Articles From Whole Latte Love

What it Takes: Techniques of Top Baristas

Posted: 04/17/06
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US Barista Championship

In early May, skilled baristas from around the country will pour into the Long Beach Convention Center hoping to pull a few perfect shots.

Twelve to be exact – four straight shots of espresso, four cappuccinos and four original, signature drinks. The United States Barista Competition is held once a year, and is sponsored by the Specialty Coffee Association of America and hosted by Krups. Nearly 100 baristas are scheduled to compete this year according to Ted Lingle, Executive Director of the SCAA.

“Every year the baristas just keep getting better and better,” he said. “And each year the competition gets more aggressive.”

“The United States Barista Competition recognizes the skills and techniques of America’s best baristas and awards them with the highest honor anyone behind the counter could dream of – the coveted trophy, a $1,000 cash prize and an all expense paid trip to the World Barista Championship in Tokyo this summer.

Last year’s winner was Matt Riddle, a barista and training specialist at Intelligentsia Coffee, Chicago. Riddle, who has been a barista for more than four years, Matt Riddle - 1st Place Winnerwooed the judges with his professionalism and presentation. The judges at this competition grade baristas on taste, presentation, skills and overall impression.

“His strength was his professionalism and taste really,” according to Chris Deferio, winner of the Millrock Latte Art Competition in 2005, and said that the USBC is much more difficult than any Latte Art competition. “There’s a lot more pressure,” he said. Deferio explained the judges at this competition take everything into account - including taste.

“You’ve got to have fresh coffee,” he said. “You’ve got to have a good grinder – preferably a burr grinder. After that, its all practice,” Deferio said, as he explained how to create the perfect Rosetta. For Deferio, who began his career several years ago working with espresso pods and to-go cups, winning the 2005 Latte Art competition in Washington, D.C. was a tremendous accomplishment.

As latte art is catching on across the country, it is quickly being considered the ultimate ending to the perfectly prepared espresso-based drink. It’s the precise combination of rich, golden espresso and velvety, textured steamed milk, poured delicately into a cup, he said.

Industry expert David Schomer concurs. “The coffee flavor is enhanced by the micro-bubble texture that is essential to delineate the patterns in these pictures. As in many cuisines, presentation is inseparable from the substance.”

Many of the patterns that you see baristas make are created with free-pours, Schomer explains in his instructional video, Caffé Latte Art. In it, he discusses everything from milk texture to the importance of heavy crèma. Schomer emphasizes that in order for latte art to be successful, the espresso itself must be thick and the milk must be dense. By spinning the milk like a whirlpool in the frothing pitcher, super-dense micro-bubbles are formed – a necessity for beautiful latte art.

Having the ability to create Latte Art as a skilled barista is a learned technique, according to Lingle, who explained that Americans are rapidly catching up with European baristas. In time he hopes, American baristas will be on par with Europeans.

“Across Europe many people consider being a barista a career – not something to simply get through college. So we’ll just have to keep raising the bar.”