The MUSE

{ MARCH 15-17, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday; 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. Top of the Ritt, 101 Church St., Santa Cruz. Free. Details: www.usbaristachampionship.org. }

By BONNIE HORGOS

Keith Garrett has precisely 15 minutes to make 12 drinks: four espressos, four cappuccinos and four signature beverages. He holds his iPhone at Seabright’s Java Junction, waiting to start his timer. While four people will sip his final products, Garrett won’t be sampling; it’s 6 p.m. on a Tuesday, after all.

“I’ve been practicing every night, so my sleeping’s been very light,” says Garrett, a 29-year-old Santa Cruz resident. “I’d never sleep if I drank all of them.”

Keith Garrett of Java Junction in Santa Cruz has been losing a bit of sleep preparing for the South West Regionals of the U.S. Barista Championship. Photo by Dan Coyro.

Keith Garrett of Java Junction in Santa Cruz has been losing a bit of sleep preparing for the South West Regionals of the U.S. Barista Championship. Photo by Dan Coyro.

Garrett’s practicing for the South West Regional Barista Competition, where more than 35 baristas will duke it out at Santa Cruz’s Top of the Ritt this weekend. The event, hosted by Santa Cruz County’s Verve Coffee Roasters, will give baristas from seven states a chance to show off their talents in front of a panel of three judges.

Garrett has been at Java Junction for so long — 12 years — he’s like family to co-owners Michael and Karen Spadafora. The two suggested he enter the competition. This will be his first time.

Once the clock starts, Garrett introduces his espresso, noting the hints of blackberry, pecan, molasses and raw cocoa (this isn’t your chain coffee shop’s espresso; Garrett spent a month picking the perfect bean to showcase in a thimble of a cup).

He turns to the espresso machine, cranking, placing and adjusting just so. He has to; the judges are so persnickety that if he even turns the portafilter with one hand, he’s docked. Since he¬†practices the routine an average of four times per day, he’s got it timed to the last drip.

“Once you get down to so many competitors, you have to nitpick,” Michael Spadafora says, never taking his eye off Garrett.

“Please sip and enjoy,” Garrett announces, setting the white porcelain cups down on the counter. The drink sings pure espresso’s song: strong, smooth and slightly jolting. Thanks to precisely timed brewing, the blackberry shines through.

Garrett then starts on his cappuccino, looking to marry the espresso’s notes of caramel and pralines with steamed milk. He delicately pours into the four cups and brings them over.

“Please sip and enjoy,” he repeats. Again, those judges are harsh. If you don’t wish them happy sipping, they dock you.

Michael Spadafora gently pokes at the foam with a minuscule spoon, checking the amount and density of the foam. The four drinks aren’t identical, so he makes sure Garrett knows.

But the piece de resistance — the specialty beverage — is Garrett’s true moment to shine. He’s worked on it for three weeks, sourcing ingredients to highlight the espresso’s finest elements. His choices? Reduced blackberry sauce, Strauss Creamery half and half, whipped cream and cocoa shavings on top, among other ingredients.

He pulls out petite, ornate brown cups that Michael Spadafora bought off eBay (competitors need to supply all their own equipment), delicately mixing drinks with calculated stirs.

After one final “Please sip and enjoy,” the drink shocks the tasters with complex notes of cocoa and blackberry. This isn’t your 1,000-calorie pumpkin spice blended iced beverage; the drink is subtly sweet, the ingredients merely highlighting beans that were roasted the day before.

“That’s a whole shot of espresso? It tastes really smooth,” notes Garrett’s tattooed co-worker.

Garrett cleans his station with 26 seconds to spare. This is only his first batch, though. He’s got until midday Friday to finesse his presentation, and fortunately there’s enough caffeine in his vicinity to keep him going.

Leave a Reply

show
 
close