The launch of the semiannual Coffee Masters Tournament in London and New York this year was certainly buzz-worthy. The worldwide competition (think: Iron Chef for java) invited 20 talented baristas from around the globe to compete onstage—foaming, swirling, and tasting their way to the top. Denver’s own Ryan Fisher, co-founder and co-owner of Commonwealth, took home second place in New York two weeks ago. Here, his thoughts on the competition and his love of everything coffee.
5280: What sparked your interest in the coffee world?
Ryan Fisher: I got into coffee when I was in graduate school at SMU. I was finishing up my PhD and needed a job, so a few friends and I messed around with coffee and realized we could do a lot with it. I ended up going to London to study coffee more in depth, and then came back to Dallas with that knowledge and made a pretty reputable cafe with those friends. In the end, I wanted a new adventure, so I sold my share back to them and moved to Denver to start Commonwealth.
So, tell us about Commonwealth.
We started up about two years ago. My partner, Jason Farrar, is really good at roasting. So, we started with just roasting and doing wholesale, and then started distributing to a few cafes that have been really successful.
Where do you get your coffee?
We get our coffee from everywhere, really. We love the importers we work with. They do a great job and we respect how they source the beans. Our mission is to buy incredible coffee beans, and then roast them to make something as sweet and complex as possible.
What do you mean by that?
Well, we buy the top .5 percent of coffee in the world. It makes no sense to roast the beans a long time. We want people to taste the coffee, not the roasted taste, so we make sure the bean is cooked all the way through, but is still intact in its quality.
What is one mistake coffee brewers are making?
I think people should pay more attention to the quality of their water. Coffee is 95 percent water. It’s literally just chemistry to extract coffee really well, and it’s pretty simple, but people don’t really pay attention to it.
How are you feeling about your big win at the New York City Coffee Masters Tournament?
It was so fun! I feel great about getting second because it’s an international competition, but at the same time, I feel like I barely missed winning.
What was the tournament like?
There was a lot of pressure, and not really any way to train. Everything you do, you do on stage. You just have to be ready for everything. For instance, we did a latte art throw down, where the baristas go head-to-head pouring different designs. Then there was a mock order, where we had nine minutes to make 10 drinks with different ingredients. Lastly, we had to make a signature cocktail with some sort of coffee element. I took first in that contest.
What did you make?
It tasted a lot like an orange dreamsicle. I muddled orange and basil, added egg white and heavy cream, some chartreuse, Irish whiskey, and some cold brew, and shook it with ice. I also charged it with nitrogen twice, so it turned into a thick, drinkable foam.
How do you make your coffee at home?
Actually, I don’t really drink coffee at home. I usually wait until I get to work to drink my first cup. But, I just won an espresso machine at this competition, so maybe that will change.