In Honor of a New Baby Dennhardt!!

Ryan Dennhardt (of Kearney’s Barista’s Daily Grind) and his wife Mallory had a baby girl! In honor of the little one I will finally post this blog that I’ve had in the works for nearly a year now…

For those who don’t know, I am currently in Brooklyn, New York. (I’ve been here since August but I’ll talk about that another time) I got to go home over New Year’s and while I was in Nebraska I stopped by Barista’s Daily Grind in Kearney.

Barista’s is a shop I’d heard of and wanted to visit for a while but never had the opportunity to make the trip. If you were following barista competitions at all a few years back, you’ll know the name Ryan Dennhardt. Ryan was the Midwest Barista Champion in 2004 and also in 2006. He was a finalist at the national level in 2004, 2005 and 2006. Ryan was also involved in the Ultimate Barista Challenge from 2006-2010. I heard of him when I became involved in competitions in 2008. At that time I believe he was the only competitor from Nebraska.

At first glance, Barista’s is exactly what you’d expect from a coffee shop in the middle of nowhere Nebraska. And by that I mean homey, comfortable and unassuming. Look a little closer and you’ll see it’s more than that.

The place is spotless, possibly the cleanest shop I’ve ever visited. I like to take that as a sign of someone who gives a crap and isn’t just going through the motions. Because I guarantee that place gets busy in the mornings. The shop is across the street from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Ryan told me they often have a line out the door on top of a busy drive-thru window in the mornings. Walking in from the street you can tell that Ryan and his crew take great pride in what they do. Not only by the cleanliness of the shop and the friendly baristas behind the counter but oh yeah the massive display of trophies, medals and tampers arranged on the bar next to the espresso machine.

I ordered a cappuccino and was immediately put at ease by the sound of milk being steamed properly. Sigh… is there any sound more beautiful? Perfectly extracted espresso and sweet, creamy textured milk is a rarity in my favorite state. If you get a cappuccino here you won’t need to add sugar. They do it right.

Here’s what Ryan has to say about it:

Please tell us about your company, what you do there and what makes it special or unique. 

I am the owner of Baristas Daily Grind, we have been doing business now for 10 years in Kearney.  I would say that we set ourselves apart by our attention to detail in the preparation and our customer service.  We have always been very proud of our Baristas and the training we go through to make sure that they understand and respect the craft.

How did you get your start in the coffee industry? 

I started in Coffee out of necessity for a job and sort of a fresh start.  My Mom was opening Baristas and I jumped on board as a Barista and just took off from there.

You are a Barista Champion! Tell us about your competition experience, why you initially got involved and how that has affected your career. 

I was the 2004 and 2006 Midwest Barista Champion and 2004,2005,2006 USBC finalist, I was selected as the United States representative for the Ultimate Barista Challenge in 2006-2010.
I love competing and I feel like it really showcases your talents as a whole and not just as a barista.  I like the competition and the opportunity to rise to the occasion.   I love all the comradery that comes along with barista competitions.  I feel that competing helps you face the pressures of day to day situations in your shop.  Being a Competitive Barista allowed me to start my own consulting business and just get my name and Barista’s Daily Grind’s name out in the industry.

What are the benefits and challenges of running a coffee shop in the midwest (and Kearney specifically)?

Well the people no question are a benefit, they are great to be around and are generally up beat and polite.  Being a coffee shop in the midwest you don’t always get the respect you deserve until they try your product and see that you are as good or better than other places in the bigger cities.  Kearney is great because the people here have embraced us and really appreciate what they have here at home and really take pride in saying that their coffee shop is the best around in their opinion.

What do you do outside of Barista’s?

I am a very active person, I love to work out and I have been playing professional indoor football for the last three years.  I am retired from football as of this season but still play flag and a lot of softball.  I really enjoy camping with my wife and two dogs.

Looking ahead, where do you see Barista’s growing in the future? 

I would like to see Baristas grow and expand in Kearney and possibly throughout the midwest.

What makes someone a great Barista? 

I think for starters they have to appreciate the process from start to finish.  They have to know and understand why the coffee performs the way it does when it does and how they got it to do what they want it to..  They have to love and respect the craft and be willing to stand by their product no matter what.  Drink and Love coffee of course 🙂

How do you like your coffee? 

I drink the Medium Roast of the day black and in a ceramic mug.


Colombia! 2011

NCA has been silent for a while. But trust me, I do have a good excuse. Among other things, I just returned from Bogotá, Colombia where I attended the World Barista Championship!

If you haven’t noticed, I LOVE barista competitions. I’ve participated in many national and regional competitions over the years but this was the first World Championship I have ever attended. Colombia was a good choice. It was monumental in that it was the first championship ever held in a major coffee-producing country. What’s more, the Barista Champion from El Salvador won, becoming the first Barista ever from a coffee-producing country to win the World Championship! An amazing feat in a competition typically dominated by Americans and Europeans.(click here to see his winning performance!)

I spent my time at the “4th machine” -an espresso bar staffed by volunteers from around the world. I worked side by side with baristas from Chile, Canada, Australia, Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Romania, New Zealand as well as the U.S. There were three machines and after the second day we realized on a single machine we pulled over 4,000 shots! Imagine working with baristas you’ve never worked with, often speaking different languages and serving customers non-stop, open to close(also speaking many different languages). Let’s go ahead and add to this the challenge of working with espresso you’re not familiar with and altitude that I, for one, am not used to(espresso brews very differently at 2625 m-Bogotá compared to 358 m-Lincoln).

It was the most fun I’ve had in a long time.

