that in my experience when you pay attention to the moment, there is clarity within us or a sense of calmness that will naturally reveal itself.

Photo Credit: Paul Yoon

 

 

On Competition and Stress:

R: Here is one of my favorite quotes from Layman Pang, a Zen practitioner from China. He is a husband, dad, and he was very well respected for his wisdom.

“When I chop wood, I chop wood. When I carry water, I carry water.” That resonated with me in coffee because of the focus aspect of it. You can say “when I grind coffee, I grind coffee …. etc”, so I try to practice paying attention and focus from moment to moment. I would say that in my experience when you pay attention to the moment, there is clarity within us or a sense of calmness that will naturally reveal itself. There is a natural peace and clarity, that obviously reduces the impact of stress during competition.

As for what I tell baristas who are newer into this than myself - or anyone that is interested in coffee, find people you respect in the industry who are knowledgeable, and ask questions, practice, as well as learning by watching lots of video and see how others do it.

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Thank you, to Barista Rudy - whom shared a lot of knowledge. As well as Antoine, who has been very generous with his knowledge and supportive to us all.  Of course, to Emilee as well. We worked together briefly in Boomtown, but she is always very willing to give advice and share what she knows!

 

#3

John Sanson/ Pearland Coffee Roasters - Competing in the America's Best Espresso, Denver 2018


How long have you been roasting coffee?

J: I started in 2011, I bought my first home roaster, Quest M3, to start roasting on my back porch.

"I am taking what I loved - working bar fulltime and as a roaster and presenting a combination of the two worlds!"

"I am taking what I loved - working bar fulltime and as a roaster and presenting a combination of the two worlds!"

 

Is this your first time competing?

J: It is! This is also my first national conference/show to go to as well.


What motivated you to compete?

J: I felt it was my time. I have been in specialty coffee for 8 years now so I thought, why not me this year.


Tell us a bit about the competition - and which coffee are you presenting?

J: It is very similar to a Latte Art World Champion Open but I will be going head to head with another roaster, and the winner moves on.

They judge on 3 parts:

1) Flavor Complexity/Balance  

2) Mouthfeel & Appeal/Body

3) Aftertaste/Session.

I actually just had to change what coffee I was presenting literally as of this morning! Long story short, I just wasn’t happy with the way it turned out this last week & scrapped all my plans for it.

I am presenting a Guatemala Acatenango Gesha (been saving it for the last few months for a rainy day). I am taking what I loved - working bar fulltime and as a roaster and presenting a combination of the two worlds!

The coffee: it is very aromatic, floral and sweet when we cupped it, so we are really excited to try it out as an espresso. Because I need to let it degas, I am trusting that I pulled off the roast, and I wont be able to try it until Friday during my test run.

 

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Looking back - what was that “Aha moment” that got you into roasting/ coffee and what kept you going?

J: I don’t think there was a true ‘aha’ moment. I wanted to learn to roast to become a better barista originally.

Community is what kept me going. I am not talking about the Throwdowns. I am talking about when you get to share coffee and have genuine, authentic conversations that builds relationships that will make ripple effects industry and the future.


 

 

Looking forward - What do you think we need in the Houston coffee scene?

J: Working at an established shop/roastery outside of the loop and being from the suburbs, I think baristas and roasters should make the trip to shops outside the loop. There is an awesome scene that is happening that a lot of people are missing out on.


What are your goals for the coming year?

J: I can’t say for this next year yet. I want to enjoy this moment which isn’t over yet. Ask me next week and my answer will probably differ!

 

You are the only roaster competitor on our Houston List. What do you want say to the young roasters want to get into competing?

J: It is not about the brand, hype, or keeping up with the trends. It is about you and the cup you want to present, and why you do it.

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Steven Garcia

Boomtown Main Street

#4

Steven Garcia - Competing in the Latte Art World Championship Open, Denver, 2018

"I love the different ways they approach coffee, it’s craft, aesthetics, and I want to meet them in person. It is like meeting the rest of your family.

"I love the different ways they approach coffee, it’s craft, aesthetics, and I want to meet them in person. It is like meeting the rest of your family.

How long have you been working in coffee?
 
S: I’ve been in coffee about 8-10 years.
 
 
Is this your first time competing?
 
S: Second time - last time I was a standby, and within 10 minutes I was notified to compete. It was actually great because I went in so fast I didn't have time to get nervous.
 
 
What is your tips on managing stress during competition?
 
S: I think during competition we tend to think a lot about the other competitor. I’d like to think about myself. Time will prove this is a winning strategy.
 
It really helps if I’m mentally prepared, and if I get enough sleep. Sometimes I dance a little, and move my muscles.  That helps with releasing stress.
 
Ben and I did a throwdown at Sawada, and I came in third on that one. I remember that night the place was so crowded. There were like 150 people there, and at least 50 of them were trying to get into the bracket. I remember that whole event; I kept trying to keep my mind at ease. I’m concerned more about my clear mind and to perform my best. When I pulled back from the situation to focus on feeling my place and my space, amongst the other talented people in that room, I poured better than ever.
 
