Since opening their doors in September of 2010, The French Press has been on a winning streak. Under the guidance of co-owners — and newlyweds — Julia Mayer and Todd Stewart, Santa Barbara’s reigning specialty coffee shop has not only made a home at the once-rotating door of 1100 State Street, they’ve won the city over in the process. In 2011, The French Press even surpassed the corporate java lords to be named Best Coffee by the Santa Barbara Independent’s Reader’s Poll.
In keeping with their winning streak, Mayer and Stewart are also continuing their push for national barista glory. For the past two years, the pair has either competed in or sent a staff member to the regional round of the U.S. Barista Competition (USBC), and this year the store’s odds look better than ever. This weekend, French Press baristas Mulch Stetson and Nick Purvis travel to Santa Cruz for the first round of the annual competition, which will bring 40 espresso pros from the Southwest (CA, AZ, HI, UT, NV, NM, CO) together to compete for six coveted slots in this year’s nationals.
In accordance with USBC rules, all competitors are required to present a 15-minute routine to a panel of four sensory judges. During that time they prepare and present an espresso, a cappuccino, and a signature drink for each judge, while being evaluated on subjects ranging from beverage knowledge to aesthetic presentation and overall taste. While both espresso and cappuccino portions rely mainly on pulling and pouring the best cup, the signature beverage arena provides for all manner of coffee creativity.
Before Stetson and Purvis took to the road, we got a chance to sit down and taste test what the fellas would bring to the table, which included Stetson’s strawberry-lime soda and ‘spro concoction, as well as Purvis’s two-drink punch of apricot, Satsuma oranges, honey, and espresso, followed by a drink of burnt caramel sauce, ice toddy coffee, and heavy cream. Yum.
“I knew the competition would push my skills, and push my name as a barista,” said Purvis. “A lot of people enter [the USBC] simply to do it, or to improve off of it, which is rad. But I’m competitive. I want to place well.”
If you want to see if the guys rise to the challenge, but don’t have a means of getting to Santa Cruz this weekend, worry not. The USBC Southwestern Regionals will stream live at usbaristachampionship.org. Purvis will compete Friday, March 9 at 12:25 p.m. Stetson will compete Saturday, March 10, at 12:44 p.m.