Coffee maker smackdown results: Intelligentsia sweeps the Western Regional Barista Competition
It's official. Southern California rules the coffee world. Baristas from the Silver Lake coffee shop Intelligentsia took first, second and third place at the 2009 Western Regional Barista Competition on Sunday, leaving competitors from nearby LA Mill, San Francisco's Ritual and Santa Cruz's Verve in the dust.
In your face, Northern California!
The first place winner, Nick Griffith, came as no surprise to those who have been watching the competition closely. "Just look at him," a coffee-world insider said, noting his mellow Tobey Maguire-esque demeanor. "How could he not win?"
Each competitor had to make three drinks: an espresso, a cappuccino and a specialty drink of their own invention. I had assumed it was the specialty drink portion of the competition that set a competitor over the edge, but apparently, I thought wrong. Stephen Morrissey -- the 2008 world barista champion -- told me it's the espresso that is both the hardest to make and the most important to nail if you want to win. "It's very difficult to make a good espresso," he said. "I've only had 15 to 20 good espressos in my life."
Still, for those of us with a less refined coffee palette, it's the specialty drink part that most impressed. Second place winner Devin Pedde dazzled the audience by tasting his own espresso during his round and deciding on the spot which additional ingredients would complement the coffee. First-place winner Griffith prepared a deconstructed drink sipped in three parts.
Griffith's win earns him an automatic spot in the semi-finals of the U.S. Barista Championship held in Portland, Ore., beginning March 5. His airfare and hotel will also be paid for. But this is not the end of the road for any of the competitors -- everyone who competes in regionals is also welcome to compete in nationals.
Now the question remains: Will Griffith go all the way to world competition? Check back here in March to find out.
For more information on the competition, check out Joshua Lurie's awesomely detailed report at http://www.foodgps.com/coffee./
-- Deborah Netburn
Photo by Deborah Netburn with iPhone taken with a baby strapped on her stomach. Next time, better quality for real!