I’m sitting on my first Amtrak train on a warm unexpected spring evening in Chicago. Its chugging along slowly, taking me away from Union Station, back towards the direction of my apartment west of downtown and in a moment, past the roasting works of Intelligentsia Coffee, the company I now work for.
During the day, the two floors of the works are busy with people slurping, hauling, pouring and thinking about coffee as well as an ever growing contingent thinking about tea. Its 8pm and normally the works are empty at this time but as I look out for the now familiar corner of Fulton and Wolcott rushing past, I know that there is one room on the second floor that is not empty.
That room is brimming with a ridiculous collection of spices, glassware, napkins, spoons, cups, sugars, dried fruits, fresh fruits, milk, delicious coffee and coffee machines. In addition there are two friends working tirelessly to perfect a fifteen minute service of twelve plus espresso based drinks in anticipation of the Great Lakes Barista Regional Barista Competition which begins this Friday in Milwaukee, the city I’m currently en route to.
We have three people entering this regional; Charles Babinski, Jesse Crouse and Michael Phillips. They have somehow found time in whats been a hectic start to 2010 to find the right coffee, hone the necessary skills, source the necessary tools and create a signature drink that communicates their approach to coffee, and their mastery of brewing.
If they place in the top three, the company will book their flights and accommodation to go compete in the USBC in Anaheim this April. I think each of them has the ability to do just that but am conscious of the serious standard this regional boasts. Judges will be treated to some of the best in the country brewing drinks with clever but earnest passion.
The train is going a lot faster now and its hard to type. I’m worried the music I’m playing in my poor quality ear phones (I left my Grado on my desk) is disturbing the other passengers. I am the reluctant cliche of an ex pat who starts to cling to his homeland only when he’s far from it; currently Paul Brady’s cover of Arthur Mc Bride is humming away. Despite such attachments though, I’ve been softly informed by my girlfriend that I’m picking up a few too many americanisms and a little too quickly at that. I say ‘right’ and ‘nice’ a lot more than I used to and at unusual points in conversation. I like to think I do it to only to make sure I’m understood ( something thats always been a challenge), but I suspect these habits may become me. I don’t know for certain either way, nor do I know with any certainty how the next few days will pan out.
The only thing I’m assured of is that this weekend, Milwaukee promises good coffee, good people, and a new city. How does your weekend look?