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Coffee Fever

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, April 16, 2010

It’s after-hours at Chocolate Fish Coffee. Our two baristas are busy brushing up on their technique for the big competition.

My name is Kyle Baumann and I’m a competition level barista … yes, a coffee geek. Right now it’s grinding out 18 grams 14 point O seconds. We have a certain dosage we go to, we go to 20 grams, that we like to put in the porto filter and we tamp that at 30 pounds of pressure. Pull it for 26 seconds and we want that coming out at 1 point 5 to 1 point seven-five ounces. That’s where we find the sweetest part of the bean. That’s how we take our espresso.

Kyle pulls more than a thousand espressos a week on the job. But to practice, he makes one more.

KYLE: I really like to sit there for 15-20 seconds, really every single taste, see how it sits, tastes in different parts of my mouth. Just had a nice, subtle  chocolateness to it, nothing too crazy. This bean should have a nice sweet acid, kind of like a tangerine. The body was kind of nice, it wasn’t too harsh, wasn’t too thin. From here I do a little more fine tuning to get a really nice shot of espresso.

Kyle’s teammate in this weekend’s barista battle is working on cappuccino – equal parts espresso and velvety foamed milk.

My name is Eric Annonson and I’m also a competition level barista at Chocolate Fish Coffee.

The ideal foam is pleasant to drink first of, second of all, silky to the mouth and isn’t too bubbly.   

Barista judges give demerits for overly-frothy foam. But points are given for turning froth into a work of art. Erik’s cappuccino ends up with a pretty tulip design on top made of milk foam.

Erik: I’m drawing on this canvas of crema.

These two baristas are only in their early 20s, but they’re palates are already sensitized to coffee purity -- without whipped  cream and white chocolate. Their coffee epiphany happened at the same time.

Kyle: We tasted just pure black coffee that, wow, this tastes like blueberry cheesecake. For both of us, it was the same coffee…Eric: …The same weekend, yeah – Ethiopian “beloya,” really delicious coffee. Kyle:  … I know! It was that moment, it was unreal. I GET this! I did not know coffee could do this. I want to know more.

In a few years, they’d both become competition level baristas. Kyle explains what that means.

KYLE: You’re being judged on hundreds of different categories, being precise on every single one of those. First sip, second sip, third sip. Front, in the middle and the aftertaste.

Baristas abound anywhere espresso is sold, but he says achieving competition level status isn’t for everyone.

KYLE: You really want to be passionate for what your craft is. I guess  you should be willing to spend 17  hours a day in a shop, just playing with espresso and cappuccino, really fine tuning it, just going shop to shop, talking to everybody, just learning as much as you can about this crazy little fruit.

If Kyle Baumann and Erik Annonson take honors this weekend, it’s off to the World Barista Championship in London in June. At noon tomorrow Chocolate Fish Coffee will, so the staff can join Erik and Kyle in Anaheim. Elaine Corn, Capital Public Radio News.

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