Todd Carmichael, co-founder and green buyer for La Colombe, is your new 2014 North East Brewers Cup champion! Mr. Carmichael is known around the world as the host of The Travel Channel’s “Dangerous Grounds” television program, and as a former columnist for Esquire Magazine.
Where to even begin? Todd Carmichael is a divisive figure, and we’ve been harshly critical of his public persona in the past (just Google it). Since meeting with him in Boston at the 2013 SCAA Event, we’ve built a better relationship, a friendship even, with a guy we had previously been in the business of openly mocking. Todd Carmichael would be the first to recognize that his on-air personality is larger than life. Some of the coffees La Colombe serves wouldn’t make our desert island picks. Some of the cafes La Colombe have built are among the most remarkable in the world.
(We would be remiss not to mention that as of November 2013 we are now advertising partners with La Colombe. Life and coffee are both just a bunch of big beautiful swirling paradoxes.)
The important thing to convey here is that, despite his public persona, Mr. Carmichael was just another competitor at Brewers Cup, winning his region by a mere 1.31 points overall. We saw no special treatment afforded him, no Hollywood film crew following him around. In his 10 minute Brewers Cup routine, Mr. Carmichael never once mentioned his TV show or magazine work. He barely talked about himself at all, instead delivering a free flowing font of deep factual information about his coffee, from where it’s grown and how it’s processed, to how it tastes and smells. The competition did not bend to meet Todd Carmichael; instead, he humbled himself before the rules and regulations of the Brewers Cup.
Mr. Carmichael now moves on to compete at the United States Brewers Cup Championship this April in Seattle. He also took home a bevy of prizes, including a Baratza Virtuoso grinder and Esatto scale combo, a Bonavita variable temperature “gooseneck” kettle, a Silverton Coffee / Tea brewer, copy of Liz Clayton’s Nice Coffee Time and much more from Espressoparts.com, a Sturdy Brothers leather apron, a Rishi Tea Simple Brew and box of Iron Goddess tea, a first place plaque from Reg Barber Enterprises, and much more.
We caught up with Todd Carmichael via email to chat about his win.
1. Todd Carmichael, you just won the Brewers Cup for your region. What are you going to do next?
I’ve got a lot of things in the fire right now, but winning The Big E has made it my priority to represent the NE in absolutely the best way I can at Nationals. Nothing is more important. What I’d like to achieve is to show that there are people and ideas and techniques and profiles stewing in our area that deserve our collective attention – that we don’t always have to look West for the next edge.
2. What coffee did you compete with at Brewers Cup? Please tell us a bit more about it.
It’s the winning Geisha (Gesha) lot in the 2013 Best Of Panama competition, called “Ironman” from a farm named Auromar Estates. Besides being a BOP winner there a number of things that interested me about this coffee. It’s authentically sundried, no mechanical driers, the plants are still very young and pushing nutrients to the fruit and less the main stalk, the use of shade is much heavier than others in that region (1-4) offering a very nice swing from day head to night chill and finally, it is a micro lot seperated at the mill, and not through growing area isolation. I know this flies in the face of convention, but it is testimony to what hard work and insanely detailed separation at the mill can do.
3. What brewing method did you employ in your routine, and why?
“Polished Immersion – Suspended Double Filtration” method. I “polished” a full-immersion brew – in a cupping bowl (13.5g coffee, 210g water at 205 degrees) for three and a half minutes pouring from a constant heat kettle (I glued the pad to the kettle) — I then dumped (with cupping spoon assistance) the whole stew through a Chemex with three bent glass rods in the bed suspending a double filter combination: Able’s Kone gold filter as the pre-filter and a Chemex paper filter as the finishing. Note that the glass pieces provide an air channel between the paper and the glass and the angle differences between the Kone and the Chemex paper provided another air channel. This gives a short and clean drop of 30 seconds or so, with no choked paper or elongated extraction and thus over dissolving.
I used this method for the body and sweetness advantages. The accentuated sweetness offered a great counterpoint to the distinct acidic fruit, giving it a form and structure that made me really happy.
4. What advice do you have for future Brewers Cup competitors?
Like always, read the rules as many times as you can. Work hard, be yourself, try to think outside the box and finally, tell yourself you can do it – no matter who you are. Oh, and find a KILLER coffee to brew and roast it perfectly.
5. Where do you think the Brewers Cup will be in 5 years?
I think Brewers Cup will become a platform where folks push the membrane and try out new and dynamic ways of brewing. Look at the barista competition. I mean, next year someone will split an atom extracted from a tangerine to add to his or her signature drink. Right? Many of the devices I saw in Brewers Cup were invented in the 1940 and 1950s. The next great device and/or technique will come from the Brewers Cup, I’m sure of it.
6. What would it mean for you to represent the United States at the World Brewers Cup in 2014?
In life and especially in my coffee life I’ve been on a long twisty road, and frankly, in both, I’ve always been a bit of a misfit. Like in Durham, being able to come out of the geek closet, brew coffees with all my effort for people whom share my craft and love of it, all the while being pushed on and inspired by the coffee community the way I have and then banging one home for the home team would mean the world to me, and a lot of other people too I think.
Photos by Charlie Burt for Sprudge.com. Sprudge.com’s coverage of the 2014 Big Eastern has been made possible by Dallis Bros. Coffee, Counter Culture Coffee and Nuova Simonelli. We’re proud to serve as the 2014 Official Media Partners with the Specialty Coffee Association of America.