In the end, maybe it came down to the milk.
Troels Overdal Poulsen carried 12 liters of fresh, whole milk from his native Denmark to Seattle in the quest for the perfect cup of cappuccino — and beat five other finalists from as far away as New Zealand and Japan on Monday to win the sixth annual World Barista Championship.
The battle to be the best barista is a grueling affair, with would-be champions — often working with trainers — spending months choosing everything from cups to coffee beans, and perfecting an original “signature” drink.
Barista, by the way, is a fancy name (from Italian) for a coffee bartender.
Poulsen and the others competed in an against-the-clock competition that required each barista to make four espressos, four cappuccinos and four “signature” drinks in just 15 minutes. They were also allowed 15 minutes to set up and clean up, and were judged in part on cleanliness.
Competitors faced a panel of four dispassionate “sensory judges” whom they served the various drinks along with detailed explanations of everything from bean choice to frothing philosophy. The judges smelled, sipped and slurped tiny tastes of each drink before making notes on closely guarded clipboards.
Meanwhile, two “technical” judges hovered around the competitors, looking for things like good hygiene and coffee grinder technique, while a seventh overall judge was there to resolve any disputes.
Poulsen’s signature drink, called ESB for “enhanced sensory balance,” mixed pepper, espresso and lavender.
It wasn’t the only strange mix of the day. Carl Sara of New Zealand mixed egg whites, cinnamon and mandarin rind into his espresso, then served the concoction on a tray smoking with dry ice.
Serious about coffee
Poulsen, whose Copenhagen coffee shop has already produced two other world champions, said he felt the key to his success was listening closely to his peers.
He won a variety of espresso-making equipment for his efforts.
Hiroyuki Kadowaki of Japan won second place, and Salvatore Piccolo of Canada came in third. There were six finalists selected from a field of 39, each a national champion at home.
The contest took place in Seattle, a city known for being serious about its coffee. But local favorite Phuong Tran was dropped in the semifinals, dashing hopes of a U.S. winner.