In that first Coffeefest, I went up against Kenta Tamura, and I didn't expect to be going against him as a stand by, so I wasn’t even there with my things. When they made the announcement, I ran back to grab my pitcher and my cup from my bag. When I turned around, I saw him. I was like, “Okay. There you go.” So I poured my thing, and I managed to do my signature - a speed variation Rosetta. It was a hard pattern. He looked at mine, took some time to redo his drink. I thought he had to make sure he beat me, and he did. So, there is indeed a strategy element to it. I’m still learning.  I think every time you do it, you learn a little more on the strategy. At a certain point you start becoming mindful of your competitor’s score, mindful of how well they are going to score with their pour, and it’s scoring potential. It is not just stress or performance management, it is also developing a strategy.
 
How does competing help you with your career?
 
S: I think competition and training helps with the intent of the craft. I think so often great art means intention. You have to think through the process - your own actions. For example, “Why am I getting on the plane to get to Denver, and pour milk in espresso, in a cup?”  I think when you find that within yourself, it is easier to display it externally and light up other people. It is contagious.
 
 
What motivate you to compete?
 
S: Honestly, I wrote in my submission that the underling reason why I travel to Coffeefest is to meet others that inspired me. I closely followed the latte art movement that has been happening in the U.S., Japan, and around the world. I love the different ways they approach coffee, it’s craft, aesthetics, and I want to meet them in person. It is like meeting the rest of your family.
 

Looking back - what was that “Aha moment” that got you into latte art / coffee and what kept you going?
 
S: So that comes back full circle. I was returning from SCA for the first time, and one of my friends who was in the coffee industry passed me Sawada’s book. I spend 3 hours on the plane reading, and I didn't want to give it back.
 
Sawada is the first latte artist, whom I believe, had worked on explaining the “how to” in formally approaching latte art. It was exciting to see how it got so far in the Japanese culture, as well. There in Japan, baristas and coffee managers are seen as chefs. The head barista at a shop should be operating at that level. They should be preparing the best environment, have the whole team execution at their very best, and also create the driving energy for the whole establishment.
 
I think in a way, latte art embodies that - when it is a perfect cup, knowing that the shot of espresso is excellent, with great texture was executed in perfection, you feel satisfied. Customers would see it and get excited about that fact that your care so much. Great latte art is good for customers, employees and baristas.
 


Looking forward - What do you think we need in the Houston coffee scene?
 
S: At the Denver Coffeefest, 10 percent of the bracket is from Houston. I feel like the coffee professionals that have paved the way, like Letoto and Antoine, helped people have the courage to put themselves on stage. Every trip they took with the Greenway crew, as they went and compete, overtime, it made it seem possible for everyone to share that experience as well.
 


What are your goals for the coming year?
 
S: For the coming year, I would like to work on executing other avenues. I want to start learning more about coffee processing and seed to cup. I've spent so much time behind the bar that I haven't had the opportunity to spend time with the roaster to do more cuppings. I want to further my coffee knowledge and the fundamentals too. It is something that you can always go back to revisit.

edgar1

Edgar Reyes

Boomtown Heights

#5

Edgar Reyes - Competing in the Latte Art World Championship Open, Denver, 2018

How long have you been working in coffee?
 
E: I’ve been working in coffee for about 1.5 - 2 years.


Is this your first time competing?
 
E: Yes, this is my first time competing in Coffeefest.


How does competing help you with your career?
 
E: I feel like competing helps me to challenge myself, and to become better. This applies not only in latte art but also to coffee in general. I also want to improve my palette, on dialing in espresso, as well as my coffee knowledge in general. Every time I get better with my pours, it motivates me to become better in coffee.
 

A lot of other baristas had commented that you are generous on sharing observations and tips during competition. Can you tell us more about it?
 
E: I want to be on an even playing ground. We can all pour different patterns and be on different levels as far as technicality, but I want everyone to be on the same playing field.  I have respect for people for having their own secret, but I am like, if you want to learn something, nothing is going to stop you from knowing it.
 

"I realized I was having fun learning about coffee from other people. There is love, compassion, and no one is excluded. I love that feeling that we are all in a family together.

"I realized I was having fun learning about coffee from other people. There is love, compassion, and no one is excluded. I love that feeling that we are all in a family together.


What motivate you to compete?
 
E: Um, I want to have my own shop in the future. I think the best way to get my name out there is through competition. It enables me to build the connection with other people, and dive into the industry as a whole - not just local level but also global level. This helps me grow. Every time I go, I meet someone new, and this is exciting.
 
 
Looking back - what was that “Aha moment” that got you into latte art / coffee and what kept you going?
 
E: I think my “Aha moment” was when I was told by Tout Suite that they had to let me go because I didn't fit with the group of people I was working with. I believed there was more to it in the industry, so I left to work at Blockhouse. I realized I was having fun learning about coffee from other people. There is love, compassion, and no one is excluded. I love that feeling that we are all in a family together. I can’t see myself leaving coffee any time soon.
 
