Barista Competition

Last weekend, I mentioned to a friend that I was going to a barista competition. She was intrigued enough, not only to ask that I maybe expand on the theme in a blog post, but followed up with a reminder when I forgot. Thanks, Tania! ;)

My dear friend and cousin, Susan, is an owner of a drive-through espresso shop and a coffee roasting company. Both of them are called The Black Cup (the site is a teeny bit out of date, ahem, Susan), and are located in Loveland, Colorado. So, if you're ever in town, they're located on the east side of 287, heading north out of Loveland. Her roasted coffee beans are adored by the family as an easy way to partake of her genius when you're not in CO, as she will ship on request.

The Mountain Regional Barista Competition, is a step on the ladder to the World Barista Championship. There is a "competition area" that includes a large espresso machine, coffee grinder, and prep area (the competitors bring their own cups and tamper and other prep items). There are four tasting judges, two technical judges, and one head judge who oversees judging consistency. The judging criteria (based on page 22 of the Rules and Regs) include competition area cleanliness, taste (the most subjective part), presentation, technical skills (consistency, doing all the steps correctly, etc), and overall impression. The competitor produces four espressos (one for each tasting judge), four cappuccinos, and then four of their signature drink in 15 minutes, all whilst the technical judges are peering at their process. The flavor of the coffee throughout the drinks is not only affected by the skill of the barista, but by the coffee bean blend they brought with them. It reveals their taste in coffee, and a refined sense of taste will elevate the level of all the drinks. The signature drink is (aside from performance) the most nerve-wracking of the elements. You want to be creative enough to be noticed and to stand out, but not so crazy with your flavors that you put off the judges. One barista we talked to is vegan, so she made a vegan coffee drink flavored with coconut milk and lemongrass. On the opposite end of the spectrum was someone who included bacon in (or with?) their signature drink. Susan's signature drink this year was flavored with clove and kumquat. And throughout this experience, the barista must be able to speak confidently with the judges on things like the flavor profiles of their blend, their process, and where they got the idea for their signature drink.

It was a fun time, Susan did excellently well (though I am not a barista in any fashion). She was self assured, tidy, and performed well. Unfortunately, a couple elements of her drinks were a little off. She says her blend was not quite as well chosen as she would have liked, and the judges thought the clove element was a little heavy-handed. I think with some tinkering, it would have been a real winner. However, that's the other part: when you're running two businesses and are dealing with end of the year stuff, how hard is it to find the time to tinker with your signature drink until it's perfect in the minds of the judges? Very difficult.
So, Susan did not make finals this year (she did last year, which was the first year she competed). There's always next year, right?

9 News did a very good clip on the competition, mainly because it included a nicely informative interview with the guy who ended up winning the Mountain Region competition.


mattw said...

I'm not a real big coffee drinker, but that sounds like it would be interesting to see. I don't think my taste buds would be sophisticated enough to really pick out the tiny nuances (sp?) of the drinks.

belsum said...

Oh how fun! I think the mister would have done well in one of these when he was still running the coffee shop.

Susan P. said...

Susan here! I found out yesterday that I took 7th place, missing 6th and the finals by a matter of 3 points. (800pts possible) Not to shabby! I found the whole thing to be a lot more fun this year than last year. Thank you Anne for coming out and supporting me!!