Western Regional Barista Competition (Day 1)

  • Home
  • Coffee
  • Western Regional Barista Competition (Day 1)
Barista Los Angeles

The 2009 Western Regional Barista Competition is underway at downtown L.A.’s Spring Arts Tower, a former bank. Top California baristas battle for six slots in Sunday’s Finals.

The competition isn’t the only draw for visitors. “The Fourth Machine,” an additional espresso machine, treats guests to single-origin coffees from premiere coffee roasters. Today, Verve Coffee Roasters (Santa Cruz), Intelligentsia, Kean Coffee (Newport Beach) and LAMILL Coffee pulled shots. On Saturday, Ritual Coffee Roasters (San Francisco), Equator Estate (San Rafael), Zoka Coffee (Seattle) and Coffee Solutions (Hopedale, MA) will pull shots.

Barista Competition Los Angeles
Today, Intelligentsia brewed Zirikana Rwanda coffee using Bodum’s manual pour-over method. No telling what will flow through the filters on Saturday or Sunday.

Baked Goods Los Angeles
Lisa Olin from Cake Monkey bakery sold Yo-Hos, Cakewiches, Li’l Merri’s, individual red velvet cakes and Pop Pies. I’d highly recommend the brown sugar cinnamon pop pie, a refined version of a Pop Tart (minus the refined sugar).

Tacos Los Angeles
Upstairs, La Torta Loca owner Tony Rojas is offering a taco bar. Marinated chicken and beef tacos cost $2 apiece and garlic-slathered shrimp run $3 each. It’s worth the extra dollar. He also has $5 vegetarian rice plates and a fully stocked salsa bar. In case you don’t know about La Torta Loca, it’s a two-storefront operation in the Fashion District, at the corner of Santee & 9th. Rojas regularly travels to Mexico to brush up on his cooking skills and at his restaurants, offers daily specials.

Here’s a quick rundown of the competition. Three Nuova Simonelli espresso machines are dedicated for the competition. You’ll find three identical coffee bars, each with a separate judges’ table. Each barista has 15 minutes to serve 4 espressos, 4 cappuccinos and 4 signature drinks. The coffee is the barista’s choice, and for their cappuccinos, they use milk from Northern California’s famed Strauss Family Creamery. The three biggest variables: the coffee itself, the signature drink and the music. Here’s a rundown of each competitor’s coffee and signature drink:

1. Brett Walker – Zoka Coffee Roasters – Seattle, WA
Barista Competition Los Angeles
Two weeks ago, Walker placed sixth at the Northwest Regional Barista Competition. He said, “I came down to practice and work on my routine out of region.” Since he was competing out of region, he was unable to qualify for the United States Barista Championship.

Zoka’s Palladino, a two-bean blend of Brazilian Cerrado and Ethiopian Sidamo.

Walker began by sauteeing apricots and black peppercorns, which eventually served as the base of his final course. He added apricot reduction to the bottom of sake cups, poured a shot of espresso on top, then lined the top of the glass with white corn custard. “The [espresso] seems to have a lot of brown sugar in it right now,” Walker said. “It picks up brown sugar, which is one of the ingredients in this custard. Give it a sip, let the bottom part go over the top part, then give it a swirl…Spicy warm fruit notes flow over rich cooled white corn custard.” Walker said that the judges should expect the “tingle of the black pepper” to linger.

Walker: “I threw something wild together because that’s the way I roll.”

2. Brendan McCarthy – Red Rock Coffee Co. – Mountain View, CA

Ganesh, named for the elephant-headed Hindu god, is a 50/50 blend of Mexican Nayarit and Indian Balmmadi Estate. According to McCarthy, “It develops a terrific of layer of crèma when it pulls.”

A “simple” Cherry Macchiato: ground pure white chocolate over homemade cherry syrup, poured over espresso, with a dollop of foam. “You can either sip it or take it as a shooter.”

3. Ozzie Ortiz – Anazao Coffee Co. – Imperial, CA

A beautiful blend by Mike Perry of Coffee Klatch featuring Sumatra, Huehuetenago from Guatemala, Ethiopian (natural Wondobonko) and Brazil (natural yellow Bourbon). Ortiz pointed out orange citrus notes from Brazil and berry notes from Guatemala.

