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Wednesday, April 17, 2024
Baristas brew black gold at Virgil Starbucks competition
Rachel Linthorne shares some laughs with other Starbucks employees before the competition gets started. EVAN LOREE
Louis Phan walks the judges through his pour method, suggesting they nose the coffee before taking their first sip. EVAN LOREE
From left, Dillon Gordon and Colleen Deforest judge the Starbucks barista competition. EVAN LOREE

Whose cup o’ Joe gets the judges jonesing the most?

If you asked some of the folks at Starbucks in Virgil last Thursday afternoon, Scooter Sousa brewed the best. 

Sousa, who works at a Fort Erie Starbucks, was the winner of the company’s district-wide barista contest held in NOTL and has the opportunity to move up to increasingly higher levels of the competition.

The finals will take place in June in Seattle, where 23 of the company’s best will go mug-to-mug with their signature drinks.

Starbucks will send the winner on a free trip to Hacienda Alsacia, the company’s coffee farm in Costa Rica.

Internal barista competitions began in 2013 but this is the first time one has spanned Canada and the United States.

A news release estimated 15,000 stores are participating, each represented by one hourly paid employee.

As baristas in green aprons milled about the small Virgil shop, Jack Fox, a shop manager from Niagara Falls, was snapping photos and trading smiles with his friends and co-workers.

He compared the role of the baristas in the competition to that of a sommelier, walking the judges through the taste of their brews and explaining where they get their flavours and aromas.

“There’s more to it than beans and water,” said Liz Lawrence, one of the nine baristas to compete in Virgil.

“There are so many levels of complexity and nuance to coffee. The littlest things can completely change a cup of coffee,” the four-year barista added.

The taste of a particular coffee bean varies depending on where it’s grown, Lawrence explained, with African coffees having a more fruity flavour, while Latin American beans are more chocolatey.

Even the elevation it is grown at can alter the acidity of the bean, she said.

While Lawrence was not among the competition’s finalists, her peer Rachel Linthorne tied for second with Cheri Smith.

“I have met all of my greatest friends through working at Starbucks,” Linthorne.

In fact, she began her java journey with Starbucks: the first cup of coffee she ever had, she recalled, was its light roast “True North Blend.”

She shared it with a stranger who has since become her best friend, she said. 

Louis Phan has been with the company for five years and likes it so much he wants to start his own coffee shop one day.

“It’s kind of a ritual for me. It’s a very meditative and therapeutic experience,” he said.

The next stage of the competition begins in April.

Winners in their respective districts will go on to compete across Niagara, looking to impress the company’s judges with their signature brews.


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