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A latte work

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Last we heard from Denver coffee entrepreneur and explorer Joseph Brodsky, he was planning to stay in Ethiopia indefinitely to seek out the best undiscovered coffee beans—such as the legendary Geisha—the birthplace of java had to offer.

He's still there, looking for his beans in wild forests and hillside coffee farms, but lately he's also been seeking out something else: the top coffee baristas in the country.

Working for the United States Agency for International Development, Brodsky just wrapped up coordinating the first-ever Addis Ababa Barista Championship, which took place February 15-17. For the past three months, he's been helping local coffee servers learn the tricks of the cafe trade that coffee snobs around here take for granted—an espresso brew time of 22 to 28 seconds, a coffee pour that looks like warm honey, beautiful hearts and leaves in the latte foam. It's not all for show; the winner of the competition, a barista from an Addis restaurant named Mifta Sultan, will be flown to Japan to compete in the World Barista Championship.

Brodsky also helped organize Ethiopia's first specialty coffee auction for the private sector, which was held concurrently with the barista championship. Both were designed to encourage coffee drinkers in Ethiopia and beyond to take a more nuanced look at the high-quality beans growing in this struggling nation -- it's the only way local subsistence farmers can enter the specialty coffee niche and break free of the debilitating global commodity coffee market. "The event leaves Addis with an association of inspired baristas who now know much more about the distinctiveness and value of their coffees," wrote Brodsky in his blog. "It was a pleasure to have been a part of it."

After his six-month odyssey, Brodsky is scheduled to return to Denver in late March. He'll be bringing good news for local coffee geeks who've been prowling the retail locations of his family-owned Novo Coffee roasting company, slurping super-high-quality coffees. As he wrote to his Novo colleagues, at some point later this year, "We will have some Esmeralda Geisha"—the most award-winning coffee on the planet. — Joel Warner

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