For his cappuccinos, Ortiz used “whole organic milk for the rich buttery taste it brings to the coffee.”

“The Anazao,” utilizing “simple, elegant and naturally enhanced flavors – toasted almonds, orange peel, fresh blueberries and lastly, a little bit of vanilla bean. Put them over water so flavors infuse together.” While simmering, Ortiz added sugar to make custom flavored syrup. He poured the syrup into martini glasses with green stems, then added ice-shaken espresso, ice-shaken cream. His final instruction to the judges: “Give it a gentle stir so you get all three layers.”

4. Steven Lorenzen – Barefoot Coffee Roasters – Santa Clara, CA

The Barefoot Boss espresso blend: Brazil Montecristo from Daterra Farms (Minas Gerais region), Indian Jasmina (from Jasmina Estate in India) and Ethiopian Sidamo from a special co-op).

For the shots, Lorenzen pinpointed “raw chocolate” and tones that are “sugary and buttery. Sidamo adds sweet cherry roundness.”

Lorenzen began by pouring around the rim with pomegranate, curry and ginger sauce. Heavy cream incorporated date, honey and vanilla bean. The cream was designed to “tease the mouthfeel, make it fluffy, because more things in life should be fluffy.” He pulled espresso and added it to a shaker. Add ice for a chill then shake and serve the mixture.

5. Ryan Willbur – Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea – Los Angeles, CA
Barista Competition Los Angeles
Finca La Maravilla, from Huehuetenago, Guatemala, touting “notes of Meyer lemon, sweet sherry and coffee flower. Due to high altitude and low temperatures, fermentation takes shorter time, leading to more concentrated sweetness. The farmer: Mauricio Rosales.

Willbur said, “A coffee can be beautiful, but it takes quality roasting. Kept it a little bit on the lighter side to take harsh edges of acidity off but keep sweet fruit flavor intact.”

While prepping his cappuccinos, Willbur told the judges, “You’ll find a lovely Graham cracker sweetness.”

“With this coffee, what really makes it so sweet is not only the processing, but how the workers on the farm are taken care of,” said Willbur. “Mauricio built a home for pickers who come from the city. He’s even been known to throw a party or two. The happiness of the farmers shines through in this coffee.”

Slice fresh ginger to make a sauce. Begin cooking this on high heat. “Add butter because everything’s better with a little bit of fat.” For the base, Willbur used Muscovado sugar to add sweetness, Demerara for caramel elements and water “to bring it all together.” Set heat a little bit lower. Put a little infusion in each glass. “To pair with that, play on the Meyer lemon. Take a little bit of lemon, slice off a little bit of the rind, ever so elegantly. Add espresso, combine two elements…sip and enjoy. Sweetness aided by two sugars, and on the back end, bite from ginger.”

Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me,” David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” and Timbaland. Why? “Everybody likes to dance. Everybody likes coffee. People should combine the two more often.”

6. Frances Capell – Mokka – Berkeley, CA

Mokka uses Equator coffee and tea. Today, she went with Equator’s Jaguar Espresso Blend: “Sumatra gives it rich bittersweet flavor. Honduran gives it rounded mouthfeel. Brazilian coffee gives it subtle tones.”

For Capell’s single espresso, “The espresso should be toasty with rich, heavy crema…The Jaguar blend is really good in cappuccino because the sweetness of the milk pairs well with the boldness of our espresso.”

Start with teaspoon of Guittard bittersweet chocolate. “You might notice cherry, blueberry and citrus, which works well with similar tones in the espresso.” Orange whipped cream: whipped cream and simple syrup made with sugar, orange zest and orange juice. “Coffee, chocolate, orange is a flavor combination you can’t go wrong with,” Capell said. “The finishing touch is raw sugar. I love the added sweetness. Please sip through the layers and enjoy the contrast in temperature.”

7. Matthew P. Williams – Verve Coffee Roasters – Santa Cruz, CA

Single origin Yergacheffe from Ethiopia. Balanced sweet citrus.

