Of maple and bacon: RVA Barista Jam

Goat cheese. Bacon. Lavender. Sriracha. Maple syrup. Chili powder. Bet you’d never guess these would be flavors in an espresso beverage. At this week’s Barista Jam competition, we sampled these unusual pairings along with traditional coffee beverages for three hours at GlobeHopper Coffeehouse & Lounge.

Goat cheese. Bacon. Lavender. Sriracha. Maple syrup. Chili powder. Bet you’d never guess these would be flavors in an espresso beverage. At this week’s Barista Jam competition, we sampled these unusual pairings along with traditional coffee beverages for three hours at GlobeHopper Coffeehouse & Lounge.

I and three other judges evaluated nine competitors over the course of the evening. Representing GlobeHopper, Ellwood Thompson, Café Gutenberg, and a coffee bar at Wachovia, the competitors each presented us with a shot of espresso and a specialty beverage. They were judged on taste balance, crema, consistency of milk, visual appeal, presentation, customer service, and overall impression. Some stuck to familiar drinks, which really proved to be more challenging because there were no novelty items to consider.

GlobeHopper was pleasantly full as people cheered on competitors, enjoyed drink specials (both coffee and spirit varieties), and chatted with staff and fellow bystanders, even bidding cash to the baristas to make them their own version of their competition beverage.

Other judges were Patrick, of the Boka Truck, who was my fellow participant in the Café Gutenberg tofu-eating contest; Jason, the video guy/dad/musician; and Chris, the pensive guy with glasses who couldn’t decide on an expressive adjective for himself. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, sampling drinks, chatting with my fellow judges, and people-watching. GlobeHopper’s staff did a great job of serving everyone and I look forward to returning soon.

Competitor Chris’s (Gutenberg) maple-chili-Sriracha-salt latte was popular with the men, but I found it too salty and smelling of iodine. Barista Zach’s (Wachovia) exceptional attention to detail showed in his floral-infused, lavender-honey macchiato in a hand-painted, demitasse cup that he made locally at All Fired Up. It first tasted like tea, and then settled into more complex flavors with the espresso.

Ultimate winner and now two-time champion, Darren’s (Ellwood Thompson) maple bacon latte was a judge and crowd pleaser. The vegetarian barista wowed us with latte art and a bacon garnish. Though it wasn’t my favorite, his scores were high enough for him to take the $100 cash top prize. The $50 second prize went to Leigh from GlobeHopper’s classic latte. She had my highest scores on her pulled espresso shot.

Barista Jam is organized by Stephen Robertson of Advanced Coffee Tech and David Blanchard of Blanchard’s Coffee. They’re excited to bring us a third Jam on June 2 (location TBA). To tide you over until then, the organizers are hosting a free class about coffee on May 12 at Blanchard’s Coffee (see their website for more details) called Coffee: a 30,000 ft view. Blanchard and Robertson hope to continue to encourage local coffee drinkers and workers to come together to discuss their love of the ancient bean.

(Photos by Christof Meyer.)

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Holly Gordon

Holly Gordon spends her days working with Richmond’s hearty nonprofit community and her nights singing in a community chorus. She loves her feminist book club, and is always distracted by shiny things.

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. I couldn’t find any info on the May 12 class. Maybe I didn’t look hard enough. Do you know of a link with more info?

  2. pagalina on said:

    Dean, the info has just been posted http://www.blanchardscoffee.com

  3. Temper tamper on said:

    This sounds like a fantastic event and I’m glad to see Richmond working on some coffee culture but what of the espresso and the cappuccino? Novelty drinks does not a coffee culture make.

    Maple and Bacon sounds hip and interesting at first but was it actually delicious and did it match well with the espresso he was serving? Would you order it at a coffeeshop more than once? Perhaps though, a supersized maple bacon latte with french fried infused milk is what Richmond wants….I dunno?

