Competitive barista-ing is a spectator sport. In addition to four judges seated at a high bar directly in front of the competing baristas, there was a boisterous, roaming audience at the 2013 Northeast Regional Barista Championship last week. Over three days at Attic Studios, an airy industrial loft space in Long Island City, each of the 24 competitors made a cup of espresso, a six-ounce cappuccino, and a signature beverage for each of the judges — who were looking for balanced, flavorful espresso drinks and smooth pours of steamed milk in elaborate designs.
Sam Lewontin, who runs Everyman Espresso (named best espresso bar by the Village Voice last year), won the championship’s title with an espresso that evoked the complexity of bourbon and a signature beverage of that same espresso with date and ginger syrups, a malic acid solution, and a rub of fresh ginger.
More highlights from the event after the jump.
Like a lot of the baristas this season, Cara Zebrowski from Coffee Labs Roasters in Tarrytown made her signature beverage with fruit. Zebrowski topped a shot of espresso with Cara-Cara orange-juice foam, palate-cleansing slices of blood orange, and pomegranate seeds.
The dapper Logan Demmy from One Line Coffee in Columbus, Ohio, looked nouveau Brooklyn in a little gray vest and slicked hair, and riffed on a caffeinated Manhattan with cherry juice, ginger, and wormwood.
Even though she could have cracked open a beer, Anne Cooper of Dallis Bros. in Queens hopped her own mash of grapes and citrus in homage to Dogfish Head’s 60 Minute IPA to pair with espresso.
To the average coffee drinker, the eccentricities of the championships can be overwhelming, but the coffee-obsessed crowd couldn’t get enough of Lanny Huang from Gimme! Coffee, artfully mixing decaf espresso and lime with tonic. And when Daniel Shannon of Fonté played the Star Wars theme as he fused an ice-cream float and an affogato to create “The Trilogy,” he was showing off with exactly the kind of panache that judges expected from the competitors’ 15-minute routines.
Even more swagger will be on display at the semi-finals in April, when Boston hosts Lewontin and the other regional winners at the U.S. Barista Championship.