Kyle & Lem
We finally got a chance to sit down with Kyle and Lem for a talk about their barista competitions, Finca Nuguo coffee, meerkats, and what’s going on here at Black & White. We know “barista competition” may be a gray area for some, so here are the basics:
The World Barista Competition consists of preparing an espresso, espresso + milk, and a creative signature beverage in a presentation to four judges. Only one barista can represent each country that participates. Since there are so many baristas competing to be the “one” in the US, multiple regional competitions must be held before the National competition.
All that traveling and competing calls for sponsors and coaches. Kyle was Lem’s coach for 2016 and Lem was Kyle’s coach for 2017. Both made NC proud by winning 1st place in Nationals and getting to represent the US at Worlds.
Describe how you two work together and what does being a “coach” mean?
Lem - (Kyle has) a great palate and the ability to tell you what you need to hear instead of what you want to hear. Everyone who is nervous wants to hear “oh your coffee tastes great you're going to do fine!” But in competition you need to hear the honest truth about the coffee so you can dial it in to the spec you want it to be.
Kyle - We’re very very different people. Lem, when it comes to competition especially, is Mr. Cool. He really softens everything up; finds a way to make everything feel comfortable and feel good. He’s good at making rather complex tasks a bit more simple so people can understand them, which is really helpful. I am the opposite of that. I am Mr. Complicated - all the details, all the nerd things, very tech oriented. So we kind of bounce of each other. We see things very differently and we’re not scared to let each other know if something doesn’t taste good. “
Lem and Kyle both used their competition coffee from Jose Gallardo, owner of a 5 hectare farm called Finca Nuguo in Panama. Aside from winning the US twice in a row, Jose’s coffee has been top 10 in the Best of Panama competition the past 4 years in a row.
Tell us about Jose Gallardo and his farm.
Kyle - Jose’s quirky - he’s not what you'd expect. PHD from the University of Austin in structural and civil engineering. He's a tenured professor at the University of Panama in David. Super brilliant guy; you meet him and you're like what?! Wears beanies a lot; a cool dude.
His farm is on the side of this mountain (in Panama) on the border of Costa Rica. It’s picturesque and super steep, with very dramatic hills. You look down and can see 800-900 feet in de-elevation. The farm was covered in clouds when we were there the whole time. It’s between 1800-1900 MASL.
After Kyle won the 2017 US Barista Championship in Seattle, the two headed to Seoul, South Korea (back in November) to represent the US for the World Barista Competition (all while newly managing Black & White?!). Kyle brought back a shiny 6th place trophy which sits in the shop today.
Describe the coffee scene in South Korea
Lem - The South Korea coffee scene has been booming for years. One of the big things in South Korea is cafe themes. There’s a Hello Kitty cafe, animal cafes where they have meerkats, cats, or dogs. Even a sheep cafe. There’s barista champions and brewer cup champions that open their own cafe and trick it out really well.
We did go to a meerkat cafe where Kyle got bit by a raccoon.
He did not get rabies.
Kyle - The South Korea coffee scene is great. One of my favorite cafes in the world is there. Center coffee. It was the first place I saw the white Spirit (espresso machine). Which is what we have on bar now. Ours is white and black.
So many cool coffee shops we went to there.
They drink super different drinks there than us, and at super different times. Westerns drink coffee in the morning. We drink a lot of hot drinks. For the most part, black, hot coffee. its our thing.
In Seoul, they don't drink coffee until like after lunch. so the coffee shops don't open until after lunch. They stay open crazy late from around noon til 2 am. I did not go at 2 am. After lunch, after dinner, and after the bar. Its the thing that you do in Seoul. Iced Americanos are the thing to get in Seoul. That is the drink. We sell maybe one iced Americano a month here (in the US).
Now that comp is over, what’s up at B&W?
Lem - We want to continue to source great coffees and bring them to the average coffee drinker. I feel like specialty coffee has gone off into the stratosphere where baristas are growing with their knowledge of coffee and palates. But as they grow and elevate themselves they are leaving behind the average drinker and that’s where a lot of pretension gets in the way of things - gets in between the barista and consumer. I want to reconnect people. I think coffee brings people together and we need to be a big part of bringing people together.
In other news:
One of our head baristas, Jared Holt, just got 3rd place in the Coffee Champs New Orleans competition to qualify him for Nationals! We are beyond excited for him to continue on to Seattle this April.
Also, we are featuring El Filo from Santa Barbara Honduras this month for subscriptions. The farm, owned by Edgar Erazo, sits at 1550 - 1580 MASL. The coffee is dry fermented for 16-24 hours, washed 4-5 times, then dried on raised drying beds. We have purchased all of the coffee from this harvest, totaling 18 bags (or 2,400 lbs.).
stone fruit, honey, balanced.