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Monday, March 12, 2012

Ritual's Tex Bohlin Talks Competitive Coffee and Raw Steak Whip Cream

Posted By on Mon, Mar 12, 2012 at 3:15 PM

click to enlarge bigtex.jpg

​In an effort to chart the ever-expanding specialty coffee scene in the Bay Area, we've been engaging a selection of local coffee personalities to pick their brains about why coffee and why now.  

With the 2012 Regional Barista Championship occurring this past weekend, we spoke to Ritual's Kevin "Tex" Bohlin, a finalist in the national competition last year about synergy in signature beverages and raw steak con panna. Tex competed this past weekend, making it to the finals and securing himself a spot at the United States Barista Championship in Portland. The winner was Jared Truby of Santa Cruz's Verve Coffee, who continues on to the USBC with a bye in the first round.
What brought you in to the world of competitive coffee? I wanted to grow and progress, and I knew by putting myself in a competitive situation it would push me to grow in knowledge and experience and skill. And it did. I wanted a new opportunity that I could throw myself in to. I developed relationships with people in the roaster and learned so much from these people. Speciality coffee is great. We push each other succeed because we want the movement to succeed.

Do you think these reflect the average competitors reasons for entering the competition?
There is certainly all kinds of reasons why people are getting involved in the competitions. For a lot of people this a stepping stone in the industry. If they do this, they might be able to get recognition and then get hired by whatever company they want. They'll be on the map. A lot of people approach it in terms of their progress in the industry, the ladder of coffee. I don't think it's an insignificant part of the whole competitive deal. I just encourage everybody to count the cost for what you have to do. Are you this committed? Search yourself for why you want to do it. Your motivation and why you want to do it is a huge factor in your success and the ability to keep your commitment.

What do you think the benefits of the barista competitions are?
It drives technique, professionalism, and creativity. You come back from the competitions and it grows for everyone. It raises the bar and leads, just in general, to better techniques across the board for the whole industry.

Do you think it offers anything to the casual coffee drinker?

It's funny, people don't even know about it. It'll come up in conversation and people will say, "Wait, there's barista competition?" I wouldn't expect or even think that it would appropriate for it to be a mainstream sort of thing. It's really about driving the industry forward. We want specialty coffee to grow, but it won't happen through competition. Sure, the online viewing continues to grow but for the most part it drives the industry and that helps everyone.

During the performance you guys make a shot of espresso, a cappuccino and a signature beverage that incorporates the espresso in to a mixed drink that somehow accentuates both the coffee and the theme of the performance. How is that baristas can harp on those that put sugar and milk in to coffee but then be judged on their ability to craft these complex signature beverages?
In the industry we get on our high horse sometimes about the purity of coffee alone and at the same time, in competition, we'll throw all of the ingredients in to it. But we talk about how the coffee works with the milk, how the nuances change and that's something that we need to appreciate. A cappuccino is a beautiful harmony of these flavors, where we're at least looking at the harmonious balance or a marriage of the flavors. And a signature beverage is similar. It's a synergy of flavor between the ingredients and the coffee. A signature beverage isn't a peppermint mocha. It's aim isn't to please a sweet tooth. We're going to use different ingredients, and we're going to use them to accentuate the flavors of the coffee. It's going to be in the interest of celebrating the flavors of the coffee and I think that's amazing.

What's the strangest signature beverage you've bore witness to?
There was a girl who did her take on a cafe con panna [espresso with whipped cream] but the whipped cream was infused with raw meat. Maybe she was getting savory note from the coffee or something, so she put a steak in with the whipping cream with all the juices and the blood uncooked. She took the steak out, whipped the cream, and threw it on top of the espresso. Her reasoning for it was that, "No one I'd served it to had gotten sick."

Noah Sanders tweets at @sandersnoah.

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