Postcards from Camp-Pull-a-Shot

Last week, we sent four of our staff to Camp Pull-a-Shot East, a semiannual professional development and summer camp hosted by our friends at the Barista Guild of America (and of which we were also proud to be a sponsor). The setting was truly idyllic: three days and four nights at the “top of the world” at a Dirty Dancing-themed mountain resort in the Blue Ridges of Virginia. But rather than flipping s’mores and tipping canoes in the lake, our Dallis campers worked their butts off—from coffee director Byron Holcomb leading cupping labs for beginners to Joe Drazenovic, Teresa von Fuchs and Philip Search all leading espresso workshops and milk labs. (We did catch Byron teaching a student how to “listen” to foamed milk, too.)

Listen to the milk. It has secrets to tell you.

Level 1 BGA Certified Baristas!

In between leading workshops, our campers even found time to get their own BGA certification—Byron and Joe came home with level 1 certificates (though we have a hunch they had the skills already down pat.) The final night’s team challenge resulted in the Dallis Bros. and Sisters being pitted against one another in a battle to the death, where each team was given just enough play money to buy green coffee, “ship” it, and buy roasting and brewing equipment with which to roast and brew the coffee. In a fit of mechanical inspiration (isn’t he always in one, though?) Philip Search dismantled his team’s coffee roaster (a popcorn popper) to allow himself to attenuate the heating controls manually. Sparks flew! And over at team 8, Teresa von Fuchs and her allies turned the game on its ear by simply using their money to purchase ALL the coffee brewing equipment—making them the sole providers to the rest of the teams, and naturally, doubling the price.

We asked each of our campers for a little postcard home.

“No regrets on cornering the market in the team challenge, and I loved Lorenzo’s comment that various economic elements of the seed to cup cycle are overlooked by enthusiastic coffee folks. The ‘romance’ of specialty coffee (from the SCAA’a opening keynote) needs to be a sustainable model, capitalism doesn’t have to be a dirty immoral word. And I witnessed and participated in a lot more discussion about this type of thing than usual at educational events, how baristas and quality focused cafes can and are doing to differentiate themselves from the larger ‘specialty’ chains and the threshold for what customers are ‘willing’ to pay for their ‘love’ affair…

For me, It was a real honor to pass the examiners exam and then administer the level 1 tests to campers. One of the things I love about judging barista competitions is the  chance to support baristas who want to take their skills to the next level. There was so much goodness crammed into camp it’s hard to believe it was only a few days…”

– Camper Teresa von Fuchs

Scared to find out what this story is about

“1. Winning the trophy was awesome and I had truly a team that was fun to work with and gave 110 percent while having a blast.

2. “I am James Hoffmann, and God is [redacted—Ed.]”

3. The debate that went from 1 am to 3 am with Lorenzo, Pete, Joe and myself about the tests and curriculum and how we all agreed in the end, how much passion was there, and how we all want a master class level of coffee professional.”

– Camper Philip Search

Milk lab

“It’s incredible how much better coffee beverage quality could be if coffee professionals took the level one classes and passed the exam. Just taking things to the basics and getting comfortable preparing a product repeatedly, and consistently. I believe James Hoffmann put it very well when he told us ‘we should be focusing on making our worst coffee consistently better’. To
me, as an educator, how much knowledge we want and need that we have yet to acquire to educate further its truly and absolutely inspiring. As the youngest coffee professional on our team, it was so inspiring how hard all the “veterans” worked.”

– Camper Joe Drazenovic

“It is incredible how many people traveled from far and wide to come to this beautiful little spot in the the VA mountains where “Dirty Dancing” was apparently filmed just to learn and share about coffee. the environment is really great. Tracy from SCAA gave a wonderful key note speech about the emotional reasons behind a coffee drinkers relationship to coffee. the SCAA did a study group in two different cities: when the coffee drinkers were asked to express their relationship with coffee visually on a piece of paper, it was clear that the end customer was talking about a deep rooted emotional connection with coffee. they used words like “love” written in glitter. they wrote that coffee made them a better person, more inspired, driven, smarter, more passionate. what wasn’t present were farm names or elevations or variety types or any kind of coffee specific details in the artistic expression. so baristas are serving that every morning. not just a simulate called caffeine in a black liquid.

i think in my heart i’m one of those people that takes a minute to warm up to a big group. after being booked from 8am to 11pm for Tuesday and Wednesday (table lead in 4 classes and my Level 1 Barista written and practical) i’m not as tired as excited about all the work the BGA has done. they have some really great classes some great content to communicate and some really talented instructors. the spirit of the entire week was summed up by Justin Schultz when he said that he didn’t find as many people arguing so eagerly about details as he found people sharing ideas.

it was really a privilege to step into a class room with eager students and well prepared materials. it is easy in my job to expect everyone knows how to wipe a portfilter dry and dose their shots to be consistent because everyone around me at dallis can do that in their sleep. in my job as coffee director i cup at least one flight a day and talk with importers, exporters and farmers in “green coffee language”. it is easy for me to be disconnected with the greater community that doesn’t speak “green coffee language” or weigh the yield of espresso and talk about exact days off roast.

my question for everyone is: will being a BGA Level 1 barista improve the quality of the coffee served? and are we supporting this certification process out of a need in the industry? or is it in the spirit of unity for the industry and respect for the product?”

– Camper Byron Holcomb

Note to Baristas who are seeking Level 1 certification (both for industry unity and to improve quality!) but were unable to attend Camp Pull-a-Shot: Joe and Teresa will be offering Level 1 tests all over NYC in the coming months. Stay tuned here for more info!