Aside from an ironclad stomach, what does it take to judge a coffee contest? We don't know, but we're about to find out.

The Southwest Regional Barista Championship happens this weekend, and for the first time, members of the media (i.e. us) have been invited to serve as judges. Apparently, judging the Barista Championship is nothing like judging the Grilled Cheese Invitational or a pie-eating contest, which require only a set of tastebuds and a pair of elastic-waisted pants. It's more like judging ice skating, with rigorous technical criteria and exacting specifications for aesthetic vagaries.

Brewing is serious business, and this is like the Olympics of coffee. That means judges must attend classes, study their homework, pass a test and get certified before the big day. And we thought cupping with the pros at Intelligentsia was rigorous.

For everyone else, the event is free to attend and requires absolutely no homework.

Credit: Guzzle & Nosh

Credit: Guzzle & Nosh

Anyone who desires can pop into Siren Studios during the three-day event and watch competitors pull traditional espressos, cappuccinos and coffee concoctions of their own. The top six finishers head to the national competition, held April 28th through May 1st in Houston, Texas. From there, they conquer the world.

The Southwest division is known for fielding the toughest competitors, having produced two-time United States Barista Champion Heather Perry, of Klatch Coffee in San Dimas, and 2008 USBC champion Kyle Glanville, of Intelligentsia. Top finishers at this weekend's event have a good chance to do well at nationals. (Look for local boy Nik Krankl.) This year, the competition gets even tougher. It's no longer the Western Regional Barista Championship, it's the Southwestern Championship and includes competitors from six states instead of just California. Good luck, baristas.

Sponsored by the Specialty Coffee Association of America, the contest is hosted by Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, which will have a regular, non-competition coffee bar and a “Brewbar” where you can make your own coffee using any method you like. So then… coffee beans crushed in your fist and strained through a sweaty gym sock. It's how we they do it in prison. Good luck, amateurs.

When: 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.; Friday, March 4th – Sunday, March 6th.

Where: Siren Studios

Cost: Free.

LA Weekly