This year's United States Barista Competition, hosted by Krups and held during the 2007 SCAA Conference in Long Beach, California, was replete with top baristas from prior competitions, but only six could advance to the finals. Here's a report on the finalists' performances.
The wonderful photos were taken by Larry Licata, proud father of second place finisher Pete Licata.
Heather Perry, Coffee Klatch Roasting - First Place
Hometown: San Dimas, California
Competition Experience: Four-time Western Regional Champion and two-time US Champion.
Why I Compete: "I compete for a few different reasons. First of all, competing pushes me to new heights and continues to push my limits and make me a better barista. Secondly, I love the barista community, and competing is a big part of that community. And lastly, I am competitive and love the thrill of competition."
A colorful stem of Bird-of-Paradise in a vase established the elegance of Heather's table, set with thick, heavy bottomed glasses and fine linen. The music was springy and light too.
Heather served a three bean blend that included a natural bourbon, Ethiopian for spice, berry, and wine, and Sumatra for richness and body. The portafilter was updosed slightly with short rattles of the doser handle and two downdose taps.
She employed tight north / south sweeps to distribute. Technical judge Barry Jarrett watched for a level tamp.
Her concentration was intense while steaming the milk; once the milk was properly steamed and textured, Heather used a tall and short pitcher for mixing to keep the foam even. The cappuccinos appeared to have a nice crema ring and apple / heart design. She promised the judges tastes of cocoa from the crema, plus the sweetness of espresso and milk.
Her signature drink, Espresso in the Clouds, included sugar, cinnamon and ginger to complement the coffee's spice. Heather heated them with half and half and whole milk on a hotplate to allow these flavors to marry together. To create the cloud, she strained the mixture into a charger and added lemon and whipped egg yolk.
She created a top layer by spooning and the bottom layer by letting the espresso "fall through the cloud". She instructed the judges to drink it all to fully appreciate the texture, aroma, and of course, taste of citrus, vanilla, and subtle spices.
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| Heather Perry, Coffee Klatch Roasting - First Place |
| Technical judge, Barry Jarrett, looks serious. |
| Layers naturally develop as the heavier espresso "falls through the cloud". |
Pete Licata, PT's Coffee - Second Place
Hometown: Olathe, Kansas
Competition Experience: USBC was his third year competing, first time in the finals. Won first in the Midwest in 2005, second in 2006, and third this year.
Why I Compete: "I began competing to try and be the best. After I came to the USBC the first time, it turned into a love of the people and the coffee. I always want to do my best and feel great about what I do, but the awesome people are what really keep me coming back."
Pete prepared his table with a red embossed tablecloth, mirror accents and glassware, offering a clean, minimalist appeal that complemented his black chef's uniform with golden buttons and prominent PT's Coffee logo. His presentation was a journey of coffee in the barista craft, which began for him with the discovery of that first shot of wonderful "espresso force".
He performed short rotations while he overfilled the basket with 4+ grams of coffee, followed by a quick level and two brief tamps with two taps.
Pete's espresso preparation was unorthodox: the shots were drawn into shotglasses and transferred to white demitasses. He explained this would help mix the drink's heavy and lighter notes. Judges were asked to taste the delicious chocolaty body, floral acidity, and warm, lingering spice.
In keeping with the minimalist elegance of his table setting, the milk was stored in a wine bucket and poured from a tall, narrow glass carafe.
After the cappuccinos, Pete prepared his Espresso Champagne signature drink. He drew three double shots into a silver gravy boat. As with the other espressos, Pete demonstrated his penchant for updosing. He then infused the 6 oz of espresso, 8 oz of water, and one-quarter lemon before transferring the mixture to a carbon dioxide charger to create a velvety, rich foam. The second part of the drink was composed of pomegranate juice, a simple syrup infused with juniper berries, and seltzer for effervescence.
Pete explained the drink would be light and refreshing, dancing across the palate. It naturally divided into layers. As a celebration of espresso, Pete shared in a toast to the judges, USBC, and other competitors.
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| Pete Licata, PT's Coffee - Second Place |
| Espresso was drawn into shotglasses and transferred to these small, flared tulip cappuccino cups. |
| Pete's signature drink, Espresso Champagne |
Matt Riddle, Intelligentsia Coffee - Third Place
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois, originally Indianapolis, Indiana
Competition Experience: 3rd at 2006 WBC; 1st, 3rd, 4th at USBC, 1st, 1st, 5th at GLRBC
Why I Compete: "I compete for the fact that I believe it helps promote baristas. I compete to get Specialty Coffee some attention, but also, it's my way of staying connected to my roots in the coffee industry. I started as a barista, moved to training and now design, so competition is not only fun for me, but helps keep me grounded."
Matt prepared a cream-colored table cloth with brown accents. The background music was heavy rhythmic vocals, which added a sense of intensity. It was almost a haunting melody. He began by saying "We're all here for coffee, obviously, but we're also here to share our love and passion...enjoying coffee with friends and no strings." Matt then prepared his espressos, promising chocolate flavor from the Brazilian coffees and a Colombian coffee with light acidity and darker roasted to elicit cherry sweetness.
