Local barista champ Greg Lefcourt is pulling for a win at the US Barista Competition
Caffeine fiends one and all should bow down to barista Greg Lefcourt. Longtime coffee jock and manager at OZO Coffee at 5340 Arapahoe Ave in Boulder, Lefcourt took home the gold at the Mountain Regional Barista Competition on January 18 in Thornton, leaving in his coffee dust barista competitors from distant locales like Montana, Utah and Idaho. That earned 29-year-old Lefcourt, profiled in a Westword story about the 2008 Mountain Regional Barista Competition, a top seat in the US Barista Competition on March 5 in Portland. Who knows: He could make it all the way to the World Barista Championships in Atlanta this April, where competitors pull their shots directly into the Goblet of Fire. Or something like that. We caught up with Lefcourt between his busy shifts at OZO to discuss the fine line between coffee and booze, the simmering Denver-Boulder café rivalry, and the Karate Kid-like gauntlet that lies ahead.
Westword (Joel Warner): Can I refer to you as Mountain Regional Barista Champion Greg Lefcourt?
Greg Lefcourt: That would be preferred.
WW: How are you feeling?
GL: I am exhausted, man. After winning the competition, we partied all weekend with the other baristas.
WW: How exactly do baristas party?
GL: Pretty hard, man. We're a different breed. We are up at the crack of dawn, but we don't want to miss out on all the social interactions at night, so we either take a nap or stay really caffeinated. And then we drink lots of beer. Beer is a common staple. Not wine or liquor, but beer.
WW: Why beer?
GL: Maybe because it's brewed. Maybe because there are so many varieties of beer and it's a craft, like coffee. And they both taste great, coffee and beer. How can you go wrong with that?
WW: So what was your training regimen like?
GL: I got back from an epic snowboarding vacation just four days before the competition. But I had worked on the roast with my roasters before I went away. So the week I got back, the coffee beans were just rested enough so the beans were ready for extraction. So when I started on my training machine, they were just perfect. I pulled hundreds of shots. I worked full eight-hour days and then moved over to the practice machine and practiced for four hours. I got home from work super caffeinated and had dinner and a beer and went to bed.
WW: OZO owner Justin Hartman was your trainer. Did he punch you in the stomach while you pulled shots?
GL: He was on me. He stood over my shoulder with a sample score card: "This one was pulled too fast, you didn't put the portafilter into the machine at the right time." That was really helpful.
WW: So what was your theme music for your competition routine?
GL: I made a funky jazzy mix and kept the vibe flowing for fifteen minutes, thirty seconds. So I knew that if I hit that last song, I had forty seconds 'til I hit fifteen minutes.
WW: Tell me about your specialty drink -- the part of the competition where you come up with an espresso drink of your own creation.
GL: I started by heating up a pan on a hot plate and throwing some dry sliced almonds on it, letting them cook until they were just getting toasted. Then I poured some vanilla-bean milk over the toasted almonds and let that steep for a few minutes. That makes a really nice true vanilla almond milk. And I combined the espresso with some lavender honey I made the night before with some lavender from my friend's garden and then added the milk to that. Lastly, I sprinkled some shaved cinnamon on top. You could pick out every single flavor in there. I call it a Bee's Knees, because the beans are so keen, if you know what I mean.
WW: We read that you thought it was important that a career barista like yourself won, instead of one of the ringers there like Phillip Search, coffee roaster for Boulder-based Caffè Sole, who's also a national barista competitor.
GL: This is a barista competition, not a roaster competition or a coffee-delivery competition. You can't walk into Caffè Sole and ask Phillip Search to make you a cappuccino. I think he does a great job, but this is what we do every day. I think the contest should be tailored more to an active barista, not just someone in coffee. Otherwise it just gives others a chance to step aside and practice a year in advance and never actually see a customer, never actually do any customer-service work. Look at what happened at the Western Regional Barista Competition in LA this past weekend.
WW: What happened?
GL: Three baristas from [Portland roaster] Intelligentsia won the three top spots. These guys have apparently been training rigorously to win the competition, rather than pulling a full day's work. This is extra curricular for me. I am busting my ass on a daily basis serving 300 people. I am not saying these guys aren't, but I just know there is talk going around the industry that there are guys who are not serving fulltime.
WW: I noticed Boulder baristas did a lot better than their Denver colleagues at the Mountain Regional competition.
GL: We are picky up here, man. We like our good food, our good beer, our nice cars, our beautiful bodies. We are not slacking up here, man. We want the best of the best. You can get a great cup of coffee in lots of places in Boulder. I think that's not as easy in Denver. Most places down there don't understand good coffee. Up here in Boulder, man, I live and breath it every day of the week.
WW: Them's fightin' words.
GL: I hope so. I want people in the barista community and coffee shop owners saying everyone can do better. Specialty coffee is taking over.
WW: So are you getting more ladies because of the competition?
GL: I am about as single as they come. I think I am in a relationship with coffee. Coffee has taken over my life and the ladies just have to understand that. I am married to my work.