This weekend Alterra Coffee Roasters brings a bit of competition to Milwaukee. For the first time, Milwaukee welcomes competitors from a five-state region (Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio) to compete in the fourth Annual Great Lakes Regional Barista Competition (GLBC). The GLBC is one of 10 regional competitions testing barista ability, creativity and accuracy.
The GLBC is a three-day competition. Friday and Saturday are preliminary rounds in which nearly 35 registered competitors have 15 minutes to make a single espresso, single cappuccino and signature beverage. On Sunday, the top six competitors compete in the final round for the chance to advance into the United States Barista Championship.
Competitors are judged on a number of criteria -- anything from initial introduction and presentation to espresso taste and color. Justin Teisl, a six-year Alterra employee, has competed in past events and this year worked to bring the competition to his hometown.
"The signature beverage is open to all ingredients except alcohol and so it is an exciting portion of the competition because each competitor does something unique to stand out. Judges will look for a balanced espresso, one that has a perfect balance of acidity, bitterness and sweetness. You will hear a lot of really interesting descriptions of coffee, " Teisl says.
Baristas were not required to qualify to participate but Teisel says the competition is steep.
"Our region is a tough one. There is a lot of interest in the area and because of that there are a lot of people who have been doing it for a while and really know what they are doing. It makes competition in the Great Lakes pretty tough," he says.
Alterra is not new to regional and national barista competitions. Although it has not hosted a competition in the past, Alterra sent three employees to the Midwest and Great Lakes Regional Competitions as well as two employees to the National Competition last year. The individual employee interest and company awareness pushed Alterra to apply for hosting rights in the 2008 season.
Alterra hosts the event in the PH Dye Building on the corner of Milwaukee and Buffalo in the Third Ward.
"We essentially took an empty floor of a building, cleaned it out and recreated a show space. A lot of the time these competitions are held in conjunction with trade shows in arena like spaces. But we wanted to do it a little different and move into a space and make it our own. We wanted to have more control over the space to hopefully make it a comfortable space," says Teisl.
Alterra contributes five contestants: Scott Lucey, Dave Schwalbach, Alex Schwalbach, Colin Whitcomb and Justin Teisl. These five are joined by nearly 30 other professionals from throughout Wisconsin and the five state region.
The GLBC is a creation of the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), an organization committed to setting industry standards for growing, roasting and brewing. The Barista Competition season runs nearly year round with 10 regional competitions leading into a national competition as well as a world championship.