What does one do when they are not a barista and sign up for Barista Camp?
Having a bit of training under my belt from attending the American Barista and Coffee School in Portland and a subsequent quiet dedication to pulling shots and steaming milk on my home espresso machine, it occurred to me days before embarking on the journey to Barista Camp that I might be putting myself in a situation where I am completely out of my element. Or, throwing myself to the coffee wolves, as it were.
In mildly panicked email to the camp administrators, I wanted to know, "is Barista Camp the right place for a coffee blogger and an aspiring shop owner?" Thankfully my question was followed up with a digital note of reassurance, my bags packed and I made the trek a little more confidently in the direction of Palm Springs.
Barista Camp is an event put on by the Barista Guild of America twice a year - summer and fall. It is open to coffee enthusiasts with every level of knowledge of the bean and with little or extensive experience of brewing. Even though it seemed as if most people there were practicing baristas and had been to camp many times before, there was lots of room to be a specialty coffee rookie - no major instances of pretension - just a collective desire to share ideas and connect with other people in the coffee community.
Camp is centered around a curriculum designed by the SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America), and if you are so inclined to participate in a level 1 or level 2 barista certification, your experience will culminate in taking a practical and written test to prove your competence. Knowing that there is a standardized level of excellence expected for baristas adds an exciting dimension to the specialty coffee industry - and is especially reassuring if you are looking to hire someone with a certain set of practical skills.
It's no secret, however, that you don't need to have a certificate under your belt to know how to make delicious coffee. I didn't sign up and pay the extra fee to take the testing, partially because I didn't know what I was getting myself into and primarily because the real value of barista camp to me was making connections with fellow coffee lovers and learning from the incredible volunteers who had flown in from all over the country to share their knowledge.
Barista camp was fun. Really fun. There were silly ice breakers, team scavenger hunts, games and even some reckless late night karaoke. The coffee education was really entertaining, too. I was especially impressed by the Intro to Espresso Part 1 and Part 2 (CP101 & 102) talks given by Alexandra LittleJohn. She was incredibly entertaining and informative in an approachable sort of way- there is nothing like a good sense of humor to get you cozied up with the 13 steps of espresso preparation. In her lectures she teamed up with volunteers from shops all over the country who acquainted us with the hands-on portion of shot pulling and milk steaming.
There was also top of the line brewing and espresso equipment brought in for us to geek-out with at our leisure including: Chemex, Aeropress, La Marzocco, Unic, Nuova Simonell and Alpha Dominiche, to name a few. At camp the best coffee making tools in the industry were literally at our fingertips.
Being that the event was so close to Los Angeles, there was a great turn out from the LA and surrounding area coffee crowd including folks from Klatch Coffee, Verve Coffee, Coffee Tomo, Andante Coffee Roasters, LAMILL, Intelligentsia, Cafecito Organico and Green Bliss.
All in all, camp was a home run. And, as you can see from the photo of the resort we stayed at - not very campy. If you are in the coffee industry or thinking of immersing yourself, I highly recommend participating in Barista Camp the next time around.