In Colombia, Baristas Get Double-Shot At Fame

Attention, baristas: It's time to get your double-shot, soy latte on! The World Barista Championship takes place this weekend in Bogota, Colombia. Contestants have 15 minutes to prepare four espressos, four cappuccinos and four signature drinks.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

In Colombia, there's been a competition like no other this week - a battle of the brew. Coffee baristas from around the world, including the United States, are pitting their cappuccinos, espressos and organic potato starch lattes against one another. For these aficionados, making coffee is not simply pouring a cup of Joe.

NPR's Juan Forero has the story from Bogota, Colombia.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. YAKUP AYDEN: Now while you are enjoying the cappuccino, I'm going to do (unintelligible) preparation. I add some ingredients to my (unintelligible)...

JUAN FORERO: Yakup Ayden, who's 27 and from Holland, chooses the music. And then, before a battery of judges, he begins to make his coffee - espressos, cappuccinos and a signature drink, with a touch of blueberry and tamarind.

(Soundbite of music and banging)

FORERO: A smile's on his face, but he works fast, whirling from the espresso machine to a table where he pours coffee and foamed milk, then to another table where the judges sit, clipboards in hand. After they drink his concoctions, the response from the fans tells the story.

(Soundbite of applause)

Unidentified Man: Ladies and gentlemen, competitor number 15, Yakup Ayden.

FORERO: Ayden says he was in his zone.

Mr. AYDEN: The coffees, they were coming out great, so I was happy. When I saw that, I knew it was good.

FORERO: He's one of 54 competitors from around the world who've come to participate in the Olympics of coffee making - the four-day World Barista Championship. This year, it's in Bogota, capital of one of the world's leading coffee-producing countries.

Those who've made it here won championships in their home country.

(Soundbite of coffee preparation)

FORERO: Now, they practice backstage, making cappuccinos, before competing in an arena at Bogota's convention center.

Rob Kettner, the Canadian champion, brought an odd, triple-decker contraption.

Mr. ROB KETTNER: It's a slow brew tower, which we're brewing cold coffee. It's an eight-hour extraction process. And it results in a very interesting, almost liqueur-like finish to a coffee.

FORERO: It's all about pushing the boundaries of coffee making, Kettner says.

Mr. KETTNER: It's culinary coffee at its best. It's real true coffee and it's exploring, it's the exploration of coffee and how far we can take it. And, you know, it's, it's treating coffee like wine.

FORERO: The American champion, Pete Licata, picks his own beans in Hawaii, where he lives. And he practices and practices. He knows what it take to be a champion. Licata's been competing for six years now.

Mr. PETE LICATA: Of course, with competition, you practice making cappuccinos over and over again and things like. So, I would probably say I've made over a thousand drinks just for preparation for competition, you know.

FORERO: Practice, though, is different from competing, as the Lithuanian champ pointed out.

Mr. DOMAS IVONIS: Cherries in espresso and (unintelligible) to give it more feeling to my drinks.

FORERO: Minutes after describing his signature drink to the judges, Domas Ivonis assessed his performance.

Mr. IVONIS: Yeah, it was pretty okay, but I spilled milk. The milk was splashing. I didn't control it, but...

FORERO: The six finalists have their championship brew-off today. Whoever wins takes home an espresso machine.

Juan Forero, NPR News.

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