Lo­cal cof­fee brewer wins na­tional ti­tle

Onyx’s Siemens 19th at world event

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - MELISSA GUTE

BENTONVILLE — Pa­trons of Onyx Cof­fee Lab who are lucky enough to have their cof­fee crafted by Dy­lan Siemens drink a cup brewed by one of the world’s best brew­ers, lit­er­ally.

Siemens be­came the U.S. Brew­ers Cup Cham­pion at the three-day U.S. Cof­fee Cham­pi­onships in Seat­tle in April, which gave him the op­por­tu­nity to rep­re­sent the United States at the World Brew­ers Cup Cham­pi­onship in June in Bu­dapest, Hun­gary.

There he placed 19th out of 41 brew­ers from around the globe in the com­pe­ti­tion based on man­ual brew­ing. Con­tes­tants used ra­tios, wa­ter tem­per­a­tures and tech­nique to con­trol the fla­vor of the cup they were brew­ing.

Onyx’s na­tional award and in­ter­na­tional par­tic­i­pa­tion af­firms the re­gion’s grow­ing culi­nary scene and the role of cof­fee in it, culi­nary pro­fes­sion­als said.

The com­pe­ti­tion was all about in­no­va­tion and stretch­ing and bend­ing brew­ing prac­tices and rules, said An­drea Allen, co-owner of Onyx.

“It’s a lot like po­etry,” she said. “They say you have to know the rules be­fore you can break them. Com­pe­ti­tion

is all about break­ing out of what you nor­mally think about what cof­fee ser­vice and cof­fee it­self looks like.”

The com­pe­ti­tion was an op­por­tu­nity for Siemens to learn how other cul­tures brew and ap­proach cof­fee, he said, ex­plain­ing U.S. cof­fee drinkers brew cof­fee stronger than most coun­tries where it’s brewed “a lit­tle lighter and more del­i­cate.”

“I learned be­ing on a world stage and what world-cal­iber cof­fee brew­ing is like. It’s a very unique ex­pe­ri­ence,” he said. “I also learned that what we’re do­ing in North­west Arkansas is up to that cal­iber. It was af­fir­ma­tion.”

Sev­eral on­line cof­fee-fo­cused publi­ca­tions cov­er­ing the na­tional com­pe­ti­tion men­tioned Siemens’ suc­cess placed Arkansas on the map for cof­fee lovers.

North­west Arkansas is rel­a­tively small pop­u­la­tion-wise in com­par­i­son to other nearby cities such as Tulsa and Ok­la­homa City or Kansas City and Dal­las, said Glenn Mack, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Bright­wa­ter: A Cen­ter for the Study of Food.

Bright­wa­ter is North­west Arkansas Com­mu­nity Col­lege’s culi­nary pro­gram and is an an­chor tenant of 8th Street Mar­ket within Bentonville’s Mar­ket Dis­trict in the south­east down­town area.

“When we [North­west Arkansas culi­nary pro­fes­sion­als] start win­ning awards on a na­tional and [com­pete on] an in­ter­na­tional level, peo­ple do sit up and take no­tice,” he said. “We are very proud of our own. I think there is a re­gional in­ten­tion­al­ity to con­tinue to im­prove the culi­nary of­fer­ings. We en­cour­age and sup­port each other to go on to greater heights.”

Awards and high-level com­pe­ti­tion give ex­po­sure to ev­ery­one from the cof­fee farm­ers to Onyx as a busi­ness to the area as a whole, Siemens said.

“It just brings aware­ness that there are things hap­pen­ing in ar­eas that you might not ex­pect like Bentonville,” he said. “It brings peo­ple in, and it gives va­lid­ity even though we might not be on the coast.”

Siemens, 24, was born in Colorado but has lived in North­west Arkansas since he was 10. He’s seen the cul­tural and culi­nary emer­gence take place in the re­gion, es­pe­cially over the past five years since he started work­ing as a barista at Onyx when it only had one lo­ca­tion in Spring­dale back in 2012.

“The more I travel around and go to the coasts and ex­pe­ri­ence food and cof­fee and just bev­er­age cul­ture then I come home and I re­al­ize all those same things are hap­pen­ing here and grow­ing ex­po­nen­tially,” Siemens said.

The growth of the culi­nary scene has been phe­nom­e­nal and some­thing Onyx is ex­cited to be a part of, he said.

The cof­fee lab now has three lo­ca­tions — on Sun­set Av­enue in Spring­dale, on Gregg Av­enue in Fayet­teville, in Mid­town Cen­ter in Bentonville — and a fourth is com­ing to East Wal­nut Street in Rogers, ac­cord­ing to the com­pany’s web­site. The busi­ness also has a whole­sale re­tail side as well.

Cof­fee has an in­ter­est­ing role in the grow­ing culi­nary scene be­cause it’s not of­ten con­sid­ered to be a high form of culi­nary art, Allen said. She ex­plained of­ten times res­tau­rants can put so much thought and in­ten­tion­al­ity into the prepa­ra­tion and pre­sen­ta­tion of the meal and that the cof­fee can just be an af­ter-thought.

“So in that way I feel like cof­fee has to re­ally com­pete to be on the culi­nary scene,” she said. “What we try to do here to try to help our cos­tumers think about cof­fee in a more culi­nary way is to have a lot of re­ally fun sea­sonal menus that fea­ture cof­fee in a bunch of dif­fer­ent forms.”

Two ex­am­ples on the cur­rent menu in­clude a cas­cara dark and stormy and a cas­cara le­mon­ade, both of which use cas­cara, the dried cher­ries that comes from the cof­fee plant.

“We’re us­ing cof­fee in those drinks, but it’s not the way peo­ple think about cof­fee,” she said. “In that way, I think we’re bring­ing some fun, in­no­va­tion to the area.”

Mack said he would love to see Onyx con­tinue to teach the area the “beau­ties of drink­ing fine cof­fee” and train more pro­fes­sional cof­fee roast­ers and baris­tas.

Siemens’ ac­com­plish­ments can also serve as in­spi­ra­tion to Bright­wa­ter stu­dents and what they can as­pire to do, he said.

Siemens served as a barista his first year and a half at Onyx be­fore he was of­fered a full-time po­si­tion as the com­pany’s head of train­ing. He’s been in charge of train­ing all the baris­tas as well those in other cof­fee shops where Onyx is of­fered for the past 2½ years.

So even Onyx pa­trons whose cup is brewed by an­other barista, can be as­sured their barista was trained by one of the world’s best brew­ers.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK

Dy­lan Siemens (left), head of train­ing and qual­ity con­trol with Onyx Cof­fee Lab, works with barista Danielle Gu­tier­rez June 28 in the pour­ing sta­tion at Onyx Cof­fee Lab in Bentonville. Siemens is one of the com­pany’s first em­ploy­ees and re­cently re­turned from a world com­pe­ti­tion in Bu­dapest.

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