http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20 ... ompetition
Petaluma barista aims for gold in coffee competition
JOHN BURGESS / PD
Barista Michi Adams' foaming creations beat out 4,000 other Peet's Coffee employees to win their annual coffee making competition. Adams prepares lattes and other coffee drinks at the Peet's Coffee in Petaluma.
By DIANE PETERSON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Published: Sunday, December 19, 2010 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, December 19, 2010 at 9:40 a.m.
As a pole vaulter at CSU Sacramento, Michi Adams used her natural speed and determination to vault over the bar.
Today, the 25-year-old Petaluman still sets the bar high for herself. But instead of pushing a pole, she pulls award-winning shots of espresso at Peet's Coffee & Tea in Petaluma's Washington Square Shopping Center.
In October, Adams emerged from a field of 4,000 Peet's baristas to compete as one of four regional finalists in Peet's Coffee Barista Competition, held at the company's roasting facility in Alameda.
A mean, lean barista machine, Adams emerged as the champion after crafting beverages for the panel of seven judges: four sensory, two technical and one head judge.
“The judges said it was a warm and inviting presentation,” Adams said during an interview last month at Peet's in Petaluma. “And I got some ideas on how to improve.”
Adams' quest for the championship title started last year, when she made it from the store level to the district level competition. This year, she advanced to the regional level, then went all the way to the finals.
An English major with a fondness for fantasy, Adams chose to compete to the soundtrack from “The Last Unicorn,” the 1982 film based on Peter S. Beagle's tale about a unicorn on an extraordinary quest.
She chose that music because it embodied the difficulty of getting a perfect score.
“Six is the highest,” she said. “It's so rare that it's compared to the unicorn.”
As her lucky charm, Adams wore special unicorn socks to the finals. Her cheering squad — numbering about 20 people — also wore quirky socks in solidarity with the redheaded barista.
“Several managers came from as far away as Portland and Seattle,” she said. “Whenever I finished pouring a drink, everyone cheered.”
In addition to her informative presentation, Adams scored points for multi-tasking and cleaning skills, all important in crafting a cuppa joe.
“I make sure everything is clean,” she said. “Old coffee grinds can leave burnt, sour flavors.”
Pouring a tasty cup of coffee, it turns out, is not just for sleepyheads. And there's more to it than meets the eye.
Adams is one of those espresso geeks who can talk about coffee like a master sommelier talks about wine. She knows about the source of the beans, the flavor profiles of her drinks and how to pair them with food.
“Arabian Mocha Java has nice winey-berry notes,” she said of the beans she chose for the competition. “It has a syrupy mouth feel and dark, chocolate notes in the finish.”
The beans' flavor is layered because they come from Yemen, where coffee farmers trade them like currency.
“The mixing of various ages of beans, which have naturally different flavors, comes through in the cup,” she said. “It's a fruity and lively espresso.”
For the competition, Adams chose a specific roast date for the coffee, to further ensure optimum flavor.
“When it's first roasted, it releases its gases,” she said. “We like to let it sit between 5 to 10 days.”
For her first competition beverage, Adams pulled a single espresso shot to showcase the bean's flavors.
“Pulling espresso is very visual,” she explained, while demonstrating her technique. “We have control, based on how it's looking. The white streaking means it's done.”
Her multi-tasking came in handy for the next beverage, a traditional cappuccino made from a single shot of espresso topped with six ounces of milk and foam.
“It's a lot about the timing,” she said. “As the espresso is pulling, I heat the milk foam ... We look for a texture like melted ice cream.”
Adams uses Berkeley Farms Whole Milk for her foam because it's sweet and creamy. She also pours the milk into a second pitcher, swirls it, then adds it into the cappuccino.
“The judges look for a contrast between the espresso and the foam,” she said. “I do a heart pattern with the foam. It's simple, but it's nice aesthetically.”
For her signature drink, Adams created a classic Caffe Macchiato, with a twist. She put a bit of Dutch Cocoa in the bottom of the cup, topped with a single shot of espresso and a dollop of milk foam.
Between the regionals and the finals, she also added a dusting of unsweetened Dutch cocoa and specific instructions about how to drink it.
“When you taste it, you take a sip, then mix it with the spoon,” she said. “It brings a touch of sweetness.”
Like the coffee she pours so meticulously, the athlete is naturally imbued with energy.
“I like to stay healthy and eat and sleep well,” she said. “Sometimes I have to take a step back and take a deep breath.”
Adams grew up in Rohnert Park and graduated from Rancho Cotate High School in 2003. She landed her first job at Moxie Java in Rohnert Park.
While going to school in Sacramento, she started working for Peet's Coffee, then transferred to the Petaluma shop after graduating in 2008.
Adams met her fiance, Burleigh Termo, while he was training to be a manager at Peet's. He asked her out after last year's competition. The couple plan to marry this October.
As a prize for this year's competition, Adams was given a Willie Wonka-style tour of Peet's roasting plant in Alameda, where she was able to taste the coffee beans as they were being roasted.
“They do several different roasts for each batch, and master roasters taste it each day,” she said. “It's artisan roasting ... Every bean is individual.”
For another prize, Adams was able to choose a local non-profit to support with a donation from Peet's. She selected Petaluma Bounty, an agency that is building a healthy and sustainable food system for the community.
While she enjoys drinking coffee at work, Adams said she switches to green tea in the afternoon for a light pick-me-up. And she's still setting the bar high for herself.
“In the future, I'd like to go to the SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America) and the World Barista Championship,” she said. “I think it would be fun.”