2009 Western Regional Barista Competition Finals

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Barista Competition Los Angeles

Intelligentsia Coffee and SCAA co-host the 2009 Western Regional Barista Competition at downtown L.A.’s Spring Arts Tower with top baristas from California and Hawaii.

FINALIST #1Ryan Willbur – Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea – Los Angeles, CA

Finca La Maravilla, from Huehuetenago, Guatemala, with notes of Meyer lemon, sweet sherry and a coffee flower finish, which is similar to jasmine. Meyer lemon comes from altitude and soil. The farmer grows citrus on the land. Sherry sweetness is the result of washed process. The coffee flower finish is result of altitude and varietal, a mix of Bourbon and Cultura. The Meyer lemon is probably the most outstanding of those characters. “The sweetness is a direct result of picking and the care those pickers took in selecting prime cherries.”

Coffee is beautifully produced on the farm, but roasting is also important. During roasting, Willbur’s friends took off the acidity, but kept sweet fruit notes. Adding milk for cappuccinos, “you’ll find buttery toffee flavor and toasted hazelnut.”

Willbur wanted to “play on flavors that define coffee and bring a culinary preparation.” To make a ginger sauce, Willbur added butter to the pan, followed by fresh-sliced cuts of ginger. He decided to “play on the idea of blending sugars” – dark Muscovado for sweet molasses notes and demerara sugar for caramelized sweetness. Then add water for volume and to bring it together. Stir, lower the heat and then begin cappuccinos.

Wilbur sliced Meyer lemon peel and rubbed it on the inside of the glass to release oil from the lemon, to unleash aromatics. Add sauce to the glass. “You can tell this is going to be a delicious beverage just by the aromas.” Willbur encouraged judges to take in aromatics. Add espresso, smell, then sip to get the coffee’s sweetness.

“If you can get yourself organized, get clarity of mind, this will go great, and I think it did.”

FINALIST #2Sara Peterson – The Abbey coffeeart & music lounge – Santa Cruz, CA

A three-bean blend from cross-town Verve Coffee Roasters: Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, Sumatra and Brazil. Peterson pointed out the bittersweet chocolate notes from the Sumatra, buttery burnt caramel from the Brazil and fruit-forward apricot from the Yirgacheffe.

Peterson instructed the judges to take the espresso shot in one sip: “You’re going to taste fruit forward apricot, as well as bittersweet chocolate and rounded caramel body.”

Peterson called her drink “The Benediction,” as it’s a sweet finish to The Sermon experience. [The blend is called The Sermon]. She began by mixing a vanilla cream base using heavy cream, fine sugar and half of a vanilla bean. She hand-whipped it over a bowl of ice and rock salt, taking it to a creamy consistency. For the base, the vanilla and thickness of cream showcases the apricot notes. For the next layer, Peterson made a chocolate sauce with semi-sweet Ghirardelli and bittersweet Guittard chocolate. She added a burned caramel sauce. In an unlined copper pot, Peterson burned sugar added Karo for caramel-like consistency, cooled it off with some cream and some butter. “It gets really smoky. The first time I had the caramel, it reminded me of The Sermon.” Next, she pulled a shot of espresso for each judge. “It’s kind of like espresso affogato, which is espresso over ice cream.” Give it a swirl to mix all the layers together. “The Benediction.”

FINALIST #3Nick Griffith – Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea – Los Angeles, CA

“Today I want to talk about sweetness, how it develops and how we perceive it,” said Griffith. He went with a single-estate coffee from Huehuetenago, Guatemala, a farm called Maravilla, farmed by the Morales family. He predicted citrus and Clementine and more citrus, “followed by a nice spice blast…Sweetness and clarity, that’s why I chose this coffee.” The sweetness is due to the washed process, and also because the coffee grows on an eastern facing hillside at high altitude. Even up until this morning, the citrus sugars in the coffee had developed into “coconut macaroon.”

Griffith broke down his signature drink into two portions. He started with sippable cream whipped with vanilla bean, some sugar, and orange blossom water. He instructed the judges to sip, not shoot. For the second portion, Griffith made puree from Medjool dates and Muscovado sugar, then added espresso. He wanted to a find fruit with intense sweetness. The dates were originally from Morocco, where they were reserved for dignitaries. He instructed the judges to swirl, take in the aroma, then sip “molasses sweetness, then spice and tang.” Take espresso portion and pour it into the cream and swirl, bringing harmony and balance. “Super comforting and aromatic.”

Griffith: “My goal is to always represent the coffee in a good light and reveal why I chose it” [In this case], the crisp sweetness and articulate flavors.”


Griffith: “The whipped cream, it’s sweet and aromatic without being too perfumey. I loved how that represents the coffee, so I wanted to isolate that. With the dates, I wanted to represent that sweetness as well. They’re both really good, but they together, they’re magic.”

Griffith: “My roast is a little bit different than his. It’s a little bit lighter.”

