The time is drawing near, only a week away. Baristas from around the Midwest region are about to gather to test the metal of their espresso skills at the SCAA Midwest Regional Barista Competition. The average observer will marvel at the seeming ease of each competitor, unaware of the months of grueling preparation, late caffeinated nights, and endless early Saturday mornings. There’s a whole lot that leads up to the actual “15 minutes of fame”.
Our rag tag team of baristas started to get together in the early fall. Our team consists of three of our baristas: Pete Licata, Robin Seitz, and Kris Davidson along with Chris Berola from LatteLand. We began our journey with the basics of going over the rules and regulations so that there was a common understanding of what was involved. Then one of the more experienced competitors went through a mock run so that the others had an idea of how it all played out. Then the fun began…
For the first several weeks each barista just went through the introduction, espresso and cappuccino phases of their routine. Their goal was to achieve great and consistent beverages in less than 8 minutes. Once they had mastered this I took time with each barista to start developing their signature drinks. While the espresso holds the majority of the points to be earned, the signature beverage is the chance for each barista to express their knowledge of coffee pairings and showcase their creativity. This process, while fun and interesting often yields some not so desirable combinations. I have had drinks that tasted like mildew, Rotel dip, and toothpaste in the earlier incarnations. Some of the greatest sounding ideas fall flat on their face.
One of the hardest aspects of creating a drink is the balancing act that it entails. The most important factor is that it has to taste predominantly of espresso. All other flavors must be secondary. It can be quite tricky, but after hours of trial and error I have had the opportunity to have drinks that tasted like little pieces of espresso heaven.
Another aspect that all of our baristas went through was blend development. Each barista went to the difficult task of creating unique blends. While it was a whole new balancing act, once they nailed it down they were more confident in their coffee understanding, as they had a much more intimate knowledge of each coffee in their blend. Understanding why it was there, and what it lent to the blend as a whole. While every barista used a lot of the same coffees, each of these blends is very distinctive.
The Baristas have practiced pulling shots within the same time frame (+/- 1 second) for precision and consistency. Espresso accounts for 63 point on the sensory score sheet, while the cappuccinos come in at 45 and the signature drink comes in at 43. Armed with this knowledge, they have all focused the majority of their collective energies on pulling the best shots possible.
All in all it is a great experience. Having gone through numerous caffeine highs, sacrificing our social lives weekend after weekend, hitting breaking points, and shared excitement we are now quite the team. That has been one of the best parts of this experience. The camaraderie has become indispensable. We have come to share the weight of reaching the common goal. From a rag tag team to the Mod Squad, the transformation is now complete. Win or lose, there has been so much gleaned for all parties concerned. Come if you can to cheer on the team!