Coffee Wars | Food | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Coffee Wars

There's pouring coffee, and there's creating an uplifting beverage. If you have a favorite barista, the difference is probably clear. And it's the latter technique that will be on display and up for judgment at a coffee competition Feb. 6-8, at the Pittsburgh Marriot North in Cranberry.

It's the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern regional contest, with winners progressing to the national championships in Portland, Ore. Thirty baristas from each region will compete in a single-elimination style coffee-creating throwdown. The delicious and jittery results will be available for the audience to purchase.

Each barista has 15 minutes to pull four perfect espresso shots, steam up four exquisite cappuccinos and create a signature drink. A panel of seven judges will score them on their technical accuracy; the taste and aroma of the drink; the pizzazz they display in making it (to music of their choosing, complete with explanatory patter); and the components of the signature drink.

"They have to talk about what they're making and why they chose their specialty drink," says Ed Wethli, owner of Kiva Han coffee. "It really is artistic to watch." The whirling baristas will be miked and shown on big screens.

Kiva Han (the roaster, not the stores in Oakland) is sponsoring the regional event held in Pittsburgh for the first time. In the past, it's been held in Washington, D.C., New York, Boston and Philadelphia.

"Pittsburghers are big coffee drinkers and they prefer to buy from local Pittsburgh companies," Wethli says. Coffee Tree Roasters and La Prima are event sponsors. The competition, ongoing since the early 1990s, is run by the Specialty Coffee Association of America.

The competition is open to the public and free, but if you want to get in on the desserts -- from eateries like McGinnis Sisters and Sweethouse Bake Shop -- and the specialty drinks, it's $10, with advance tickets available for $8. Those tickets get you a full-size dessert from each of the day's participating restaurants and a specialty drink; there will also be a coffee bar. The proceeds go to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

For more information or to buy tickets, go to

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