My first introduction to it was the coffee ice cream my grandma always kept at her house. As a little girl, I remember feeling a little mischievous eating it as it made me feel "very adult."
Fast forward to high school. My mom never drank coffee and I realized I needed something more than a bucket of ice-cold water dumped on my head in the morning to get out of bed (yes, that happened). Insert instant Folgers.
Then college hit and I upgraded that powder coffee to good ol' Starbucks. There I stayed for a long while, thinking I loved coffee but I needed a lot of cream and sugar to actually enjoy it.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I happened to stumble upon Presta Coffee Roasters. I was looking for a "cute Tucson coffee shop" to take some headshots and fell in love with the hip and trendy vibe Presta gave. I just had the mindset that all coffee was sort of the same. What I didn’t realize was that I was so wrong.
At first sip, I was hooked.
I was amazed at how delicious it tasted and curious as to why it was so smooth and flavorful. That was when I learned about specialty coffee, and I haven’t been able to go back to anything else since.
"It’s an industry-led approach combining the nuances seen in the wine, culinary, and craft cocktail world," said Blair Smith, general manager and roaster at Presta Coffee Roasters. "Coffee is not just a beverage, but also an integral ingredient that is being thoughtfully crafted. For many of us roasters and retail coffee shops, we see coffee as a way of connecting, but maintaining that this ingredient is elevated and prepared in a way that expresses all of the hard work to achieve quality."
So you might be thinking to yourself, "What is specialty coffee and why are we talking about it?" Well, because if you love supporting small businesses, small farmers, and artists, then you’ll want to keep reading.
The SCA (Specialty Coffee Association)defines specialty coffee as "the highest quality green coffee beans roasted to their greatest flavor potential by true craftspeople and then properly brewed." This means there are a lot of hands in the pot making sure this coffee tastes delicious; from the farmers to the green coffee buyers, to the roasters, and last but not least, the baristas.
Each and every person involved is there to make sure coffee is crafted in a way that brings out the unique flavors of the beans themselves — assuring the experience you have as the consumer is a high-quality one.
Presta at 501 E. Ninth St. is hosting SCA 2023 U.S. Championship Preliminaries from Friday, August 26 - Sunday, August 28, which includes the Barista competition, Brewers Cup, and Cup Tasters.
During the Barista competition, which is timed at 15 minutes, competitors must prepare and serve espressos, cappuccinos, and a personally designed signature beverage for four sensory judges; all while being assessed on their preparation abilities by two technical judges.
"Competition elevates coffee in such a way that allows change in the coffee scene," said Smith, who has competed and judged at the national level. "It has shaped the way we serve coffee and the coffee that we drink. Not to mention, competition serves as a way to push yourself as a barista."
The Brewers Cup is where competitors perform brewing coffee by hand, promoting manual coffee brewing, and service excellence.
The Cup Tasters is a competition that tests sensory skills and then awards the professional coffee cupper who demonstrates speed, skill, and accuracy in distinguishing the taste differences in the specialty coffees.
The top few people from each category will get an automatic spot in the qualifiers which are the semi-nationals.
Curtis Zimmerman, owner of Presta has been in the specialty coffee scene now for 10 years, and makes it a point to ensure the connection between farmers and the consumer.
"I am passionate about specialty coffee because of the community it creates," said Zimmerman. "I know many of the farmers I source my coffee beans from. I have traveled and stayed at their farms, eaten with their families, and picked the coffee cherries off the trees."
"I love knowing that we are supporting small farms producing new and inventive coffees, and then roasting them so that it keeps those intended flavors. I love hiring artists to brew the beans into a beautiful cup served to customers that are excited about what we bring to Tucson."
The preliminaries for the regional competition will be held at Presta’s 501 E. Ninth St. location from Friday, August 26 - Sunday, August 28. It will be open for public viewing but spectators will not be able to ask questions or engage with competitors.
For those who'd like to compete, it's $40 to participate in each desired competition and the deadline to register is Monday, August 15 at 11:59 p.m. Judging spots are also available at prestacoffee.com and if anyone has any questions about volunteer opportunities please email Blair Smith at email@example.com.
We are excited to see Tucson get some national attention in the specialty coffee world thanks to Presta for not only bringing the competition to town, but for its ethically-sourced and beautifully roasted coffee as well.
For more information on the SCA 2023 Championship Preliminaries, visit prestacoffee.com.
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