Barista contest serves the perfect cup

March 31, 2008 9:15:47 AM PDT
We here in the Bay Area like to think we know a thing or two about good coffee. So it's an exciting time with the best coffee makers from California and Hawaii in town, competing for the top barista in the west.

If a cappuccino is your cup of tea, Giovanni Sacco is the man for you. At 19, he's among the best baristas in California.

He's competing against 35 other coffee makers from California and Hawaii to become the region's best.

Here are the rules: they get 15 minutes of prep time and 15 minutes to make four espressos, four cappuccinos and their signature coffee which could include practically anything as Giovanni Sacco pointed out.

"So what's in here?" asked ABC7's Lyanne Melendez.
"It's tobacco infused half and half," said Sacco.
"Tobacco?" asked Melendez.
"Yeah actual pipe tobacco," said Sacco.

Of course by now you are probably wondering where the word "barista" comes from. In Italy, "barista" means someone who is a bartender, but the definition is changing. It now means someone who knows the craft of making the perfect cup of coffee.

There are four judges who focus, among other things, on the taste.

"The aroma, the appearance of it. Yeah, definitely especially the espresso," said Ellie Matuszak a judge.

And another judge behind the competitor is paying close attention to his cleanliness and technique when using the tamper -- the tool used to press down on the coffee.

"If this isn't done right the coffee goes to sour or it goes to salt. It needs to be sweet and if it is done right it's sweet," said Kerry Laird, the organizer of the event.

And like an Olympic skater, they have their own music to keep the pace going.

"They actually know at what point they hear in the song is where they are in the routine because if they go over the 15 minutes, points start getting deducted. If they get to 16 minutes they are disqualified," said Laird.

Baristas also depend on the right beans and roaster.

"At this level the competition barista has very specific characteristics they are looking for and a roaster can work with that barista to craft a blend that suits their purposes," said John Laird from Pacific Bay Coffee.

The competition is being held at the Gaia Arts Center in Berkeley through Sunday. Guatemala's top barista was in the audience today.

The winner of this even goes on to national championship in Minneapolis.


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