It was a showdown, but rather than pistols, hot rods or decks of cards, espresso makers were the weapon of choice. Sixty of the country's top baristas displayed their skills at the Specialty Coffee Association of America's 2009 Barista Championship in Portland this weekend. I stopped by the convention center on Sunday in time to catch the top six baristas facing off in the finals (oddly enough, no Portlanders made it to the final round, not even Alex Pond of the Fresh Pot, Northwest Regional Champion this year). The aroma of the competition floor alone was enough to give me the jitters and make me immediately use the bathroom three times in a row.
The competition took place at the three coffee-making stations at the center of the room.
Mike Marquard of the Saint Louis' Kaldi's Coffee Roasting Co. stepped into the spotlight soon after I arrived. The red handkerchief in his pocket perfectly matched the tablecloth and the cups he would use to serve his drinks. (Showing a little flair, the apron around his waist pictured a triceratops and the word "booyah.")
Under the scrutiny of four judges, Marquard produced a cappuccino, a single shot of espresso and his signature drink, a citrus-laced caramel espresso wreathed by honey-cut tobacco smoke, which he created by enclosing his coffee creation and burning tobacco leaves together under an overturned glass. He finished right as the clock hit the 15-minute time limit — and placed sixth overall.
To assign points, the judges consider the quality of the espresso first and foremost. But everything else matters too. They also note the temperature of the drink, the timing of the shots, the cleanliness of the work space, the service... and probably even the music blasting from the speakers
Pedde, who placed fifth overall, answers emcee (and 2008 champion) Kyle Glanville's questions after his turn.
Check out the Oregonian's slideshow of the event here.