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March 14-20, 2007

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Tampers & Crema

By Brett Ascarelli

This August, the Olympics of the coffee world will take place in Tokyo. Qualifying baristas from all over the world will strut their shots, compare microfoams and vie for the best latte art before a panel of discerning judges.

Last year in Bern, Switzerland, Klaus Thomsen of Denmark took home first place at the most important international coffee competition, the World Barista Championship (WBC). In an interview on, he credited the people who had counseled him during intensive training. In addtion to his roast master, a sports psychologist, a glass designer and his girlfriend, whom he said "watch[ed] my techniques and performance like a hawk for almost every day for three months," one of the key players was Anita Klemensen, among the best chefs in Denmark. She helped Thomsen turn his idea for a "signature" drink--something each contestant must devise and serve--into reality. The result was called Symphony of Coffee, a drink of espresso, coffee panna cotta and frozen foam.

After the competition ended, a photograph of the Symphony ran in a article about WBC controversies. Among other things, the author mused that the judges hadn't drank enough of the signature drinks to be able to judge them accurately. also expressed ambivalence over the fact that one of the judges had also been hired by several of the competitors as a consultant. But in the end, the article concluded that, for the most part, he served as a fair judge with a remarkable palate.

The road to Tokyo begins this spring with the Specialty Coffee Association of America's round of regional competitions. Contestants will make espresso, cappuccino and a signature drink, and will be judged on both the technical execution and the sensory aspects of the coffees. Hopefuls in the North Bay should already be working on those extraction times (20 to 30 seconds is ideal) and perfecting the hue of their crema.

The Western Regional Barista Competition (WRBC) is open to baristas in California and Hawaii, and to those members of the public who want to watch them give it a shot. The WRBC is hosted by the North Bay's own Flying Goat Coffee, Taylor Maid Farms and Dolce Neve. It also includes a trade show, damned good free coffee and educational seminars for coffee consumers (that's probably you) and for industry professionals. The event runs from Friday-Sunday, March 16-18, at the Sheraton Sonoma County, 745 Baywood Drive, Petaluma. Registration for full roster of educational lectures, $75; competition registration, $50; viewing the fun, priceless (and free). Visit for more information than you could possibly imagine.

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