Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Millrock Latte Art Contest

Judges examine a contestant's cup
Gilbert W. Arias / P-I
Judges Sarah Allen, Henry Patterson and Chris Defelio examine a contestant's cup � and work � during the contest.

Artistic cup of joe brings home $5,000 prize


Tony Burlison was just out of the money in Saturday night's Coffee Fest latte art competition at the Washington State Convention & Trade Center, but the Seattle barista wasn't too upset.

"It's not really about the money," said Burlison, the head coffee roaster for Seattle's Top Pot. "It's about being a part of it, and the competition is with the world's best baristas...It's gratifying to be with the different cultures from the different cities. Coffee is the glue that brings us all together."

Coffee Fest, which began 16 years ago in Seattle as a consumer show to promote specialty coffee, added a little spice to its Millrock Free Pour Latte Art competition by boosting first prize to $5,000 from $1,000. The two-day event, which gave $1,000 to second place and $500 to third place, attracted baristas from Canada, Japan and the U.S.

And for the first time a reader board, akin to a golf tournament, displayed the results so competitors could see who had the lead throughout the evening.

The 13 finalists, from an original pool of 50, had five minutes each to create a picturesque latte and the entries included a rosette, heart or tulip that was judged on color, definition, appearance and creativity by a panel of three judges.

The winning entry came from Layla Emily Osberg who, according to the contest's commentator, drew a "pristine heart with a thin-layered line" and a "beautiful border."

Osberg, who won a similar Coffee Fest contest in Atlanta in June, said she would be treating 10 friends to a nice dinner with her prize winnings.

She also said her employer, Blenz Coffee of Vancouver, British Columbia, promised to double any winnings, and she said her company gave her a $20,000 bonus for winning the contest this summer.

The key, she said, was remaining calm.

"I don't suffer from nerves," the 29-year-old barista said. "And a good barista is a bit of a show off."

Second place went to Colter Jones of Vancouver, British Columbia, and third place went to Justin Teisl of Milwaukee, Wisc.

April Pollard, a finalist from Seattle's Espresso Vivace, said she has been doing latte art for the last 12 years, and she was pleased to make it to finals.

She compared the event to a "beautiful baby" contest, and she added that a "real barista contest" would include having 10 customers in a line, one person being a jerk, something going wrong and a person a wanting a muffin while talking on a cell phone.

"They should make it like a normal day," Pollard said.

David Heilbrunn, the event producer, said there has been three Coffee Fest shows a year around the country, but a fourth one in Hong Kong will be added in 2008. This weekend's event, which includes a trade show and another barista competition, was the 49th show overall.

He said while the latte art contest rewards baristas it's really held to encourage specialty coffee owners.

"We want to get shop owners to embrace an enhanced level of coffee. We want to keep the specialty in specialty coffee," Heilbrunn said.

On Sunday, six baristas from Washington and Oregon will compete in another contest where they will prepare and serve 12 coffee drinks within 15 minutes. The winner receives an expense-paid trip to the 2008 U.S. Barista Championship in Minneapolis.

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