 
Looking forward - What do you think we need in the Houston coffee scene?

E: What we need is more unity, and more events that bring everyone together. Every time I go to a throwdown, I feel the connection between baristas and between people. We are all so busy working, and end up not having any chance to meet up. Having more social gatherings and event throwdowns will bring people so much closer together.
 
What are your goals for the coming year?
 
E: My goal is just for everyone to be more connected to each other. For people like me, who are super interested in getting in the industry, to be offered the learning experience.  Making knowledge more accessible – so that people get the same chance to advance just like everyone else. Growth only occurs when people are given the chance to learn how to showcase their skills!

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Benjamin Clark

Boomtown Main Street

#6

Benjamin Clark - Competing in the Latte Art World Championship Open, Denver, 2018


How long have you been working in coffee?
 
B: 3.5 years. I first started in Common Bond, where I got a great intro in coffee. They used boomtown as well. So I’ve always been kind of in the Boomtown family.
 


Is this your first time competing?
 
B: No - this is actually my fourth time! My first competition was 2016 in Dallas.
 

"I want to see more events, and more people to get together. Even for people who are not in the industry, to be more involved in the coffee community.

"I want to see more events, and more people to get together. Even for people who are not in the industry, to be more involved in the coffee community.


How does competing help you with your career?
 
B: It’s the recognition around the world, and people would hit me up and send me positive feedback. A barista from Ghana reached out to me the other day with, “I love your latte art.” The positive feedback from the latte art community around the world really motivates and helps me become a better barista.
 


What motivates you to compete?
 
B: For a while, about a year and a half, I was working as a barista. It’s fun, and I liked it, but at the first throwdown that I had, it was kind of like all things are for a reason. It was a wake up call for me.
 
 
Looking back - what was that “Aha moment” that got you into latte art / coffee, and what kept you going?
 
B: About the “Aha moments” - I had a few. The first throwdown was at Tout Suite, about 3 years ago. It was a throwdown that I went against John Letoto for the first round. I had only been a barista for 7 months, and of course I didn't make it, but it motivated me to keep going and to chase the goal, to become better and better in latte art.
 
 
Looking forward - What do you think we need in the Houston coffee scene?
 
B: I want to see more events, and more people to get together. Even for people who are not in the industry, to be more involved in the coffee community. At the moment I am planning a coffee trivia night at A 2nd Cup.
 

What are your goals for the coming year?
 
B: I want to compete in USBC - I want to become a full spectrum barista. I like latte art and it is great, but it only matters as a tiny part of the coffee process. Latte art is great for customers to see, but there is so much more in coffee that we can offer.

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Jason Martinez

Coral Sword

#7 Jason Martinez - Competing in the Latte Art World Championship Open, Denver, 2018


How long have you been working in coffee?
 
J: 2.5 years
 
 
Is this your first time competing?
 
J: No, actually, my first time was in Dallas, and then Chicago, and Baltimore, and now, I’m going to Denver!
 
 
How does competing help you with your career?
 
J: I think if you get your name out there, you start to get acknowledge.  You also get to network with people around the world through these competitions.
 
On social media: you get to access people that you normally won’t be able to. I actually have a stronger social media connection with people outside of the city than within Houston.
 

"You win some money, but it is all about the trophy for me. It’s like, to be able to say that you went against some of the best in the world. That is the greatest motivation of all.

"You win some money, but it is all about the trophy for me. It’s like, to be able to say that you went against some of the best in the world. That is the greatest motivation of all.


What motivate you to compete?
 
J: Motivation: I guess from other latte artist. I used to look at a lot of pictures and watch videos of John Letoto - he is probably one of my largest inspirations.


I would like to have a first place trophy. You win some money, but it is all about the trophy for me. It’s like, to be able to say that you went against some of the best in the world. That is the greatest motivation of all.
 
 
Looking back - what was that “Aha moment” that got you into latte art / coffee and what kept you going?
 
J: It was the moment that I got acknowledged. In the beginning, everybody sort of thinks that they, themselves are mediocre, and at certain point you start realizing that you are actually good at it.
 
Also, when seeing a lot of other people making a career out of coffee, i.e. Lance Hedrick. He just got a job with Onyx - travelling and competing as a competing latte artist. Just that idea of being able to support yourself and your family doing something that you love motivates me.
 
 
Looking forward- What do you think we need in the Houston coffee scene?
 
J: I think Houston needs a stronger training program for young baristas. Most of my coffee career, I had to teach myself things, but I would like to make that road easier for young baristas. I think education is everything. You can cut the learning time by half if you have the proper training. With latte art for instance, I spent months and weeks doing things wrong. If someone had seen me and would have pointed out the problem, I would have been able to fix that in one day.
 
I would think it’s a great thing to have a Houston Latte art team.
 
 
What are your goals for the coming year?

 
J: I would say to meet more people, of course to win Coffeefest, and start to get trained and certified with SCA. 

HCC TEAM