The Dog Bites Interview: Barista Champion

Latte art: cappuccino that a barista draws a milk design in

Andy Newbom, 34, is the owner of the Santa Clara coffeehouse Barefoot Coffee Roasters. Later this month, he and his employee Dominic Taylor will be competing in the United States Barista Championship in Atlanta, Ga. The first-place winner will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Trieste, Italy, to compete in the World Barista Championships this June. We spoke to Newbom about what makes a champion barista.

Dog Bites: What will you be judged on?

Newbom: There's eight judges, and you have to make four cappuccinos, four espressos, and then four "signature drinks" (that's any drink you want that's made with espresso) in 15 minutes. If you go over time, you're disqualified. Four of the judges grade you on taste, appearance, texture, and temperature of the drinks. The other four judges grade you on technical things, like if you "overdose" -- put too much coffee in the porta-filter -- and it spills onto the rubber mat. One judge talks to you the entire time, like a customer would, and you have to be able to answer him while making the drinks.

DB: What's going to be your signature drink?

Newbom: It's a drink on our menu called "Symphony in C." It's a nice mixture of espresso, half-and-half, and ground raw cacao -- that's the raw bean that chocolate is made from. I serve it in a cool, bullet-shaped glass, on a rippled Japanese stone like you'd find in those Japanese raked gardens.

DB: That sounds pretty fancy.

Newbom: People tend to go really crazy on the signature drinks. There's a lot of big, sweet, floofy drinks served in martini or wine glasses. Also, we do what's called "latte art" -- when people make their cappuccinos and do what's called "free pour," where they try to draw a design when pouring the milk in. They make rosettes and stuff.

DB: I saw that once -- this coffeehouse called Spliffs in Guerneville draws a pot leaf on your latte. Do you think the judges would have a problem with something like that?

Newbom: I think it would go over well. These coffee people are pretty intense, but they're not sticks in the mud. At the Western Regionals in Seattle, there was this place called Coffee Messiah, and one of their baristas did a cappuccino with really dry, fluffy foam and spooned a half-inch-high cross on top, almost like a meringue.

DB: How are you preparing?

Newbom: We're making, like, 30 cappuccinos and then giving them away to our customers for free, just to practice. I'm actually really freaking out. [In the Western Regionals two years ago] I had made two cappuccinos, and I was about to make my next two, and the crowd gasped. I'd spilled the two cappuccinos I'd just made. I went over the 15 minutes having to make them again, and I was disqualified. Dominic is definitely pretty nervous, but he's never competed. He doesn't know the terror of the situation. (Lessley Anderson)

Muni's Forgotten Charms

Last week, distracted by the scent of warm tortilla chips lingering on the vernal air, we left our wallet behind on the 49 bus. After two days and dozens of unanswered phone calls, we trekked to Muni central command, where, after filling out reams of lost-item reports and combating insurmountable apathy from an army of brown-sweatered employees, we were led to a small room. But this was no ordinary room: It was the final destination for things lost, a place of purgatory for boxes of unclaimed rubbish, at least until Muni empties them into the dumpsters out back. Our wallet was nowhere to be found, but there were other delights. Before being ejected from the room (our lingering, we were told, was "way against procedure"), we made a catalog of some of the more idiosyncratic items, should we ever want to auction them off:

Found: Teddy Ruxpin (the "World's First Animated Talking Toy Bear").

Distinguishing Characteristics:Bear is shirtless, exposing cassette player (broken). Cassette tape in player is labeled Scorpions Greatest. Tape is homemade.

Approximate Street Value:Bear: $7.50. Scorpions Greatest cassette: $1.

Found: Gabriel's spiral-bound calculus notebook.

Distinguishing Characteristics: Two half-finished love notes to "Sarah."

Approximate Street Value: 50 cents.

Found: Framed 8-by-10 picture of male/female couple on the beach.

Distinguishing Characteristics: Woman (pictured left) between ages of 25 and 35, Caucasian, dyed blond hair, wears a floral lei, unmarked white tank top, brown capri pants. Man (pictured right), Caucasian, wears a sleeveless Harley-Davidson tee (with eagle) and Oakley sunglasses.

Approximate Street Value:Frame: $2. Photo: 25 cents.

Found: Incredible Hulk Action Figure.

Distinguishing Characteristics:Discolored, partially melted left hand (from burn). Yellow string tied in bow around the neck.

Approximate Street Value: $1.

Found:Working Nokia 3595 cell phone.

Distinguishing Characteristics:Greeting message reads "Robin S." Last missed calls are from "Dan P," "The Dosters," and "Hasan." Last outgoing call made to "Breeda."

Approximate Street Value:$30.

Found: Faux alligator briefcase.

Distinguishing Characteristics:Broken handle. Contains two packages of Siddhartha Sun-brand incense sticks (sandalwood), mechanical pencil.

Approximate Street Value:Briefcase: $4. Incense: 75 cents/per. Pencil: 20 cents.

Found:Chinese book.

Distinguishing Characteristics:Orange paperback cover, water damage (possibly dried coffee). Decorative bookmark (red cloth, silk-screened image of peacock).

Approximate Street Value:Book: $2. Bookmark: 25 cents.

Found:Three Zimovane (sleeping aid) tablets, in case.

Distinguishing Characteristics: Prescribed in October 2003 by Dr. VanBuskirk of the Naval Medical Center, San Diego.

Approximate Street Value:$40.

Found: 1,000-milliliter Nalgene bottle.

Distinguishing Characteristics:Contains 400 milliliters of orange, semiopaque liquid. Adorned with stickers ("Meat Puppets," "Matt Gonzalez").

Approximate Street Value:Bottle: $3. Liquid: 2 cents. Meat Puppets sticker: $5. Matt Gonzalez sticker: $0. (Nate Cavalieri)

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