Even the most coffee-unsavvy have probably heard about barista competitions by now—if only via those who wish to mock them, like Stephen Colbert. But the newest competitive coffee-brewing frontier hits a little closer to the home kitchen, and comes to New York City this weekend in the form of the Northeast Regional Brewer's Cup contest.
Gimme! Coffee trainer Erin McCarthy won the regional competition in 2011, which showcases not espresso and elaborate "signature drinks", but rather drip coffee—the kind any of us can make it home—only brewed to perfection.
"I like the Brewer's Cup because it's pared down," says McCarthy. "It's just about the coffee—it's put passion back into the coffee, and into the industry."
Competitors in the Brewer's Cup—there are 18 this weekend, from across New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and 10 other states—will face two rounds of brewing elimination. The first round, Saturday, will see each entrant given the same whole been coffee and the same amount of time to "dial it in"—that is, determine what grind size and amount of coffee will make the coffee taste best—on whichever kind of brewing device (Chemex, pourover cone, Aeropress, French Press, etc.) they so choose. Each contestant will put their best brew forward, and will be judged by a panel of sensory judges on the overall quality of the cup.
Those six who move on to the finals will have a new chapter to fulfill: presenting a coffee of their own choosing, along with a verbal presentation that describes and enhances the brewing experience for the judges' panel. McCarthy, who will compete again this Saturday, says he plans to brew Gimme! Coffee's El Sauce from Honduras, either on Aeropress or Chemex. Whether or not he takes home the prize again this year—and goes on to compete in the 2012 United States Barista Championship Brewer's Cup this April in (no way!) Portland, Oregon.
Is it that hard to make champion-level drip coffee at home, though, when all of the devices being utilized are fairly standard, $50-or-less brewing devices that don't even need electricity? Is there a magic secret trick to trying this at home?
"No," says McCarthy. "You just need a Brita filter and a burr grinder."
The Northeast Regional Brewer's Cup competition takes place this weekend, along with the Northeast Regional Barista Competition, at the Coffee and Tea Festival at 7W Studios, 7 West 34th Street, New York, New York.
About the author: Liz Clayton drinks, photographs and writes about coffee and tea all over the world, though she pretends to live in Brooklyn, New York. She is currently compiling photographs of the best coffee in the world to be published by Presspop later this year.