Last week, Pete Licata of Hawaii brewed his way to the title of #1 US Barista and will now represent the US coffee industry at next month’s World Barista Championships in Colombia. His story tells us some things about the coffee culture and how it’s developing. Hawaii is the only commercial coffee growing state in the nation. There are some beginning attempts to farm coffee in California, but that has not grown to commercial status yet. This fact gave Licata an advantage, as he was able to involve himself in the whole coffee production process from plant to cup and use what he learned to wow the judges and take home the title. Whether this will set a new standard for the baristas we don’t yet know, but it is fascinating to learn that Licata handcrafted his own coffee to brew for the competition. He handpicked the coffee, processed it and roasted it on one of Rusty’s Hawaiian coffee farms. This taught him intricate details of coffee production and Licata used this knowledge in his demonstration before the judges. In a barista competition, the baristas have to prepare espresso, cappuccinos and an original signature drink to exacting standards for a panel of judges. Though expertise in production of a well-presented and great tasting cup is of utmost importance, showmanship in how the coffee is presented to the judges is also important. To many people, a barista who entertains and/or sets an atmosphere of ambiance as he prepares the customer’s order is all part of the total enjoyment of todays’s third wave coffee culture. The question could arise as to whether or not Licata had an unfair advantage. Being able to participate in the entire coffee production process and even have management over a particular coffee process can only be experienced in Hawaii at this time. Hawaii is the only state with a tropical climate, with the possible exceptions of Florida and California. When Licata gets to Colombia, what was an advantage in the US will not be so much of an advantage any more, as many baristas will be representing coffee growing areas. Whatever happens in Colombia, the championship demonstrates how rapidly the coffee industry is changing and responding to changes, becoming more competitive and entertainment oriented in the making of our favorite beverage.
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