Some St. Louis area baristas (professional coffee makers) will be on a big stage this weekend.
The Specialty Coffee Association of America’s (SCAA) Big Central competition is this Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Kansas City, and three baristas from the Kaldi's Coffee House deMun location will make four espressos, four cappuccinos and four ‘signature’ beverages of their choosing for four judges in 15 minutes.
The SCAA barista competition isn’t for the casual coffee slinger. They’ll be competing with baristas from seven states. They’re judged on their presentation as well as the drinks.
“It’s a lot of work, a lot of dedication, a lot of late hours,” Jake Althaus, a Foundation Grounds barista said. He’ll be a judge at the event. He’s 27 and has been in the coffee business 11 years. He'll also compete in a latte art competition.
“If your shot is off three seconds – 27 seconds instead of 24 seconds – that one little thing can hurt,” he said. “It’s crazy picky. The people who do it are awesome, and they’re flawless up there.”
The competitors talk for their 15 minutes about their coffee choices, the ingredients, their company, their background, while making a total of 16 drinks.
Nora Brady, David Fasman and Jacque DesMarais will be competing for Kaldi’s. Brady and DesMarais have competed before.
The top six finishers in regional competitions go on to nationals in Boston. Assistant manager Jordan Hilton said Kaldi’s has sent baristas to nationals but haven’t had a winner yet.
Althaus said the Big Central competition places coffee on the same level as an athletic event. It’s the first time for Foundation Grounds and Goshen, Foundation Grounds’ roaster.
What makes a good cup of espresso?
“To each their own,” Hilton said. “In my opinion, a good cup of espresso is balanced between your sours, your bitters, your sweets. It’s bringing that all together and making sure one of the flavors is not overpowering the others. They’re all even keeled.”
Althaus said a lot of St. Louis coffee people are excited and ready to form groups and sponsor competitions. He said Kansas City is already there.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” he said. “There is this coffee culture that exists, and it’s spreading slowly through the Midwest, and it just so happens that Kansas City has a good culture.”