Any Barista will tell you that there’s more to creating delicious frozen coffee than pouring your leftover morning joe and milk into the blender, but no barista in town knows it better than Mike Mettendorf, General Manager of The Pearl Cup. Yesterday Mettendorf packed up his portafilters and headed to the Ultimate Barista Challenge at the Southwest Foodservice Expo for the Frappe Challenges.
The Competition: The Ultimate Barista Challenge is a travelling competition locals can enter for a chance to unseat the current title-holder, Ultimate Barista James Duncan. Duncan has been a barista for four years, and has held on to his title for the last three. He has faced challengers across the country, and as far away as Shanghai. Duncan and Mettendorf had two chances to wow the esteemed panel of judges, who would evaluate each beverage on technique, presentation, and taste. The panel of judges included Chef Heather Karima of The Culinary School of Fort Worth, Chef Kevin Kelly of Kevin’s Travel, former barista Jae Duncan, and Danny Johns of WholeCup Coffee Consulting, who also emceed the competition. The only recipe requirement was that each frappe incorporate at least 1.5 ounces of freshly brewed espresso.
Jump if you like frappes.
The First Round: For the first round, both contestants were given five minutes to prep, five to blend, and five to clean up their stations. As the clock began, Mettendorf set out rimming four highball glasses with agave nectar and vanilla sugar which he caramelized over an open flame, creating a delightful housing for his lavender iced americano frappe. Meanwhile, Duncan tested the tamp (how tightly espresso is packed inside the portafilter) of his espresso for his chocolate strawberry frappe. As the blending portion of the competition began, Duncan added vanilla gelato, fresh strawberries, chocolate sauce, espresso and ice to the blender, which to his surprise, defied his orders to blend. About a minute of his time was lost as cords and switches were checked. Electricity was restored, and the smooth, creamy concoction was dispensed into stemware and garnished with a chocolate covered strawberry. Mettendorf shook his espresso and ice to aerate it before adding milk and pouring it into the blender (which accomplished its task without delay). He then added it to his artfully rimmed highball glasses, topped each with additional espresso, and garnished them with a sprig of fresh lavender.
The judges raved about Mettendorf’s presentation, but took issue with the chunky texture of the ice and absence of the lavender in the overall flavor profile. While the judges enjoyed the smooth texture of Duncan’s drink, they agreed that they would have preferred the espresso to take on a more forward presence. It seemed they were neck and neck.
The Second Round: The Ultimate Barista prepared a creative mixture of mango gelato, blueberries, ginger syrup, and espresso, while Mettendorf decided to use the judges’ feedback to improve upon the same lavender iced americano. Duncan’s frappe had velvety consistency. The earthiness of the blueberries and flavor of espresso feigned the presence of chocolate (one of the judges even asked about the chocolate he used) and paired well with bright mango and warm ginger flavors. I would have said he knocked it out of the park. The presentation was a little sloppy, as several of the glasses were presented with globs of delightful frozen goodness dripping down the side. The judges commented that the ginger was a nice pairing, but that he would have done well to use half as much. This cleared the way for the challenger to take the lead. He presented his improved frappe to the judges, who appreciated the stronger contribution from the additional sprig of lavender and the considerable textural improvements from the additional time in the blender. This celebration of great espresso in a frosty format was not as sweet as Duncan’s dessert-like beverages. The sugar on the rim was just enough to cut through the acidity.
The Victor: In the end, the judges named Dallas’ own Mike Mettendorf the winner of the Ultimate Barista Frappe Challenges. In addition to bragging rights, he received a brand new Vitamix blender in which to continue his adventures in frozen coffee. When the points were totaled from all segments of the Ultimate Barista Challenge, it was determined that James Duncan would remain the Ultimate Barista. Do I smell a rematch brewing? Maybe he’ll tell you. Swing by The Pearl Cup on Henderson to congratulate Mike and catch him in action. Look for two new locations to open soon in Richardson and Oak Cliff.