Williams produced a rose hips and fresh lemongrass cold infusion, steeped overnight. He strained the infusion into a seltzer dispenser. “Espresso is a powerful medium,” said Williams. “Start with Americano, finish with seltzer, then go back to Americano to see how flavor spreads out.”

During the post-competition interview with emcee Stephen Morrissey, the current World Barista Champion, Williams said, “I wanted to focus on the coffee. Americano is the best way to experience espresso.”

8. Ross Barclay – Tobys Coffee – Point Reyes Station, CA

A triple roast five-blend coffee. Rich Costa Rica La Manita, lightly roasted, 43% of the espresso blend. Guatemala Utapa, medium roasted, 6.4% of the blend, with “chocolate overtones.” Costa Rica Lomos El Rio, medium roast, 6.2%. Mexico Alturas, 6.2%. Finally, Estate Java, 38.2%, a full city roast that brings “full body boldness, slight sweetness.”

Barclay: “I have a ground espresso garnish of all five coffees so you can get to know it.”

Maple Honey Mocha: 7-ounce double shot. The espresso was roasted by Barclay’s friend “Kyle” at Masterpiece Coffee in Nevada on Tuesday. He used organic Grade A dark amber maple syrup from Shady Farms in Canada, Dagoba organic chocolate from Ashland, Oregon, and Marshall Farms blackberry flower honey from Napa County.

9. Ian Levine – Caffe Luxxe – Santa Monica, CA

Single origin cappuccino, a blend including Ethiopian.

Simple syrup infused with bay leaf and juniperberry, poured over espresso and textured milk, with orange zest.

10. Gabe Combs – LAMill Coffee – Los Angeles, CA

A three-bean blend of Ethiopian Misty Valley, Goya Mountain Sumatra and Serra de Bone from Brazil.

Combs on cappuccino: “This drink is really important to me because it was my introduction to coffee. This blend is a complex blend, so when you add milk to it, you get chocolatey cappuccino.”

“Tarragon, an herb, really brings out fruit flavor of the espresso,” said Combs. He made a tarragon simple syrup, then layered dried apricot puree for sweetness and added an espresso shot. “Stir it all up. It should be one flavor. Enjoy.”

11. Jared Truby – Verve Coffee Roasters – Santa Cruz, CA

Truby selected a direct trade Panama Elida, a full natural coffee in its first year of availability. He described “fig and grape notes, as well as honey. It’s crisp, with a lingering finish, almost like a Butterfinger.”

Truby decided to accent the grape note of the coffee. He poured organic Concord grape juice from Santa Cruz and muddled it with marjoram, an herb known for tobacco-like qualities. He poured espresso, then added ice to limit dilution. Truby garnished the drink with grapes and squeezed marjoram to bring out the aroma. He provided straws to the judges so they could drink his beverage like a cocktail.

12. Amber Johnson – LAMILL COFFEE – Los Angeles, CA

A natural Brazil with dark chocolate and orange notes, “an approachable coffee for newbies.”

Sea salt with heavy cream, espresso, and a sauce made with caramel, peanut and milk.

13. Elaine Levia – Barefoot Coffee Roasters – San Jose, CA

The Barefoot Boss espresso blend: Brazil Montecristo from Daterra Farms (Minas Gerais region), Indian Jasmina (from Jasmina Estate in India) and Ethiopian Sidamo, a sun-dried coffee. In cappuccino, you’ll find butterscotch flavors. According to Levia, “It had a lot of mandarin orange and strawberry jam notes, but still with nice dark chocolate body.”

Levia cold brewed the coffee for 24 hours, infusing it with Brazilian pink peppercorns, whole vanilla bean and Vietnamese cinnamon. She served the drink in a small globe to develop aromatics.


Joshua Lurie

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

Blog Comments

yesterdazed « WRBC 2009

[…] Fortunately, while I was traveling the city looking for network cable, crawling about the building in search of power, and otherwise freaking the frak out – Joshua Lurie over at FoodGPS was doing a stellar job at capturing some of the action. […]

I found your blog on MSN Search. Nice writing. I will check back to read more.

Eric Hundin

Leave a Comment