While some of us were reaching for copious amounts of coffee yesterday to cope with the loss of the hour, the city of Santa Cruz had its fill of caffeine. Over the weekend, more than 40 baristas from California, Hawaii, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado converged on the beachside town to put their coffee skills to the test at the South West Regional Barista Competition and Brewers Cup. At the end of the Daylight Savings Day, the crema de la crema of competitors included quite a few Los Angeles-area baristas: Charles Babinski from Intelligentisa placed second in the competition, bested only by Verve Coffee Roasters' Jared Truby. Percy Ramirez, from Intelligentsia's Pasadena shop, placed fifth.
Separately, L.A. baristas dominated the Brewers Cup, which focuses on manual brewing methods. Intelligentsia's John Martin was the best in the field, taking first place, followed by Cafecito Organico's Alexandra LittleJohn. Amber Johnson from Fix Coffee and Mike Mierzejewski from Single Origin Coffee placed fourth and fifth, respectively.
Baristas competing in the Barista Competition each had 15 minutes to serve three drinks — an espresso, a cappuccino and a “signature drink” that “demonstrates the competitor's creativity and skill to create an appealing and individual espresso-focused beverage” — to four “sensory” judges who evaluated the drinks based on various criteria. The color of the espresso's crema, for example, was given a score, as was the consistency of foam in the cappuccino and how well the signature drink achieved “creativity and synergy with coffee.” Two additional judges evaluated the more technical aspects of the coffee experience, including the extraction time for the espresso shots and general cleanliness of the station area.
In contrast, the Brewers Cup focused solely on coffees brewed via a manual method like the pourover or French press. Judges gave scores for aroma, flavor, aftertaste, acidity, body and balance; in addition, baristas were judged on their customer-service skills and how well they described the taste of their coffee (sample explanation from Alexandra LittleJohn: “This coffee is kind of like my ex-boyfriends: If you agitate it too much, they become bitter.”).
The South West Regional Barista Competition was one of six similar regional events across the country. The six finalists in each contest automatically qualify to go to Portland, Ore., in April to compete in the U.S. Barista Championship. The winner of that national championship will go up against baristas from all over the globe at the World Barista Championship in June.