Harlin Glovacki of Nom de Plume Coffee Roasters made Phoenix coffee afficionados proud last week by taking fifth place in the Southwest Division of the Big Western Regional Barista Competition. Achieving a top-six placement qualifies him to compete at the national level in February's United States Barista Championship in Long Beach. This is particularly impressive considering that it was Harlin's first time competing in the regional competition.
The primary focus of barista competition is espresso. Competitors prepare three rounds of drinks - espresso, cappuccino, and signature beverage. The popular trend is to prepare the signature beverage last, first allowing for an introduction to the espresso itself, then building to pairings with milk and other ingredients. Harlin shook up this pattern by serving his signature beverage first, then stripping away ingredients to reveal the espresso as its own complex, independent entity.
Harlin's coffee, produced by the Giakanja Farmers Cooperative in Nyeri, had syrupy, tangy fruit notes that were grounded by a subtle savory quality. Kenya is known for producing incredibly unique, high quality coffees, and Harlin's coffee was certainly no exception. Some of this ties back to terroir; high concentrations of phosphate in many Kenyan soils correspond to higher phosphoric acid concentrations in some coffees. Phosphoric acid lends incredible complexity to coffee. Even in very small concentrations it amplifies sensations of sweetness and brightness from other compounds.
Harlin's signature beverage was beautiful, both culinarily and aesthetically. With assistance from Jeff Kraus of Crepe Bar, he created a spun sugar and spice "nest" into which he poured the espresso. A blend of northern African spices complemented the cardamom and molasses notes present in his coffee. Sugar, a rose gel rim, and a Luxardo cherry reinforced the espresso's sweetness and provided a nice context for its vibrant acidity. A touch of smoked salt magnified each delicious flavor in both the espresso and the signature drink components.
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The cappuccino course was equally well-crafted. The sweet-yet-savory espresso paired well with minerally milk from Fond du Lac farms in Casa Grande.
Then came the espresso round. Harlin had each judge evaluate the espresso visually, then pour their espresso into a cooling bowl before consuming. A brief period of settling and cooling allowed the judges to taste flavors and experience sweetness that they may not have been privy to at a higher temperature.