One trademark of the Intelligentsia baristas is their attention to detail and efficiency. For example, Matt's work area was kept clean from start to finish, because he used the time immediately after the extraction started to do things like brushing errant grinds into the trash. Technical judges look for any oversight; a wiped steam wand isn't enough. It must be wiped clean, front and back. The pucks must be of the same firm consistency and devoid of signs of channeling.
Before placing each drink on its saucer, Matt lightly dried the bottom of the cup. The cappuccinos were poured latte art style and served directly from a round tray to the judges (most competitors choose to place the tray on the table to serve; a faux pas by even modest restaurant standards).
Matt's signature drink was an espresso cocktail. It began with candied ginger preserved with sugar and water. Matt sliced limes with a large chef's knife while waiting for judges to evaluate the last set. This is a smart move, since a lull in commentary gave the judges ample time to fully evaluate his drinks.
Using classic bartender tools, Matt mixed the ingredients with a martini shaker and then used a seltzer bottle for carbonation, creating a smooth, lively finish. He explained that the seltzer re-energizes the crema and instructed the judges to take the lime and swirl it in the drink to incorporate freshness into an already refreshing drink.
Matt finished the drink preparation portion of his performance with over 1 minute, 30 seconds remaining.
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| Matt Riddle, Intelligentsia Coffee - Third Place |
| Yes, Barry always looks that serious when tech judging. |
| Matt's signature drink, an espresso cocktail. |
Chris Deferio, Carriage House Cafe - Fourth Place
Hometown: Ithaca, New York
Competition Experience: 2005 USBC 17th place, 2006 USBC 9th place, 2007 North East Regional Champion.
Why I Compete: "I think for me it boils down to honoring God with the gifts you are given. When it comes to competing, I really love the opportunity to join with other baristas and celebrate coffee on a creative and disciplined level. As a creative person, I have always needed a little more effort when it came to being disciplined in one thing or another. The competitions are a great way to build discipline while simultaneously encouraging creativity. You are willingly submitting your craftsmanship to be judged and therefore must check your pride at the door and be open to feedback in order to grow in your craft. It is a one-of-a-kind opportunity that I really appreciate; I've grown to be a better barista because of it.
When I approach competitions, my main goal is not necessarily to win, although I would like to grow to that level. Most people don't win. But it is to do my best and to bring something excellent before God, the judges, and my peers. As baristas we represent coffee...a drink that is more than just a commodity, it is representative of life's deeper mysteries. Shared by people worldwide, it is a part of the fabric of culture itself. So to simply compete to win would be to lose the greater reward of perspective.
I am so blessed to be a part of this thing called coffee and as I start to think of next years' competition and reflect back on this past one, I am excited to see what new things I will learn and thankful for all the things I have learned and experienced so far. 'And whatever you do, do it heartily as unto the Lord and not to men.' Colossians 3:23"
Judging from Chris' and many other competitors' wardrobe choices, black is the new color in barista fashion. His setting was a wood plank across the table, straight sided glasses, brown napkins, and white flared sugar bowls; it set the mood of simplicity, complemented by music of gentle violin and guitar.
Chris explained that his espresso is a "friends' blend": Four different coffees from four friends. He dosed coffee with a short rattle on the doser and thumb return. His technique includes a slight updose with north / south swipe and short Stockfleth's move, followed by tamping with a single tap and twist.
As he prepared his espresso, he elaborated on how a blend is give and take, like with people. Each part of the coffee loses part of itself for the better. He said the judges would notice the soft, open brightness from Kenya, with other coffees contributing tropic fruit and a chocolaty, light smoky finish.
He used a specialty milk with 4% milk fat, which carries espresso nicely while adding complementary body. Like most competitors, drinks were prepared in pairs. He poured heart shaped latte art ("because I love you" he joked to the judges) and narrow low volume white tulip cappuccino cups. By Deferio's standards, quite ordinary pours; perhaps he wished to emphasis the drink's taste over appearance? A nice dark crema ring was evident on each of the drinks.
For the signature drink, "Campfire," Chris again evoked the theme of community and coffee, as friends would be gathered around a campfire. The drink featured chocolate ganache with cream heated over a Sterno, hickory smoked vanilla bean, split and chopped, and the espresso served on top. In an unexpected twist, he used a "smoking gun" device to infuse the drink in smoke.
The granite slab coaster and dark cup were covered with a glass and he used the device to fill the glass with essence of campfire... the comfort of something familiar, lingering memories of friendship. Chris' performance evoked a strong sense of mood. He instructed the judges to lift their glasses at once.
