A Latte Love at the Mountain Regional Barista Competition

Slide Show

The coffee has been ground, the portafilters have been packed and the espresso shots have been pulled at the first-ever Mountain Regional Barista Competition, which occurred last weekend in Thornton. Now, with the dust or, rather, coffee grounds settled, the caffeinated champions have proven their mettle.

Competition for the top spots was especially furious: 26 contenders from Colorado and surrounding states showed up, more than any other regional competition around the country. “It was intense, man. You could cut through the intensity with a knife. Everyone was like, ‘Wow. It’s on,” says Justin Hartman owner of Ozo Coffee in Boulder, who was disqualified for not finishing his four espressos, four cappuccinos and four specialty espresso drinks in the allotted 15-minute time limit.

Hartman wasn’t the only one tripped up by the clock. Doug Naiman, owner of Aviano Coffee in Denver, wrapped up his presentation at 15 minutes, 59 seconds, one second shy of being outright disqualified, but with 59 points deducted for those 59 sinful seconds (as a barista you don’t want to keep your ornery customers waiting) he didn’t have enough points to make it to the next round. Johanna Everts from Novo Coffee in Denver lost track of time, too – and the fact she failed to design latte art in her cappuccino foam probably didn’t help, either. “I was shaking,” she says. “There was no way I was going to be able to do that.”

No wonder, then, that top honors went to Jon Lewis, owner of Long Story Short Coffee, a coffee caterer and concession endeavor in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, who’s had a lot of practice perfecting his timing as a regular competitor at other regional competitions and the annual U.S. Barista Championship. His specialty coffee drink wasn’t too shabby, either. Instead of flashy gimmicks (someone reportedly utilized egg whites in their coffee concoction), Lewis went simple yet super stylish: His drink featured yogurt that he’d made by hand from his neighbor’s raw milk. “I think personal experiences enhance the drink,” he says. “The first time I heard about barista competitions I laughed out loud. I thought it was something for people who take themselves way too seriously. But since [I started competing], I’ve found it’s a way to express what I have to say.”

As victor, Lewis earned a free trip and entry into the U.S. Barista Championship in Minneapolis in May, but he passed on the opportunity, since he has something other than coffee a-brewing: His wife is due with their child right around that time. So the mantle will be passed to the competition’s second-place finisher, Nolan Dutton, roaster at Conscious Coffees in Boulder. Dutton knows he needs a lot of practice if he’s going to adequately represent his mountain colleagues, since he admits he only ran through his formal presentation a couple of times for the regional competition. And unfortunately for all those eager coffee fiends out there, Dutton won’t be honing his stuff at actual café customers, since he’s not a working barista. “Technically no one can come and get a drink from me anywhere,” he says. “It’s kind of funny.”

Mike Strumpf, an Allegro Coffee Company quality-control administrator who organized the Mountain Regional Barista Competition, sees big things for Dutton. “I think he’ll do pretty well at the U.S. competition,” he says. “At least if the nerves don’t get to him.”

That or the caffeine jitters. -- Joel Warner

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner