Texas Round-Up! SCAA/USBC/Travel Highlights and Musings: Part 1

Thursday May 5, 2011 // By Kari Guddeck

Day 1, Tuesday.  Grapevine to Houston Monin Studio Cafe

Last Tuesday, I began my ‘Lone Star State Trek’ in Grapevine at the Monin Studio Café.  Talk about a great introduction to Texas!  Jeff, Travis, and Alex were on hand to talk trends and whip some great drink creations in Monin’s jazzy little café (complete with back wall of Monin Syrup bottles, see photo below).  According to beverage innovator Jeff, trends to watch out for this summer are: flavored lemonades and iced teas, ‘skinny’ cocktails, and new twists on classic favorites (think Elderflower Gin Gimlet).  Jeff and Travis showed off their bar skills by shaking and stirring said Gimlet, varying versions of the Margarita (including a skinny), Mojitos, and more.  Before heading out to Houston, we stopped for some 5 Alarm Chili at Tolbert’s.  It was hot, baby!  Burning taste buds screaming for more Monin Mojitos, we opted for water and set out for our 4 hour drive to Houston with Alex at the wheel, Bill riding shotgun, and yours truly taking catnaps quietly in the back seat.


Monin Bottle Wall


I’ve not spent a lot of time in Texas (5 days before now to be exact).  The image of Texas in my head is of brown, sun scorched grass and trees leaning in one direction deformed from strong winds.  The route from Grapevine to Houston was surprisingly green and plush; not a deformed tree in sight.  We arrived in Houston around 530pm and decided to reconvene at the very popular local beer spot The Flying Saucer (which, luckily, was right around the corner from our hotel).  The beer list is about as long as the waitresses’ plaid skirts are short.  I opted for the Texas Tasting Tray and was pleasantly surprised by the 512 IPA brewed by the (512) Brewing Company in Austin, Texas.  This would be the first of 3 visits to The Saucer.  It was packed each time we were there.  I don’t recommend the food and youMonin Mojito may wait awhile to be served, but the beer offerings are pretty darn good.










Day 2, Wednesday.  United States Barista Championship Judge Certification & T'afia

You may remember from my North West Regional Barista Competition blog series, that the 2nd part of the judge certification workshop is all hands on evaluation.  We drink a lot of espressos and cappuccinos.  This is how calibration takes shape.  Calibration is one of the most important aspects of barista competition judging, and basically means that judges are on the same page as far as how they’re scoring.  Sounds easy enough, but sometimes calibration can be painfully tedius as everyone finds their groove.  Day 2 ended in one of these painful calibration sessions.  It wasn't ideal wrapping up the day on that note, but I will focus on the positive changes made to the workshop this year (like the score sheet swap – brilliant!).  Again, I’m happy to report that all of the spro and capp drinking was for a good ‘I’m a certified USBC judge!’ cause. 


T'afiaThat night, Bill and I hopped on the METRORail downtown and road over to the South Midtown area of the city.  From what we hear, this area is where Houston’s ‘new’ food scene is happening and it’s focusing on seasonality, local products, and humane animal practices.  We dined at T’afia first.  The décor was modern with a 60’s/70's twist and a sprinkle of India.  We started with two appetizers: chorizo stuffed dates wrapped in bacon (how can you go wrong there?) and melt in your mouth mushroom dumplings with a mascarpone, honey, and blue cheese sauce.  For the main course I had the seared scallops on black quinoa with a preserved lemon sauce.  T'afiaBill had the lamb cheeks with sautéed parsnips.  We finished with walnut cheesecake made with medjool date, maple mascarpone, pistachios, and orange blossom water.  Are you hungry yet?  You should be, it was all awesome.  However, I’m not ready to recommend their cocktails.  We tried four and weren’t blown away, especially for the price.  All in all we were impressed with T’afia and their ever rotating, seasonal menu.    


This was a longer than usual trip (six days), so I’ve decided to break the Texas Round-Up into three parts.  Tomorrow, read about days 3 and 4….and grasshopper tacos.

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