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| Chris Deferio, Carriage House Cafe - Fourth Place |
| Chris didn't fuss with fancy latte art. |
| Chris' signature drink, "Campfire," was served in these glass globes, filled with essence of campfire. |
Kyle Glanville, Intelligentsia Coffee - Fifth Place
Hometown: Carmel Valley, California
Competition Experience: Placed nearly last in the 2005 NWRBC and second in 2007. This was Kyle's first USBC.
Why I Compete: "It's a fun challenge and a great learning experience."
Although the new rules allow competitors to set the table before the clock starts, Kyle chose to lay out his pale yellow tablecloth and service items before them to purposely create a setting. To complement his performance, he chose music with a hard bass rhythm and no vocals.
Kyle then went on to describe the coffee of his espresso, a single origin Brazil pulp natural Bourbon. The judges were told to expect a beautiful citrus complexity, milk chocolate and lingering sweetness. The baskets were dosed with 17 grams of coffee. The camera zoomed in on the drippy pour; it looked like ristretto range, a languid start that later sped up.
He suggested they swirl the espresso before drinking to mix in the sweetness at the bottom of the cup.
For the cappuccinos, Kyle used Intelligentsia's signature blend, Black Cat, known for its dark chocolate sweetness. He used more coffee for cappuccinos than the espressos, I would guess about 22 grams, pouring hearts in each cappuccino. As with most of the other competitors, he transferred between a smaller and larger pitcher to help even the amount of foam used for each drink.
As he served the cappuccinos, Kyle reminded the judges to expect dark mocha and sweetness.
Kyle began his signature drink early in the routine by cutting Valencia oranges and juicing them by hand over heat. He later added raw sugar, whipped the mixture, and then heated it to reduce.
Kyle used huge overdosed baskets, tamping the rounded mound instead of leveling like other baristas. His routine was one of purposeful, calm flow. He added cream to the reduction; the citrus and cream reduction was topped with citrus zest. The judges' first sip would be citrus aroma, then sweet, thick warm custard.
Kyle finished his routine with over one minute to spare, even after dumping one shot.
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| Kyle Glanville, Intelligentsia Coffee - Fifth Place |
| White tulips with low volume and nice rich-looking crema rings. |
| Kyle's signature drink, served in a rich, oval wood tray matching the darkness of his espresso's middle layer. |
Peter Middlecamp, Black Sheep Coffee Café - Sixth Place
Hometown: South St. Paul, Minnesota
Competition Experience: First and only, USBC 2007.
Why I Compete: "To hone my skills and get feedback on our espresso blend. To learn from and spend time with the people; the baristas really are an inspiring group of people, fanatically dedicated and fiercely individual. Also, to pay homage to the farmers, producers, importers. Sometimes serving drinks can become disconnected from the source, from the inspiration; to get involved and compete is to reconnect with the people closer to the sources of your coffee."
Peter was crisply dressed in black with black tie, which complemented the arrangement of silver, black, and white accessories on his prep area and service table. The centerpiece, composed of sprigs of green garden plants, contrasted with the elegant tall glasses.
He began by describing the components of his espresso, Espresso Reserve from Paradise Roasters. It was such an explosion of descriptors, so rapidly and clearly enunciated, I will not attempt to summarize. Peter has previous experience as an actor, and it showed in the confidence of his presentation, though he did get a little ahead of himself as compared to his earlier rounds.
Peter evidently loves to updose; the huge pile literally touched the bottom of the doser. He used stylish black cappuccino cups by Terra Keramik.
He explained that the milk was from a co-op north of the conference location; where possible, he tries to use local ingredients. While slowly pouring one of the cappuccinos, he commented, "I don't think I've ever poured milk so deliberately in my life."
His signature drink was an espresso with components of basil. He shared the origins of this drink through an amusing and touching story of his childhood, when he dug up his mother's garden, much to her chagrin. Together they prepared a wonderful salad from the vegetables he had ripped from the garden and dumped on the floor of her kitchen. She patiently explained the importance of their freshness and the memory of that meal remains with Peter.
In addition to the basil infused whipped cream as a tribute to his mother's garden, he added homemade caramel with molasses, condensed milk, and organic dark brown sugar.
Even though Peter's opening comments required almost two minutes, he managed to finish ahead of time.
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| Peter Middlecamp, Black Sheep Coffee Café - Sixth Place |
| His concentration during this pour was palpable. |
| Peter's signature drink included caramel, whipped cream infused with basil, and dark brown sugar, prior to adding the espresso. |
Congratulations to all the competitors, and best of luck in Tokyo, Heather!
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| One last photo of the top three competitors. |
| And finally, a shot of the master of ceremonies for the finals, Nick Cho. |
Dan Kehn, a software developer and writer, is the owner of home-barista.com, a resource for espresso and coffee enthusiasts. He is also a forum moderator on CoffeeGeek.com. Dan has served as sensory judge at two SCAA US Barista competitions and three regional competitions. "I would love to compete myself and I most certainly would", he confides, "were it not for my lack of skill and speed." Dan resides in Cary, North Carolina with his loving wife and four sons.