What's WRBC, you ask?
Why, it's the Western Regional Barista Competition, as a matter of fact. And that's how I spent this afternoon, watching the final round in which six top baristas from California competed for the title.
Each finalist had to make four cappuccinos, four espresso shots, and four of what was called the baristas' "signature" drinks, which could contain anything except alcohol.
Those of you who know me know that I'm at once a Food Network junkie and a geek (Exhibit A: My excitement over this film), so I really got into this competition. While the signature drinks allowed the competitors to showcase their creativity, I found myself mesmerized more by each barista's technique, including the way they grind, dose, and tamp their shots. It's amazing to see the different personal styles they used to simultaneously level out the grounds while cleaning off the edges of the portafilters, for example. And I noticed that while some baristas did a straight up-and-down tamp, others added a twist and an upside-down flip before setting the portafilter back in the group. Fucking badass.
I know. I'm not well.
Anyway, it was enough to make me long to return to my barista days.
And then I got over it. I'm a much better spectator than a barista.
I was rooting for Chris Baca from San Francisco's own Ritual Coffee Roasters. The man made me the perfect cappuccino when I visited their coffee shop on Valencia a few months ago. His description of the espresso he used (I hate when I don't take notes) was perfect. He said it was like "being hit over the head with a lime popsicle and falling back onto a pile of jasmine flower petals."
And coffee geeks like us laughed because it was funny, of course, but also because we knew exactly what he was talking about.
Plus, he looks like MCA from the Beastie Boys, which is always---ALWAYS---a plus in my book.
The signature drink segment provided an interesting departure from your traditional beverages. While they were all intriguing, the one that made me wish I was a judge was Eton Tsuno's "Umami," which included miso paste, kumquat curd and caramel (?---did I mention how I hate that I didn't take notes?) mixed with espresso and milk. Crystal Yeaw's is my second choice, only because she incorporated dulce de leche, which is like, the ultimate in super sweet, creamy goodness from Heaven.
All in all, it was a great experience for me as a spectator. It's great to see so many people who take such great pride in their work, and it's wonderful to be able to give them an opportunity to showcase their technique and skills and be recognized for it.
Props to the Top Three:
1st place: Heather Perry, Coffee Klatch, San Dimas, CA
2nd place: Kyle Glanville, Intelligentsia, Los Angeles, CA
3rd place: Chris Baca, Ritual Coffee Roasters, San Francisco, CA
(Photo credit: WRBC)