Thursday, September 04, 2008

Mexico City: All Good Things


They say good things come to those who wait.

It's Thursday in Mexico City and the first day of the Competencia Mexicanas de Baristas where our call time for judges isn't until 12 noon. This means that we can sleep in, lounge around or do absolutely nothing all morning. That is, unless you've agreed to help someone get ready for their performance.

That's why on our day off, at 8am, I've dragged myself down to the show floor (and bypassed the chilaquiles lady) to taste the coffee Ana is using for her competition performance. She's using EccoCaffe's tasty espresso and while Andrew himself was supposed to come along, he's still recovering from our very long night.

Quite frankly, I too need to spend more time recovering.

And since my wake up call rang at seven and I've dragged my ass down to the show floor at 8:30am, it would have been nice if she were on time too. Frick.


Finally, the coffee is flowing and the Ecco is coming out with nice notes of chocolate, honey and tobacco. It's sweet and tasty. The crema is delightfully brown, if slightly on the gassy side (it was roasted seven days ago). It's easy the best espresso I've tasted since I arrived in Mexico City and I think should perform quite well in competition.

Speaking of competition, the Mexican government does not allow the importation of green coffees from outside the country. This means that just about everyone competing is limited to Mexican coffees for their espresso blend, and while there's some great Mexican coffees, it's difficult to develop an espresso blend that can match the complexity of other blends that are able to utilize coffees from anywhere on the planet. This, I think, can give Ana a definite edge against the other competitors.

Once finished with the espresso tasting, I'm off and back to bed for an hour to rest before meeting the rest of our crew in the lobby at noon.


At noon, we meet and it's time to eat. At first, we head off looking for the man and woman selling the chicharrones but they're not there. I'm confounded. It's noon and they're nowhere to be seen. Then I remember I ate there around 4pm and maybe they're only there in the afternoon, so I suggest Don Buche.

We descend on Don Buche like a gale force wind. It's carnitas tacos all the way around. Like Monday, they're delicious and the salsa verde is still kicking. We tear through the tacos and Sarah suggests a round of quesadillas. We tear through those as well and then it's time for a round of costilla tacos (rib meat tacos). Again, these tacos are muy delicioso.

After three rounds of tacos and quesadillas, we're stuffed and ready for a full afternoon of judging.

Eating a la ventana

The competition starts a bit later than expected but goes smoothly. Ana pulls off a solid performance - the best I've ever seen her. She's practiced, ready and focused. The shots look good and I think she's got a good chance to make it to the finals. I didn't see everyone but two other competitors stood out: Samantha and Aleli (current champion Salvador's novia), both of whom look like solid contenders for the finals.

Within our little crew, we've been wondering just when we're finally going to eat real Mexican food - even plotting on how to convince our hosts that Mexican would be an ideal choice when they announce that we will indeed be going to a real Mexican restaurant tonight. We rejoice as angels cry.

Paraphrasing something that Jon Lewis talks about, here in Mexico City, we've found our "tribe." And each night, our tribe grows larger and larger. New friends and old gather to celebrate our time together. Thirteen of us pile into two minivans for the nearly one hour trip (because of traffic) down Insurgentes Sur to the neighborhood of San Angel - the onetime home of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

The Reg eats Chile en Nogada at the San Angel Inn.

In fact, we end up at The San Angel Inn, right next door to Diego and Frida's famous homes that are connected by a bridge. The San Angel Inn is a gorgeous restaurant housed in an old Carmelite Monastery. The food is decidedly upper-class Mexican with a mix of traditional Mexican cuisine and European continental.

September in Mexico means one thing: Chiles en Nogada and half the table goes for it. For the uninitiated, it's a roasted and peeled poblano pepper stuffed with spiced ground beef, potatoes and walnuts, covered in sweet walnut sauce with pomegrates and more chopped walnuts and served cool. It's a delicious savory and sweet dish that begs a coffee pairing.

Annette succumbs to the "take pictures of your food" madness.

Our tribe has grown into a diverse and eclectic group of people and we have a great time. A Mariachi trio comes by our table to sing for Andrew, who is celebrating his birthday today. We rejoice.

Sarah tastes the flamed Cafe El Diablo.

I know these are rather abridged entries but we're jamming here in Mexico City and I'll have to follow up later with more in-depth write ups of our time at all of these great places. In the meantime, be sure to watch the live video feed Friday and Saturday - it's the only national competition outside of the USBC and WBC to offer live coverage.

Also, for an alternative viewpoint of our activities, be sure to check out Sarah's entries on Barista Magazine's Pasteboard Blog.a

Annette and the community dessert.