[For the record, an earlier version of this post incorrectly named Chris Baca as a the barista champ. In fact, Pete Licata is the barista champ and Baca, the winner of the Brewer's Cup. This is what happens when we try to write before having our morning coffee.]
Intelligentsia Coffee produced two finalists, but Pete Licata of Honolulu Coffee Company beat all comers to hold onto his title and win the 2011 Southwest Regional Barista Championship, earning him an all-expenses paid trip to the National Barista Championship, April 27-May 1 in Houston. As the top finisher in the regional competition, Licata (who was also the 2010 regional champ) will be an automatic semi-finalist at the national competition, where he won't have to compete in the preliminary rounds. Tyler Madden of Intelligentsia in Venice and John Martin of Intelligentsia in Pasadena also made it to the top six, earning them spots in the national competition, though they have to pay their own way.
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Though a bout of food poisoning prevented us from judging the contest as we had planned, we stopped in to watch a few of the 36 competitors. Working on a Nuova Simonelli machine, each competitor is required to make an espresso, a cappuccino and a signature drink. The first two categories are mostly about form and technique, but the latter is where creativity shines.
They can be hot or cold, big or small and served in any glass with any drinking instructions the barista gives. About the only thing competitors can't use in their signature drinks is alcohol. (That includes vanilla and other common alcohol-based extracts.) Coffee follows trends just as much as food does. This year, the hot ingredient was blood orange.
Andrew Lopez of Bloom Coffee in Roseville (near Sacramento) poured espresso on top of blood orange-infused simple syrup, ice and seltzer water to make a coffee cocktail that he hoped would make sippers feel like it was "summertime all day long." "This is a young industry," Lopez continued, and "I would encourage us all to push the boundaries." Lopez didn't win, but as soon as the judges were done, attendees grabbed their cups and drained them to the dregs.