  4. Temper Tamper:

    I agree–and many of the baristas DID make typical espresso drinks. Two that I really appreciated were a classic latte and a maple-just-barely-tinged latte. One girl’s mocha was popular. The more unusual drinks were more news-worthy to write about and are not drinks the average person gets to order, which is what made it more fun. Each barista brought their own beans to make their drinks.

  5. Temper tamper on said:

    I’m glad you had fun and hope to read more about Richmond coffee in the future. But as a coffee lover, I’d like to know what beans the barista used and how they extracted it. What machine was used during the jam? Who are these brisatas and what is their background?

    If the RVA Jam is about who can get the judges attention with the freakiest ,drinkable beverage, then so be it, If it is about the barista and who can perform his/her craft the best, then that is something different all together. I prefer the latter, but understand that Richmond has to start somewhere.

  6. Holly, thank you for the write-up! I am thrilled to see the culture of coffee develop in Richmond. We train our team of baristas to be espresso purists, leaving out the extras to focus on the quailty of the milk microfoam and espresso shot. I’m REALLY glad you took notice of Leigh’s delicious classic latte. I firmly believe we make the best traditional lattes and cappuccinos in town for the true addict! But, I do give kudos to the adventurous of tongue!

    It was absolutely our pleasure to host the Barista Jam and we look forward to doing it again in the future. The jam sponsors are a delightful to work with and what a blast we had with the judges and crowd!

    Coffeelady, Co-owner, GlobeHopper Coffeehouse & Lounge

  7. As one of the two espressophiles who started this crazy RVA Barista Jam project, I believe I’d like to weigh in on some of the great, and quite relevant points that have been raised from Holly’s article.

    I’d like to jump right to Temper Tamper’s comments because they are the most pertinent. I whole heartedly agree with the notion that the espresso and milk manipulation should reign supreme in our competitions. In Barista Jam #1 at Ellwood Thompson Coffee almost ALL of the competitors made traditional lattes, cappuccinos and macchiatos in addition to their espresso course. I appreciate the creativity of the baristas and I think that should be lauded as well. One thing everyone has to understand is that at this point, our primary goal at RVA Barista Jam is to get the community and our local baristas in the same room for two hours to have a great time and grow the foundation for a coffee culture which definitely starts with coffee but cannot continue without community support.

    As for the drinks, I will note that we judge the espresso course and the drink course primarily on the basis of stability and balance. In regards to the espresso course, the judges are grading color, crema persistence, acidic balance and overall palate. The beverage course is judged on how the ingredients balance with the espresso and the overall structure, stability and balance of the other components, namely milk (and foam texture, in most cases is king).

    The espresso each competitor uses is announced and recorded, and you’re right, we should do a better job of promoting that information.

    Critics, please bear with us, we’re trying to build this thing in the best way possible and we CERTAINLY welcome all criticisms, suggestions, and of course, praise. The fact remains, we cannot be successful in this movement without the support and participation of our local coffee consumers and professionals. The outpouring of interest thusfar is amazing, but we want to get better so that this is all a better for everyone involved.

    Please, if ANYONE out there has ANY questions, suggestions, concerns, ideas, or just wants to wax on geekish about coffee, please contact me at srbrtsn@gmail.com

    May 12, “Coffee, a 30,000 ft View”, our awesome, fun coffee class at Blanchard’s Coffee Roastery–be there, bring friends, we’ll give away some fresh roasted coffee that we will roast with you while you’re there, we’ll have some adult beverages for after coffee tasting… and we’ll have FUN! Stay tuned in to http://www.rvabaristajam.com for more details to come.

    Erin, Kimmy and the GlobeHopper crew, thanks so much for being an AWESOME host to our competition, we really appreciate the great job you guys did.

    Go get a cup of coffee people!

    –Stephen T Robertson, Co-Sponsor RVA Barista Jam, Marketing & Sales Advanced Coffee Tech

  8. Oh and the machine used was the Nuova Simonelli Competizione. Of which there are only 40 in the world, I’m told. It was very sexy.

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