FINALIST #4Renee Teichen – Ritual Coffee Roasters – San Francisco, CA

Maria Millaños grows coffee in Via Maria, Colombia. She’s been a leader in teaching other coffee producers sustainable farming techniques, including recycling, composting and water treatment. She tends to two-acre farm with husband and two children, producing a micro-lot called Nariño. In addition to coffee, Maria and her family grow plantains and sugar cane.

Nariño features an “incredible rosemary aroma.” Due to the small size of the farm, Maria can pick the ripest berries, which have the boldest “brown sugar and fudge.” Due to the high elevation, you’ll find crisp acidity in the finish.

“When combined with milk, that fudge note melts away into a delicate maple sweetness.”

A two-part experience. “This combination highlights everything I love about the Nariño,” said Teichen. She provided each judge with an aromatic sample plate holding ground Nariño, a sprig of rosemary – one of the Nariño’s dynamic aromatics – and chopped 55% dark chocolate from San Francisco. She “chose this chocolate for its depth of acidity, which matches the Nariño.” The second part: ganache combining the chocolate found on the plate. “This Ganache strengthens Nariño’s fudge flavors.” She added four shots of Nariño to this ganache, one of each drink. Topping this combination: lightly whipped cream, pre-made and infused with Nariño. The cream “balances texture and rounds out the Nariño’s brown sugar sweetness.” She instructed the judges to “Stir it thoroughly, incorporate all the whipped cream, then breathe in three aromatic samples and sip. By all means finish it.”

Teichen: “I truly believe that Maria would be proud to see how her coffee is being showcased here today.”

FINALIST #5Jared Truby – Verve Coffee Roasters – Santa Cruz, CA

Truby showcased a direct-trade Elida from Panama’s Boquete region, a full natural coffee in its first year of availability. Due to high altitude, the trees take a few years longer to bare fruit. He gets a fruit-forward note, followed by marjoram and butterscotch finish. Take the espresso shot in one full gulp to fully enjoy it.

Truby: “When this coffee interacts with milk, it comes out with a cappuccino like I’ve never had before…I get a lingering, delicious butterscotch and a noticeable earthy note from the Sumatra. This is definitely reminiscent of a Butterfinger.” When he presented his cappuccinos, Truby commented on the “custard-like sweetness, butterscotch notes, along with spicy notes from the Sumatra Lake Tawar.”

“I felt injustice in adding something to this coffee that wasn’t already present in it…I’m going to accent Concord grape, which is my favorite note from the Elida, then add fresh marjoram.” He poured shots of espresso into glasses and added grape juice and an over-exaggeration of ice to limit dilution, so more of the coffee would come through. He added marjoram for aromatics, then garnished each drink with two grapes. Sip and swirl to get all the flavors. He provided straws to the judges so they could drink his beverage like a cocktail.

FINALIST #6Devin Pedde – Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea – Los Angeles, CA

Pedde began by saying, “As we know, coffee is a fruit. Today, I brought a Yirgacheffe, which tastes just like fruit…It is remarkably clean in the cup…The acidity never gets too wild. It’s a washed-processed coffee grown at 1900 meters. The washing station: Kebede Koomsa. The Yirgacheffe is a cooperative coffee, meaning it combines different micro-lots and different micro-climates.

Pedde presented the judges with a wooden board holding dishes of ingredients he’s been tasting in the coffee. He brewed shots of espresso and had the judges drink the shots so they could help him calibrate. Pedde tasted the espresso.

Barista Competition Los Angeles
He had a Belgian coffee brewer, adding the flavors that stick out the most, beginning with brown sugar. “It’s tasting a little more like citrus today, instead of the port wine notes I’ve been tasting. Crisp tannin on the finish. Cherries will do a good job of mimicking that.” Blueberries, due to berry notes. Strawberries, “since there’s sweetness at the bottom.” He also added persimmon. It’s a siphon pot that heats the water and siphons fruit, creating an infusion.

For the cappuccinos “the fruit notes are the coffee. On the finish, you’ll get crisp tannin.” When presenting the cappuccinos, he said, “I’ve dosed the coffee a little lower than normal, which really brings out the sweetness.”

Before presenting his signature beverage, espresso combined with the fruit infusion, Pedde said, “This is going to be an exaggeration of the experience I just had with the coffee…We’ve essentially just cupped this coffee together. This is going to be you revealing my cupping sheet.”

With no delay, the results:

1st Place: Nick Griffith – Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea – Los Angeles, CA
2nd Place: Devin Pedde – Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea – Los Angeles, CA
3rd Place: Ryan Willbur – Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea – Los Angeles, CA

Only five points separated Griffith and Pedde on an 870-point scale. Willbur was only 9 points behind Pedde.

All three Intelligentsia baristas will compete in the United States Barista Championship, from March 5-8 in Portland. No word yet on whether any of the other finalists will be there. Should they advance, the United States also hosts the 10th Annual World Barista Championship, to be held in Atlanta from April 16-19.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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