Kay Cheon on the "Blankenburg" pitcher and Making the Idea of Competition More Accessible

 

When United States Baristas Competition competitor Kay Cheon reached out to Slow Pour with an idea to create a pitcher for barista competitions, Anita, our owner and U.S.B.C. Lead Technical Judge, immediately envisioned a pitcher with the right sheen and coating color to help eliminate problems on the competition stage: milk stains and fingerprints. Often these are the criteria used to judge a "clean pitcher," and frequently just a slight fingerprint or small milk drip on the side of the pitcher will cost the competitor points.

With help from WPM, a leading global pitcher brand, the team made it happen. Read Kay's interview to learn more about the story of a dedicated milk deliveryman and how his support contributed to Kay's success as a top-three barista for two consecutive years at the USBC.

 

 

Tell us a bit about the story behind the name for the pitcher! 

Mark Blankenburg, our dairy deliveryman, is one of the first people we see in the morning. Despite having to get up far earlier than most people, Mark is always friendly and kind. (He also looks out for us, particularly if we don’t place an order on time!) The first year I competed in a barista competition, I knew I wanted to use the milk we use in our café (Straus) in Seattle for the competition, and Mark offered to get us the freshest possible milk available before we flew out with it in a cooler. Ever since then, he has always gone above and beyond to help us and takes an interest in all the Dune competitors (and he still always brings us the freshest milk).

I often think about how we emphasize the work of producers in the coffee supply chain, but we also rely on people like Mark to make coffee service possible.

 

You mentioned in a recent email that you and others at Dune are brainstorming ideas on how to make competitions more accessible for those who don't have access to the same resources that you do. What other ideas have you come up with for competitions?

This is very much a work in progress, but with the recent announcement of the 2021 coffee competition season, a few of us former Dune competitors have discussed how we might share the support we’ve received in the past with future competitors. One possibility is our offering support as a team to first-timers who may not have a company backing them or previous experience in a competition. Sometimes the smallest things help: like having someone take a walk with you before a performance or do your dishes after a competition so you can de-stress or even taste coffee with you so you don’t get too caffeinated, etc.

Another idea we've been working on is putting together an internal competition at Dune that would be more like a "science fair" or even an Expo weekend with seminars and conversation alongside a competition. There are many benefits to competing and it can be such a great training tool, but sometimes the barriers to entry might discourage some people. We’d like to give everyone a chance to experience all the fun and constructive parts of competing (learning about coffee, sharing a story) in a more open format that doesn’t require trying to beat someone else. People who might not be interested in competing can then still share ideas or whatever they're passionate about without constructing a routine and serving drinks. This idea would also help our team practice coaching and developing our competition training abilities, as well as giving more Dune employees opportunities to learn about judging or volunteering without having to go to a competition. Hopefully, we can also take what we've learned and use it to help others out there compete and achieve their goals.