But for now, I am back in Nebraska. Time to get back to work! I am currently working shifts at Cultiva Café on 11th and G st, consulting for a couple of coffee shops (shhhh! opening soon;), profiling more baristas, promoting the BGA and planning some fun coffee events!

Speaking of fun coffee events click here to see what’s happening this month!

FOUND: Baristas!

Success! We have 4 interviews in the works for some GREAT baristas. Let’s get started with Tom Ailor! He currently works as the manager at Café Indigo (one of the shops I helped to open!) in Lincoln, NE. Click on his picture to see his profile:

Tom Ailor

Next Week:

Brian Coate – one of my favorite baristas from The Mill!

WANTED: Rockin’ Nebraska Baristas!

I am looking for baristas to interview for our Barista Profiles page. Nominate your favorite barista!


-Must currently work in Nebraska.

-Must love coffee.

We want to know about the people that make our coffee scene great. Nominate your favorite barista or nominate yourself! We want to know about you and we want to hear what you have to say about coffee!


Send nominations to

The Great Plains Barista Jam is 2 days away!

It begins this Friday! Lincoln will be invaded by coffee professionals from all over the United States. They are coming from New York, Washington D.C., Wisconsin, Colorado, Missouri, Kansas and more! I, for one, cannot wait to see the cloud of coffee knowledge that will be surrounding us all weekend.

We will start at Cultiva Coffee (located at 11th and G St.) on Friday night at 5pm for a meet and greet with the instructors. It will be a very informal meeting and you do not need to register for this. The instructors will give a short introduction about themselves and what they will be teaching over the weekend. Everyone is welcome to attend this event even if you can’t make it to a class over the weekend. After the meet and greet, please join us for dinner and drinks at Misty’s Steakhouse -200 N 11th St (dinner and drinks on your own $).

Classes start Saturday! Each 3-hour class is $30. Choose between a Roasting, Cupping or Barista Workshop*. The first session is from 9 am – 12 pm on Saturday. The second session starts at 1 pm and ends at 4 pm. All 3 classes will be held during each session so you can choose which you would like to attend. There are also 3 mini-sessions for $15 each. The mini-sessions include a Tea Class, an Espresso Machine Maintenance Class and a Panel Discussion on Aromatics in Coffee with Dr. Jacek Koziel. These mini sessions are all taking place from 4-5pm on Saturday. Sunday is the final session from 10 am – 1 pm. Again all 3 classes will be held at this time so you can choose which one to take.

Practice what you’ve learned! Saturday night we will have a Latte Art Throwdown at Cultiva from 5-7. Followed by dinner and drinks at Yia Yia’s- 1423 O St.

We will have a follow-up discussion on Sunday. This final discussion will include a Q & A session with our instructors in case you have any further questions not covered in the class.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Who can attend the Barista Jam?

Everyone! You do not have to be a barista to attend. These classes are designed for all levels of coffee experience. Anyone who has an interest in learning more about coffee can enjoy these classes.

When should I arrive?

-If you are pre-registered simply arrive 5-10 minutes prior to the start of your class and check in with a volunteer. If you need to register the day of please arrive at least 15 minutes early (cash in hand) so we can process your registration. If you need to pay with credit or debit card you will need to go to the Cultiva Cafe on 11th and G St. to register. Please be advised that Cultiva is a working cafe and you may have to wait in line to register with a credit/debit card.

Where are the classes being held?

-The Roasting class will be at Cultiva – 727 South 11th St.. All other classes will be at the Cornhusker Marriott – 333 South 13th St.

Where should I park?

-Both locations have on-street parking.

How do I register?

-Download and print this form. You can still mail it in or you can bring it with your payment to the class.

-You will be able to register the day of the Jam. However, we will take cash or credit only. NO CHECKS. And if you are paying with credit or debit card you will need to go to Cultiva on 11th and G in order to process your payment. Please be advised Cultiva is a working cafe´ and you may have to wait in line to register. Please plan accordingly.

*Which topics will be covered in the classes?

The following sessions are hands-on and will last 3 hours.

Roasting Principles, Lead Instructor – Christopher Schooley
Basic Principles of Roasting, Production Roasting, and Sample Roasting

Cupping Workshop, Lead Instructors- Trish Rothgeb and Colleen Anunu
Single origins, degrees of roast, triangulations, defects, organic acids, olfactory

Basic Barista Skills, Lead Instructor- Colin Whitcomb
• Defining Espresso
• Single Origin and Blending for Espresso
• Milk Steaming Techniques and Latte Art
• Signature Drink Development

The following mini-sessions will last 1 hour and are lecture/discussion style classes.

Tea Experience, Host by Ian McCarthy

Espresso Machine Maintanence and Repair, Hosted by Jeremy Cisco

Panel Discussion on Q Grading, Aromatics, and the GCQRI, Hosted by T. Rothgeb, C. Anunu, J. Ferguson, & Dr. Jacek Koziel

If you have any other questions or need to get in touch with me for any reason email me: or call (402) 470-7045.

North Central Barista Competition

I am in Chicago! at Coffee Fest representing the Nebraska Coffee Association. Jon Ferguson and Lauren Walton of Cultiva Coffee Roasting Co. are my travel buddies and fellow judges for the North Central Regional Barista Competition.

Today was Day One of the competition. We are here to support awesome baristas from North Dakota, South Dakota, NEBRASKA, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan.

It’s been a long day of espressos, cappuccinos and signature drinks followed with a wild dance party at The Wormhole. (A coffee shop with this

in the window).

Tomorrow is Day Two. You can support us at home by watching LIVE! tomorrow starting at 12pm CST here: