Making latte art is a zenlike activity for these baristas. They're part of a rare breed who can make coffee drinks so expertly that, using a single stream of milk, they can draw squiggly designs into the dark espresso. Pulling a good shot requires that the ground espresso be packed just right. The flow of water through the coffee must be cut off at a precise moment, and the milk has to be steamed to a specific temperature.
"You already have to have a perfect espresso to make latte art in the first place," explains Jon Cates, who hires and trains Broadway Café's baristas. In Italy, people train for about six years to become baristas. Although coffee houses here lack such luxury, Cates' employees do start out washing dishes and bussing tables for a few months before he lets them serve drinks to customers.
Jim Orshel, who was a fixture in Broadway Café before he started working there ("I got hired after I got my coffee-mug tattoo," he brags), remembers his early days fondly. "When I finally made it to the bar, it was really exciting," he recalls. Orshel beams when he recounts a compliment he received from a customer. "It might sound really cheesy, but it made my day. This is what I do six days a week, you know?"
The baristas' seriousness paid off when four Café employees earned an invitation to a 25-person national latte art competition in Seattle last weekend. Ian Tobin and Peter Samuels made it to the final round on Sunday. First place, however, went to a man from Vancouver who pulled some of his shots blindfolded. When the triumphant baristas called us from Spokane, they were wired. "We're pretty caffeinated now," Cates reported. "We didn't get much sleep."
Samuels had an idea of why that might be. "We walked all over Seattle and went to every coffee shop we could find."