Coffee Shops

Coffee Fest Atlanta 2015: Best Coffee Shop Competition

Gratuitous espresso shots.

Gratuitous espresso shots.

Last month, I had the pleasure of covering the 2015 Southeastern Regional Coffee Fest, which took place in Atlanta. The Coffee Fest is a trade show and coffee education opportunity held in four different regions each year—upcoming ones for 2015 will be held in Tokyo, Chicago, and Portland.

I’m writing a post on my favorite products from the Coffee Fest soon, but there’s no question that the flashiest part of the Fest is the barista competitions.

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I am no stranger to latte art and best espresso competitions, and I’ll be writing posts about those particular match-ups in the coming weeks here at the Gourmez. But I wanted to start out my Coffee Fest Atlanta coverage with the newest barista contest, one that only got its start in 2012: America’s Best Coffeehouse.

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Judging the drinks.

Judging the drinks.

What takes place at the regional coffee fests are only the last stage in a multi-pronged competition that begins with an application to compete and moves on to fan voting on the Best Coffeehouse website and secret shopper reports from the actual coffeehouse locations. From those scores, six semi-finalists are chosen to compete at the event itself.

The winners of the America's Best Coffeehouse Competition.

The winners of the America’s Best Coffeehouse Competition.

They all share the same basic set-up behind the counter, but other than that, the teams bring in their own materials. They get an hour total of prep, customer service time, and clean-up. Each semi-finalist team is comprised of three employees who have worked at the shop for at least 120 days. Each coffeehouse must offer standard espresso drinks, two coffee varieties, a flavored latte, and a specialty drink during their competition round.

Peregrine Espresso's pourover set-up.

Peregrine Espresso’s pourover set-up.

Semi-finalists are judged on their expertise on coffee, their skill at drink making, their customer service, and their teamwork by at least 30 judges who mingle in with the Coffee Fest attendees during the café’s 30-minute period of serving drinks.

Ready to judge!

Ready to judge!

A pair of judges also watches from behind the scenes and rates the competitors on an impressively detailed checklist. You can peruse that here.

The top three teams do it all again during the final round on the last day of the festival.

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Snappy’s Cafe

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Snappy’s Café is a prime example of what I consider a cozy neighborhood coffee shop. Local art rotates on a regular basis. It’s quite small, with seating for roughly 15 people that consists of tables, two bars, and mismatched, cushion-covered benches. There are a few outlets available, and wireless is free. I’ve only seen it busy during the afterschool crowd in the late afternoon.

Of course, the counter full of turtle collectibles and fridge topped with stuffed turtles adds an adorable amount of whimsy.

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I don’t know how they fit in musicians, but Snappy’s Café also hosts music nights a few times a month including sing-alongs! The only drawback in atmosphere is that it can get quite stuffy in summer heat.

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1 Weekend, 8 New Raleigh Hotspots

Last summer, the husband and I moved away from the Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina after spending eight years watching the cities expand and their food scenes skyrocket off the heat-charts. Seriously, the New York Times is obsessed with the place! So I was excited to head back for the weekend in mid-September—my head’s still spinning from the other side of the country over all the new foodie destinations that have sprung up just this past year.

Downtown Raleigh

Downtown Raleigh

While my husband gave a presentation at NC DevCon, I decided to spend my weekend exploring as many of downtown Raleigh’s newly opened spots as possible. Why Raleigh and not the rest of the Triangle? I had no car and was staying downtown. It’s that simple. I needed to focus on places I could walk to.

After our flight in, my first stop was Jose and Sons (327 W. Davie St.) for dinner. It’s the newest incarnation of one of my favorite Triangle restaurants, Jibarra, located in the fast-redeveloping Warehouse District right by the train depot.

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Jose and Sons is now more Southern-Mexican fusion, whereas it had been pure upscale Mexican food in the past. While I remain skeptical about the value of $8 guacamole—

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–and the shrimps and grits didn’t have nearly enough heat for me—

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–I have to give solid props to the Booze and Mango cocktail.

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That’s dessert in a glass, and it’s a beautifully balanced one, too. Vanilla rum, Grand Marnier, cream, and what Jose and Son’s calls a mango popsicle and I’d call a mango-flavored ice cube make for a worthy night cap.

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