Countdowns, teams of judges with stop watches, and pre-performance massages seemed to have little to do with coffee culture. That was until this weekend and experiencing ESPN-style competition of the Western Regional Barista Competition in Berkeley. I lived to tell despite the excessiveness of slamming three coffees while watching some of the 35 baristas from coffee roasters around California compete for “Most Promising Newcomer” and “Best Signature Drink,” among others. Quite a strange spectacle.
Between lectures on caring for espresso makers and roasting a great blend, baristas were each given 15 minutes to prepare three drinks for a panel of judges. What helps you win: presenting a confident schpeal, delivering on your promise of fruit nodes and who knows what other flavors, selecting a quality milk (local creamery Straus produces a coffee-specific milk, for example), latte art, and, of course, cleaning up after yourself. I expected the crowd to be hipster-filled, and while there were two judges with matching plaid secondhand shirts, the event also drew plenty of families and business owners. I was glad to see some of the Ritual Roasters crew sweep the prizes while being left wondering whether this was ridiculous, intriguing, or the signal of an impending urban trend.