Friday, September 05, 2008

Mexico City: Kissing In Dark Places

Sonja, Andrew and Anette at our noon staff meeting.

Day Four in Mexico City starts with a lazy morning in bed. The beauty of the CMB is that the competition doesn't begin until after 1pm, which means that we can sleep in late and catch up on our beauty rest. In what is starting to develop into our routine, we stay in late, have our "staff meeting" in the lobby at noon, eat lunch and then off to the competition.

Lunch today is next door to Don Buche at El Regreso. They've got photos of enchiladas on the wall so we decide to take a chance. Inside, we're greeted with baskets of tortilla chips, bread and butter. I'll get more in-depth with the food later but my chicken enchilada in mole verde was quite good.

Brent's Mole Rojo Enchilada de Pollo at El Regreso.

At the competition, things are rolling along. Competitors are busy practicing and battling nerves. The competition is being held inside the Expo Cafe trade show. It's the largest coffee trade show in Mexico that offers a trade show, barista championship and a variety of workshops like the SCAA. Unlike the SCAA however, it's a smaller trade show flow with fewer vendors but greater attendance.

In fact, the show is so well attended that by the time we start the competition, the audience seating is nearly full. Throughout the afternoon, there's an audience - not just the sixteen people hanging out supporting their friends, like at the USBC, but these are passers-by or interested people who watch for awhile or all afternoon. After surviving the comatose-like environment that is the USBC, seeing a full audience of people is both shocking and exciting.

Adriana and Sylvia at the competition.

Coming from America, one can't help but to expect that Mexico would do things to a lesser degree. In the United States, Mexicans suffer from the image that everyone is poor and ready to swim across the Rio Grande in search of a better live. That the entire nation must be wallowing in some sort of third water backwater. As the CMB proves, Mexico is nipping at the heels (if not surpassing) the USBC. The audience size is greater, they've got a boatload of enthusiastic volunteers and runners, they've got live Internet coverage and they're fending off so many interested barista competitors that they have to hold regional elimination rounds.

Not bad for a third world backwater.

Compared to yesterday, the competition has picked up and getting busy. I had the opportunity to tech judge one of the techs from last years' CMB, Alvaro who came out in what Sarah has dubbed a "Jon Lewis-esque" performance. I mean, how many baristas do you know come out and make pancakes live on stage?

The six finalists of the CMB.

At the end of the day, six tough and deserving finalists were named to tomorrows' finals - including the first-time entry by Aleli, the novia of two-time Mexican Champion Salvador Benitez. Considering the man behind the scenes, Aleli is going to be the one to beat tomorrow.

As with the announcement of any finalists, the room is filled with the disappointment and crushed dreams of those who didn't make the cut. As a judge, this is the time you take to meet with the competitors, answer any questions and explain the scores you gave them. One competitor I wanted to chat with with the last competitor of the day, a young lady who was involved in a car accident that prevented her from competing in her earlier time slot.

She started off her performance with very strong tech scores but started having grind problems during her cappuccino round. She ended up pulling and re-pulling one set of shots five times. Painful. But she was a trooper, maintaining composure and always maintaining a very consistent dose, distribution with almost no coffee waste. Problem was that she didn't change her grind, just kept re-pulling the shot. It cost her an extra four minutes in time, resulting in disqualification. I wanted to make sure she understood that she was amazing in keeping her composure and consistent techniques - and to try again next year.

Secret Tamping Pistons and The Reg Who Made Them.

Our day at the competition didn't end until after 8:30pm and it was back to the hotel to freshen up and meet in the lobby at 9:15pm for dinner. After being whisked away in our minivans to Polanco, we ended up at a restaurant named Biko.

Biko is the logical continuation of our restaurant adventures here in Mexico City. After nearly a week of Italian, French, Chinese and Mexican, we move to the world of Spanish haute cuisine. At Biko, we're served a tasty and delicious multi-course degustation menu offering all sorts of new and interesting combinations. But I'll go into depth with those at another time.

Private dining at Biko.

Callo de Hacha y Camaron con Recaudo y Ensalada.

For now, it's time to hit the bed and get ready for our 11am role call before heading off to Del Valle to visit Salvador's coffee shop in the mercado.

Meanwhile, remember to check out the live Internet coverage starting at 3pm Eastern Time or 2pm Mexico City Time.

I'm sure Sarah will be continuing to offer her view of our activities on Barista Magazine's Pasteboard Blog.

And don't miss Anette's take on things at The Square Mile Blog.