I recently attended the Southwest Regional barista competition in Santa Cruz, California, which was held at the top of the Rittenhouse Building. This was the first competition I had ever been to.
I was in the check out line at Trader Joe’s when a cashier asked what my weekend plans were. When I said would be going to a barista competition his response was “what’s a barista?” Some other responses I got in response to “going to a barista competition” were: “A what?” “What is that?” I wonder if I had said “bartender competition” how people might have responded differently.
In some respects it is only recently, in my opinion, that coffee has had it’s turn to shine in the limelight of the culinary world.
We’re in the age of celebrity chefs and celebrity bartenders pushing and driving innovation, so why not Baristas?
It is also interesting to note how different coffee subcultures are emerging, and how there is a sort of polarization happening, at different levels. Here is is a link to a video made about “coffee snob” cafe workers looking down their nose at customers who order drinks that don’t meet their standards : Coffee Snobs
There is also the “Coffee Wars of San Francisco” :
Just to keep it real, Nick Cho, of Wrecking Ball Coffee, posted a great video of people talking about where they get their coffee, and what they look for in coffee and cafes:
I overheard comments at the Competition such as “These kids think they invented the “pour over”. They don’t realize we grew up with Melitta cone drip filters in the 70’s.”
So how much does a barista really have to know, in order to make a good espresso drink or brewed coffee? Verve Coffee, who hosted the Barista Competition, puts their baristas through three days of training and a four hour test before hiring them.
Any barista can enter the competition, but it takes alot of preparation in advance. The baristas in the Southwest Regional 2012 Competition started training in December, and the competition was held in March. They are given an espresso machine and a table, and they provide everything else. They have 15 minutes to unload, and prepare before the judges arrive. Once the judges arrive, they have 15 minutes to serve a single espresso, a cappucino and a “freestyle” or signature drink, while explaining what they’re making and why. The technical judges evaluate categories like technical skill, cleanliness, efficiency while the sensory judges evaluate the drinks served on balance, flavor, color of crema, consistency and presentation.
While the Barista Competition was happening, the Brewers Competition was also happening across the room. Manual methods of brewing such as French Press or pour over are used and scores are given for flavor, aroma, body, acidity and balance.
Here was my view from the back of the room: The judges were seated at the espresso bar while the Barista gave their presentation and served drinks.
One of the impressions I took away from watching throngs of people buzzing about, excited about coffee, was the passion for an artisan craft, of roasting, and also the art and skill involved in preparation. Barista Competitions give recognition to the professionals in the industry and fuel creativity. The crowd cheered on their favorite contestants and there was plenty of excitement in the in the air.
I believe the signature drinks will, and probably already have, inspired new coffee drinks at local cafes. I was intrigued by the signature drinks – artisan concoctions crafted with blending and pairing in mind.
What I mean by pairing, is similar to that of pairing wine with food. The signature drink can highlight and complement the the existing flavors in the coffee they have chosen to prepare. In a 2009 Western Regional Competition, Nick Griffith of Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea, showcased a coffee called Maravilla at a from Guatemala. He described it as a sweet coffee, with initial notes of Clementine and citrus, followed by cocoa butter. His signature drink was created by blending a shot espresso with a puree of Medjool dates and pouring that into a mixture of whipped cream, vanilla bean, a little sugar and a dash of orange blossom water. More drink recipes from the 2009 Western Regional Barista Competition can be found on Food GPS at: http://www.foodbuzz.com/recipes/760336-western-regional-barista-competition-day-2-
It will be interesting to see what new drink recipes surface at the upcoming U.S. Barista Championship which will be held in Portland Oregon: http://www.usbaristachampionship.org/
It was nice to spend the weekend meeting coffee professionals, and watching the competition. I also enjoyed seeing a little more of Santa Cruz, CA which is full of colorful characters.
This dog was sitting next to it’s owner at a bistro in downtown Santa Cruz. Apparently the dog’s name is Louis Vuitton.