Wolfie Barn practices his technique
A barista competition might
not evoke images of training sessions lasting into the night, or enough blood,
sweat and tears to fill a few espresso demitasse cups, but for the last two
months, this has been Daria Whalen and Wolfie Barn's reality.
After closing up shop at Espresso Royale Coffee on
Commonwealth Ave every night, Whalen and Barn resume their spots behind the
counter for some rigorous practice in preparation for the Northeast Regional
Barista Competition. Under the steady eye of their coach, veteran judge Ryan Soeder, they've
pulled countless espresso shots, perfected foam patterns, and studied the art
of "at origin" coffee production, long after the evening's caffeine has fizzled
The rules of the competition, which takes place February 25-26 at the 7W Event Studios in New York, are straight-forward: make
three rounds of drinks. Each competitor has 15 minutes to produce four espresso
shots, four cappuccinos, and finally four "signature" drinks of their own
choosing---Whalen has concocted an espresso shot mixed with grape juice, and
Barn will be serving an iced Earl Grey with espresso and an orange twist in a
stemless wine glass.
Oh, and they do this while entertaining and educating
their panel of four tasting
judges on the history of their particular blend, as two technical judges
monitor their every move. No pressure.
Appearances are everything; even the chosen cups and
saucers factor into routines, or "presentations," and the resulting atmosphere
is a tension-packed cross between a Master Sommelier exam and an Olympic diving
The regional, national, and international levels of
the competition are a Mecca for those involved in the ever-expanding world of
artisan coffee. This weekend's competition is held in conjuction with The Coffee and Tea
Festival, a trade goods expo next door.
Whalen and Barn, along with Calen Robinette of
Voltage Coffee and Jonathan Montanez of Render Coffee, are set to represent
Boston area baristas.The Espresso Royale duo received
sponsorships from Counter Culture Coffee and Pavement Coffee, after approaching
the cafés for support.
As first-time competitors, Whalen and Barn can
appreciate the somewhat ridiculous nature of the contest while understanding
that it's all a part of the game. As a result, they haven't cut any corners in preparing
"All of the sudden, I'm in this world where this is
completely normal," Whalen says, as she describes connoisseurs coming to blows
over which Ethiopian farm produces the best coffee bean.
With over four years of barista experience between
them, Whalen and Barn see the competition as an opportunity to develop their
skills and push the limits of their beloved brew.
While the skills they've garnered might earn them
recognition from their peers, Whalen and Barn can only hope that their
expertise will be appreciated by the judges they interact with every day: their
"For a customer, I think it's hard to see what makes
one espresso shot better than another," Barn jokes. "In some ways, it's a shame that it's not just
about making tasty coffee."