Barista to battle for national crown
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If you go for a cappuccino at Aldo Coffee Co. in Mt. Lebanon, you might not notice much about the cheerful, unassuming young woman behind the counter. But Belle Battista, the barista (yes, she knows it rhymes), turns out to be quite the perfectionist.Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette
Belle Battista, the barista at the Aldo Cofee Co. in Mt. Lebanon, is ready for the U.S. Barista Championship this weekend in Charlotte, N.C.
Click photo for larger image.
Last month, she came in fourth in the mid-Atlantic regional competition of the United States Barista Championship in Washington, D.C., and this week she's going for top honors in the national contest, Friday through Sunday in Charlotte, N.C.
She is the only Pittsburgher entered in the competition, which began in 2002 when the Specialty Coffee Association of America held its first annual scored barista championship to recognize and promote professional achievement in espresso beverage preparation and service. Up to 50 contestants are expected from across the country.
To the barista and the contest judges, the job is an art requiring speed, skill, knowledge and creativity.
"Coffee is a passion of mine," said Ms. Battista, 24, as she effortlessly created a foam rosetta pattern on a cup of espresso earlier this week. "Some people compare it to wine because there is so much to learn about it.
"The great thing about the competition is that you learn so much from the judges and the other contestants. You leave knowing more than when you came."
In the competition, each barista will prepare and serve 12 coffee beverages in 15 minutes. That includes one espresso, one cappuccino and one signature drink for each of the four sensory judges, at roughly 75 seconds per drink. Two technical judges and one head judge will be watching closely as well.
"They measure your overall skills ranging from technical scores in how you make your coffee, sensory points on the taste and overall performance, how you serve, your demeanor, how much you know."
Competitors wear a mike and answer questions while they're working.
"We explain what we're doing and why, what inspired us. You have to move fast and think on your feet, but also not look like you're panicky. It's really a challenge, but also fun."
"The judges are really climbing all over them," said Melanie Westerfield, who owns Aldo Coffee with her husband, Rich. "It's not easy to work like that."
The sensory judges score on taste and body.
"I'm using coffee with hints of caramel, chocolate and dried fruit. If the judges don't taste that, they deduct points."
For her signature drink, which is macchiato fico, or fig, Ms. Battista will soak dried figs in milk overnight, press out the milk, steam it into foam and put in on top of espresso in a glass rimmed with brown sugar.
Contestants must bring all their own materials, from coffee, cups and cordial glasses to tablecloths, trays, drinking water and spoons.
"Sometimes the judges will spill on purpose to see if you use a clean tablecloth the next day," she said.
The winner after three rounds will represent the United States at the World Barista Championship, to be held this year in Bern, Switzerland.
Originally from Wisconsin, Ms. Battista lived and trained in Chicago, worked in a cafe in Spain and traveled around Europe visiting coffeehouses to see how they use their venues.
She came to Pittsburgh to be with her future husband, Frank Battista, a native of Bethel Park, and began work at Aldo Coffee just over a year ago. When they married on New Year's Eve, the former Belle Siemiakowski acquired not only a soulmate but also the perfect name for her line of work. Her husband is also a barista at Aldo Coffee.
"I get to learn from her," said her husband with an admiring smile. He hopes to compete in next year's contest.
The couple met at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, where they studied youth ministry. He works for Youth for Christ in South Park Township, and she volunteers there.
Youth ministry, she said, is "still a passion for me, and so is coffee. One day I hope to merge the two together."
First Published April 5, 2006 12:00 am