The city of coffee

Jan. 17, 2014 @ 09:21 PM

This weekend, the Bull City is coffee mecca. Friday, the first day of the Big Eastern Regional Coffee Competition, baristas made espresso, cappuccino and other drinks as they competed for a chance at the national championship later this year. Visitors also lined up for free tastings and samples of specialty coffees from local and national vendors at The Cotton Room at Golden Belt.

More than 80 baristas – or people who brew coffee and make coffee drinks – competed in two separate competitions. In the brewers cup, contestants were judged on how they brewed the same variety of coffee. In the barista competition, baristas had 15 minutes to make four espressos, four cappuccinos and four individual signature drinks for the judges.
Dawn Shanks of Washington, D.C., was the first up for the barista competition. For her espresso serve, she urged the judges to hold their noses on the first taste, then release them to get the full aromatics of the bean. For her signature drink, she mixed espresso with a peach syrup she created, and told judges to “expect a slightly cool but not chilled drink.”
Nick Oddo of Pittsburgh was competing for the first time, and created a specialty drink using infused coconut milk. Steph Caronna, a barista with La Farm Bakery in Cary, put the ingredients for her signature drink in a shaker. It included ice cubes made with rosemary tea, cherry flavors and vanilla beans. “It’s going to be very tart and sweet at the same time,” she told the judges.
In addition to taste, baristas also were judged on presentation, how clean they kept their stations, and whether ingredients were wasted.
For those who just like coffee, all of this molecular knowledge about coffee beans and flavor subtleties can seem daunting. While coffee brewing is not necessarily a science, “there is an art to this,” said Mark Leatherwood, the roast master for Carrboro Coffee Roasters. Leatherwood and other colleagues from the local roaster are running a free pop-up coffee bar throughout the competition. Visitors may taste any drink, and get information about some of the company’s coffees.
For the first time, Durham-based Counter Culture Coffee and Dallis Bros. Coffee of New York are sponsoring the competition. This event also is the first that combines the Southeastern and Northeastern regions of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, which produces the competition along with the Barista Guild of America.
The winners of the Big Eastern Competition and other regional competitions will compete in the United States Coffee Championship in April in Seattle. Winners of that event will then compete internationally in Rimini, Italy, in June.
The competition continues today from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at The Cotton Room at Golden Belt, 807 E. Main St. Admission is free.
The first day of the competition was equal parts education and coffee lovers’ paradise. Employees with Thrive Farmers Coffee of Roswell, Ga., were handing out taste samples.
The company, like Counter Culture and Carrboro Coffee Roasters, has direct relationships with the people who farm the beans. Because of this direct relationship, quality is better controlled, and farmers get a better price, said Joe Suskay of Thrive Farmers Coffee. “We can tell you what farmer [grew the coffee], what mill, and what process” was used, he said.
Representatives of Forty Weight Coffee Roasters of Ithaca, N.Y., were making coffee for tasting. For co-owner Matthew Marks, the competition shows the passion people in the coffee world have for their work, and “it’s cool to talk shop with other people in the industry,” he said.
Golden Belt smelled like a coffee factory, and plenty of people showed up not just to watch the baristas, but to get some free coffee. Bertie Boston, who works in Bull City Advisors, which is in Golden Belt, showed up to the pop-up bar and got a cappuccino. She promised to bring the cup back to Carrboro Coffee Roasters if she could take it to her office. “Absolutely delightful,” she said of the brew.