A DAMN FINE SOURCE FOR COFFEE
If I could sum up Camp Pull-A-Shot in one photo, it might be this:
Be it long time professionals, excited burgeoning baristas or the somewhere-in-betweens such as myself, we were all together for the next 72 hours for one thing: Coffee.
Welcome to Mountain Lake Conservancy! More commonly known as “the place where Dirty Dancing was filmed.” And how!
Besides this being an homage to Dirty Dancing, Mountain Lake had everything, from disc golf to archery to the biggest buffet of food you’ve ever encountered. Top that with the friendliest staff ever and you’ve got yourself quite the getaway. (Ask Meredith of Peregrine 14th St to show you the picture of the dessert plate the chef whipped up when he overheard her pining for banana pudding. That shit cray.)
I arrived at Camp late Monday afternoon, just in time to sneak in my BGA Level 1 Certification. After some initial Dirty Dancing geeking out, I checked in and wandered up the gravel road to my cabin. Not a bad place to call home for a few days, eh?
After testing we all sat with our pre-assigned teams for dinner. Team 9, which quickly became “9 BAR”, would be my posse for the next 3 days of relays, challenges or whatever it took to walk away with “The Swayze.” We all moved out to the Activities Barn for Opening Ceremonies.
James Hoffman shared a few quick words, my favorite being “Coffee doesn’t play fair.” Tracy Ging, the keynote speaker reminded us all that at the bottom of everything, what we’re really doing is cultivating a love affair between people and coffee.
Then we tapped the kegs and the first Team Challenge began. First Price is Right (guessing coffee equipment MSRP prices, closest without going over) followed by a game of coffee trivia Jeopardy, hosted by Lorenzo Perkins.
The next morning kicked off the first of the coffee service challenges. Three times a day two teams would set up a Team Cafe and serve coffee and espresso however they chose. Teams were judged on cleanliness, efficiency, quality and customer service via secret shoppers.
Here is Alex in the “Pleasure Box” at Spro Job’s pop-up cafe. Jealous yet?
Then it was time to learn…
Though none of us actually knew if we passed Level 1, we dove into Level 2 classes hoping for the best. The first being “Dose • Grind • Tamp • Extract”. Breaking down all things espresso. I’m fortunate to have been born, raised and groomed through Counter Culture’s “Counter Intelligence” program so most of this stuff was second nature, but breaking it all down again with other coffee pros was really awesome and helpful.
After a gigantic lunch, Colin Whitcomb of MadCap walked us through Espresso Bar Efficiency & Workflow. We focused ways to knock out multiple drinks efficiently and effectively in order to minimize waste, work clean and keep customers confident in what we’re doing. The key? Communication and “barista math.”
Next I attended Meredith Taylor’s lecture on “Greening Your Cafe”. Did you know 95% of coffee’s impact on the environment comes from brewing? That’s us. Now you know.
Off to the Activities Barn for more Team Challenges. Next up: Coffee Relay. Three legged
potato coffee bag races, hula-hooping, donuts on a string, costumes, flip cup…. need I say more? There was some coffee brewing too.
Starting dance parties is kinda something I’m into. We are at the site of Dirty Dancing and there is a disco ball, sound system and hardwood floors… what choice did I have? Nothing assures folks that yes, they do want to dance, quite like this does.
Every evening I managed to find myself out on the cabin deck of the Counter Culture fellas. They had a cabin twice my size, with hella more amenities, and cigars. The perfect way to close a long day of grinding, frothing and brewing.
Though the porch was magical, the inherent party sounds coming from the cabin down the way proved far too enticing and I found myself wandering over more than once. Who could say no to Philip Search’s epic bar set up, rumored to contain over $1K in liquor? This guy takes delicious very seriously, even for the masses.
Amazing cocktails coupled with leg wrestling (or in one case, butt wrestling??) equals party, obviously. No photos of that will be seen here, instead I let you ponder the night’s mysteries over this:
Morning began (again) with a plate of bacon and some biscuits & gravy. We started day 3 with a steamy session of Latte Art with Lorenzo. We all know the key to great latte art is great…
Then more eating, more food coma, and finally Espresso Machine Preventative Maintenance. A great review of changing gaskets, adjusting the pump, crucial cleaning and my favorite, when you should and shouldn’t call a tech. Turns out even if you’re best friends with a tech they still don’t like to be called late at night over a mysterious leak.
With all the Level 1 & 2 classes done, testing began again. Thanks to a snack sponsor (yeah, they had that too) if you weren’t testing, you were snacking.
Last, but not least was Customer Service with Sarah Dooley (swoon). I’m gonna go ahead and say that of all the courses, this is the one that mattered most to me. Let’s be real, this is why we’re here. We as baristas and coffee professionals are obligated to provide customers with a great experience. Without the proper skill set and education, that’s not going to happen. As Sarah put it, “every barista should be able to provide a well prepared, explained and presented product.” The happy customers are what keep us in business (and keep the tip jar full).
It was our final dinner together then off to the Barn for one last round of Team Challenges and finally, the Closing Ceremonies (where we actually found out if we passed or not).
The last challenge they dropped on us was definitely the most intense: Seed to Cup. Each team was given 100 BGA Bucks with which to purchase green beans, pay to have them shipped (or roll the dice and take your chances), buy a roaster (popcorn popper or camp stove) and finally brewing equipment. Coffee was scored on taste as well as presentation.
Time was factored out of this relay which meant the first 5 teams took their sweet time getting everything done, including rewiring a popcorn popper for a more optimal roast time & temp. When my team finally went in the second round, Team 8 decided to throw a wrench in the system and purchase all the brewing equipment, thus forcing everyone to barter with them. Dirty bastards…
I believe Team 8 did end up winning that challenge, but lost all their friends. Probably. My team tied for second place in Seed to Cup and again in the cafe challenge. Overall we ended up coming in 3rd, not bad out of 10. The Swayze ultimately went to Team 4: Girl, You Fines.
The night ended late with certificates handed out and a bit of dancing while Dirty Dancing played in the background. Then it was off to celebrate Liz’s birthday at Philip’s bar.
And of course, porch time over at the CCC cabin and a misty walk home.
I thought I did myself a favor by keeping a journal and taking a million pictures, but in going back thru both those things I realized there was no specific shot or moment that captured what this was all about; connecting with other coffee people. Getting together with like-minded individuals, talking out current trends, issues or gossip, and developing a sense of camaraderie is what I valued most about my time at Camp Pull-A-Shot. We are professionals, and we love what we do. (How many other industry events have a spot on their banner for “keg sponsor”?)
See you guys at TNT, cause no one puts BaughBaugh in a corner.
(Yeah, I went there…)
More photos here.