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Barista Spencer McQueen, in the new Cavallino Cafe, brews a cup with an AeroPress coffee press.
When I think about the best changes in American culture during my lifetime, the proliferation of the new American café is right there in the Top 10. Sure, the great coffee and aromas are part of it, but just as important, they are places where community happens, where people meet, chat, chill. They’ve helped save the American city. And among my favorite café entrepreneurs are the folks behind Morsels, at the east end of Traverse City’s Front Street and Cavallino Cafe, a brand new cafe in the Traverse City's Hagerty Center.
Owner Misha Neidorfler told me that one of her baristas, Spencer McQueen, is heading down to Detroit this weekend to compete in a barista competition—using an AeroPress coffee system to brew a perfect cup of Joe. I stopped in to chat with McQueen before the big event.
How does this barista competition work?
McQueen: There are 21 competitors, two rounds and three judges. Each barista has eight minutes to make the coffee for the judges.
Tell us about the cup of coffee you are hoping to produce.
McQueen: This is an Intelligensia Coffee from Colombia. It has a robust, complex flavor. A nice initial flavor and then a long flavor delivery and a nice, complex finish. The flavor just keeps delivering. It’s a full bodied cup, low acidity and a lot of clarity.
How long do you let the coffee steep?
McQueen: Two minutes.
Tell us something we probably don’t know about making coffee.
McQueen: The fines in the coffee grounds—those really small bits—are what make coffee bitter when they make it through the filter and into the coffee pot. So in the competition, that’s why I will filter the coffee through a 250 micron filter, to really get the fines out.
The snappy look of Cavallino's.
How long have you been a barista?
McQueen: I started July 4, 2008. I was trained by a couple of awesome baristas at the first café I worked at. It was all on the job training.
So you’ve been at it a while. What do you like most about days as a barista?
McQueen: The café culture is just such a mosaic of experiences. It’s amazing what you share with people during that short time they come in and order their coffee every day. It’s really never a dull moment, never mundane.—Jeff Smith is editor of Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazine