Bacon coffee? Barista championship gets creative

Brewers let their creativity percolate this weekend, competing on signature beverages and technical skills.

By Jason Notte Apr 12, 2013 1:10PM
Making a complicated drink in the time it takes a pour a cup of coffee. Handling increasingly intricate orders from customers who want their drink to reflect their personality. Dealing with those same consumers before they've had their morning caffeine fix.

Dismiss Starbucks (SBUX), Peet's, Tully's and Caribou baristas as "coffee pourers" if it makes you feel better, but all of the above makes their job one of the trickiest in the food service industry and separates the great ones from those just getting by.

While the worst baristas are usually distinguished by their sloppy pours and customer-excoriating blogs, the foam of the barista ranks rises to the top this weekend at the United States Barista Championships in Boston. The competition started Thursday, wraps up on Sunday and features baristas from across the country spicing up their own signature beverages with bacon, liquified cheesecake or any other additions they think will tickle a tough coffee drinker's palate. 

Fifty of the county's best baristas get 15 minutes to prepare and serve four espressos, four cappuccinos and their four signature beverages to a panel of judges. Competitors are judged on taste, procedure, consistency, cleanliness and technical details including whether they are wasting coffee. Aesthetics count, too, which makes ambient music, dress and the story behind a signature beverage nearly as important as what's in the cup.Image: Espresso machine with mug, close-up © nd61 , SuperStock

Sound a bit intense? Whatever, pal. According to the event's organizer, the Specialty Coffee Association of America, that latte you start the day with or mocha you splurge on when you think no one is looking account for 37% percent of the coffee volume sold in the United States and half of the revenue of a coffee industry that brings in $30 billion a year. It's so valuable, in fact, that German company Joh A Benckiser just spent nearly $1.3 billion buying up Caribou and Peet's to build a stronger Starbucks competitor than decidedly downmarket Dunkin' Donuts (DNKN).

The Barista Championships also give cafe veterans from big cities and coffee stand owners in far-flung gas station parking lots equal opportunity to show off their skills and earn an all-expenses-paid trip to the World Barista Championship next month in Melbourne, Australia. Those fortunate enough to get their morning cup from one of the winners -- including last year's winner, Katie Cargullo of New York City's Counter Culture Coffee -- already know the benefits of an exemplary barista.

Coffee stand cynics can either seek out a better barista to change their minds or, better yet, make that double caramel macchiato themselves. Just allow an extra hour for your morning routine and a bit of a learning curve on those first 50 cups or so.

More on moneyNOW

Apr 12, 2013 8:14PM
Where was the Bacon Coffee from the title? Never seen it or heard about it...

Gee what a totally worthless job and article.


What about articles about real working Americans like the ones who build medical equipment that saves lives. Or fireman who rescue people from burning buildings.


Gee even the janitor cleaning an office building is more important that a coffee jocky.



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