South West Barista Competition Draws Foodies, Coffeelitists

Baristas hailing from Hawaii to Colorado to sunny L.A. brewed their hearts out last weekend to compete for the No. 1 title at the South West Regional Barista Competition. Out of the 36 competitors to perform in rounds one and two on Friday and Saturday, six went on to compete in Sunday's finals. In the end, Pete Licata of Honolulu Coffee Co. took home the top prize, while local barista Nikolas Krankl (who represented Gelato Bar & Espresso Cafe of Studio City and Los Feliz) placed second.

Competitors were allowed to use their own ingredients and bring their own equipment, but were required to use the espresso machine provided by the event's sponsor, Nuova Simonelli. Each barista had 45 minutes total to prepare, perform and clean up, and were critiqued by seven judges based on criteria like taste & tactile balance, accessories used in serving (spoon, napkin & water...check!), the color and consistency of the creme, professionalism, whether espresso extraction times were "within a 3-second variance of each other" and...you get the idea.

The event -- which passersby could have confused with a gathering of "Stuff White People Like" fans -- introduced a new competition, the Brewer's Cup, in which contestants were required to use a mystery coffee that was provided and brew with a standard drip coffee machine. The winner was Chris Baca of Santa Cruz's Verve Coffee Roasters.

LAist checked out the first couple of hours on day two of the competition and spoke to contestant Amber Johnson of Echo Park's Fix Coffee.

Johnson, who was sixth to compete on Saturday, has participated in several other events, and this was her second time competing in the Southwest Regionals. Despite enduring a few technical issues, Johnson said she was "pretty happy" with her performance. The competitor paired lamb with her specialty drink, a "flower-infused espresso shot", because she'd been inspired by Middle Eastern flavors. "A lot of people will serve signature drinks," she said, but she wanted to serve the judges something "mouthwatering."

The east Hollywood resident said she's in the process of opening a non-profit coffee shop in her neighborhood of Little Armenia. She hopes to "serve people in our neighborhood and serve amazing coffee," she said, along with providing the community with a local gathering spot and a venue where other non-profit organizations can fundraise.

"I'm really digging into learning how to make Middle Eastern coffee," said Johnson. "It has a bad rep in the coffee industry for being pretty awful." The 10-year coffee industry vet been making friends with her neighbors, "finding out who's the best at making it, and trying to learn from them," she said. "I'd love to have it be a place where they can come too (while) not snubbing their coffee culture."