This past weekend some of the country’s best baristas and coffee professionals made their way to Long Beach, California, to compete in this year’s U.S. Coffee Championships. Hosted by the Specialty Coffee Association of America and the Barista Guild of America, the championships saw folks going tamper-to-tamper in various contests. Main events included the U.S. Brewers Cup, which requires baristas to brew several solid cups of coffee, and the U.S. Barista Championship, which requires contestants to make espressos, cappuccinos and creative “signature” drinks in 15 minutes. Not only do participants have to make these drinks in front of several judges, plus a live audience and online viewers; they must do so while sharing a story or an idea about their coffees. This is not, as you can imagine, an easy feat.
The ideas baristas explore during their routines can be a bit inside-baseball — how different processing methods affect coffee flavors, for example, is not an uncommon theme. But some of these high-level thoughts, and certainly the baristas’ choice of equipment and tableware, do occasionally make their way to the ground-level retail setting we’re all familiar with. Based on what we saw and heard this weekend, here are a few trends and observations that might soon resonate at your own local shop:
1. Female Baristas Are Finally Earning Respect. Gradually.
You couldn’t help but notice that this weekend’s competitions, like those in years past, were overwhelmingly predominated by male competitors. Yet that demographic didn’t apply to the winner’s circle. A pair of women prevailed in two of the more high-profile contests: Sarah Anderson, representing Intelligentsia’s L.A. cafe, won the U.S. Brewers Cup, and Angie Chun from Coffee Code in Orange County won the U.S. Latte Art Championship. Full equality, though, remains elusive, as evidenced by the broadcast of Paul Anka and Tom Jones’s bro classic “She’s a Lady” while Anderson accepted her trophy. The specialty-coffee industry already has a gender-parity problem; it’d be nice if it didn’t have a playlist problem, too.
2. The Coffeemaker of the Future Is Out of Sight.
While the baristas competed on the main floor of the Long Beach Arena, exhibitors showcased the latest and greatest in coffee contraptionary. There’s the BKON craft brewer, for instance, which sucks the air out of a brewing chamber and creates a vacuum to brew tea and coffee, all in less than two minutes per cup. Two other new eye-catching toys on display spotlighted one of the hottest trends in coffee: invisible machinery. Take Wilbur Curtis’s Seraphim, an automated machine that resides under the counter and largely out of sight for patrons. Similarly, the Modbar, an espresso and pourover system, tucks the bulk of its mechanicals under the bar. All three of these products have fancy digital control pads that allow users to plug in recipes and control variables like water pressure; all three caught the eye of many a barista and coffee-shop owner.
3. Friendlier Baristas. Seriously.
Specialty-coffee baristas are aware that their public image is not necessarily a positive one. But if some new techniques catch on, the stereotypical snoot behind the café counter might soon display a whole new attitude. Several baristas competing in the Brewers Cup and the Barista Championship focused on how to balance coffee geekery with the realities of the retail environment. In fact, the winning routine of G&B Coffee’s Charles Babinski hit that note, explaining how he and co-owner Kyle Glanville — and thus customers — benefit from pregrinding coffee, using batch brewers and implementing other systems to efficiently and kindly handle the busiest of weekend mornings.
4. Handleless Mugs
The cup of choice amongst baristas this weekend seemed to be one without handles. Jenna Gotthelf, for example, poured into handleless mugs during her enormously entertaining routine, and Mahlkonig’s Kyle Ramage showcased some very pretty Cloudware Cups in his. No doubt, there’s something quite nice about wrapping your hands around a warm mug of coffee as you might a cup of tea. With their aesthetics and function on full display this weekend, you can probably expect to see more shops embracing the handleless cup before too long, too.
5. Tea Time
Though this was a coffee competition, there was a clear interest in other brewed beverages from both competitors and spectators alike. Baristas like Square One Coffee’s Hadassah Wilson incorporated tea into their signature drinks, and Kilogram Tea, which offered samples of its teas at a kiosk on the floor of the arena throughout the weekend, saw more crowds than the nearby bartender serving up Bloody Marys.
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