As people everywhere are trading in their cup of corporate chain coffee for specialty brews crafted by expert baristas, coffee culture is infiltrating the far corners of the world and the United States is leading the caffeine-fueled charge. Coffee is no longer just a way to wake up; it’s a science and an art.
Over the weekend we had the privilege to observe this science and art in action as the best baristas from across the United States gathered at the Long Beach Convention Center for the 14th annual U.S. Coffee Championships. The ever-growing coffee scene of Los Angeles was well represented at the competition with baristas from Verve Coffee Roasters, Intelligentsia, Klatch Coffee, Adante Coffee Roasters and of course three time Barista Championship runner up Charles Babinski from Go Get Em Tiger and G&B Coffee.
We arrived promptly at 9am. Having starved ourselves of coffee before arriving at the championships, we were ready to indulge in unlimited cups of delicious brew from the many coffee roasters on rotation at the espresso bar. After suitably caffeinating ourselves with High Wire Coffee and perusing the many vendors of coffee related paraphernalia, we finally took a seat in the bleacher stands to watch the semifinals of the Barista Championships.
In each routine, baristas must present four sensory judges a shot of espresso, a cappuccino and a signature drink, while two technical judges grade their working skills from prep to clean up. Many baristas excitedly discussed the unique origin stories of their specialty coffees or shared inspiring anecdotes of small coffee farms in the far reaches of the world. Baristas expertly guided judges and viewers alike through the flavor profiles of their coffee and the techniques used to craft each drink.
The signature drink was a true expression of combined science and art. Utilizing various syrups, aromatics, fruit and different heating and cooling methods, Baristas took a chemist-like approach to their signature drinks, producing mouth watering coffee cocktails. Eden Marie Abramowicz (pictured above) of Intelligentsia topped her coffee beverage off with a hibiscus infused foam, where as Charles Babinski of Go Get Em Tiger/G&B Coffee utilized pine tree honey, juniper syrup and a grapefruit reduction to accentuate the vanilla sweetness of his Honduras grown Ocotillo espresso.
Speaking of Charles Babinski, the seasoned competitor finally won the championships and the well deserved (long overdue) title of best barista in the United States. Aside from his elegant signature beverage that obviously rocked the judges taste buds, Charles approached his routine in a way that stood out from the rest. Instead of discussing the rare origin of his coffee or sharing a lofty story about experimental production methods, Babinski kept things real by reflecting on the importance of utilizing established systems and standards in order to provide a quality and consistent experience, whether it be producing the coffee on the 3.5 hectare Honduras farm or serving a cappuccino at Go Get Em Tiger. Speaking as an owner of two successful coffee shops in LA,
Upon opening a shop it became exceedingly clear that it is all about the customer’s experience. If you serve somebody a delicious cup of coffee they are grateful and if you did it quickly they are even happier. It was when we were able to give a service that was thoughtful and considerate that the whole idea really resonated with me. I’m talking about automation, yes it gives us a consistent recipe and it serves coffeeshop logistics great, but more than anything, it gives us time. Time to give the type of service that we are proud of. Time to make a connection.
This is exactly the model Go Get Em Tiger and G&B are based around, with their long walk up bars that allow for connections to be made between baristas and customers alike. Charles noted that often these things are swept under the rug in favor of something small and handcrafted. Sincere, passionate and relatable, Charles Babinski is a true master of his craft.
Overall it was an exciting and educational experience fueled by an excessive amount of delicious coffee. The moral of the story is Los Angeles is home to some of the best baristas in the world (sorry, Seattle).