Taking coffee art to the championships
Sep 19, 2013 / 5:00 pm
At least one barista from the Okanagan has earned the chance to compete on the international stage at Coffee Fest in Seattle next month, which includes the Latte Art World Championships.
The competition started in 1992, but has quickly grown into a trade show that includes 300 booths and close to 10,000 attendees. Each year, the show travels to a few select cities and typically wraps up in Seattle, where Al Lang of Kelowna’s Bean Scene Coffee Works will be competing Oct. 4-6.
Lang has been a barista for less than a year, but his portfolio of coffee art has already turned a few heads and allowed him to be invited to not only take part in the art competition, but to also judge the best espresso competition.
“It’s a requirement for any barista at Bean Scene to be able to compete in-house for a chance to go to these championships. I was just lucky enough to win our last barista jam,” says Lang, adding he was slightly surprised by the invitation.
“I’m fairly new at it and I’ve only been in the coffee business for just less than a year now. I was lucky enough to qualify and am seeded quite high in the competition, so I was lucky there as well.”
He has been seeded fifth in the 64-person bracket, which brings in some of the best barista artists from around the world. Contestants are judged in five categories including beauty, colour and speed, with the winner moving on in each pairing.
Lang says he has the usual collection of designs in his arsenal, but may bring some tricks to the table as well.
“Most latte artists have a go-to piece when they go to these competitions. They use it, they stick with it, they practice it a good 500-600 times to perfect it. But I’ve got a couple in my back pocket,” he says.
“It’s difficult because each piece only last a few seconds, so that’s all the time you have to draw these pieces of art. I’m planning to do a layered tulip style, with striated lines – basically it’s just going to be a layered flower.”
While acknowledging this will be his first trip to the championships and his first trip to Seattle, Lang will attempt to calm the nerves that most people would feel competing under the bright lights and intense scrutiny of the northwest coffee scene.
“There’s always nerves,” he says.
“The problem is you’re pouring fine, detailed art into a cup on a liquid medium that won’t stop moving, so if your hand starts shaking or your nerves are off, then your art is going to reflect that.”
While Lang seems excited about his chance to compete against other baristas, he’s also honoured to judge the espresso competition.
“That was actually quite surprising, given that I’ve only been in the industry for about a year. Roasters from all over the western side of North America are submitting their espresso beans. They’re going to have a barista preparing the espresso and submitting it to a panel of judges, of which I’m going to be on,” Lang says, while explaining which coffee characteristics will catch his eye.
“You’re looking for body, aroma, acidity, stringency, you’re looking for flaws and you’re looking for beautifulness. Also the region which it came from and the elevation that it was grown all affects these things, so you’re looking for a whole gamut of different things.”
In essence, Lang says he will be looking for many of the same attributes that wine aficionados look for in a bottle – something many Okanagan residents can appreciate.
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