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Java-ganza! Baristas converge on Boston to compete in world championship

Maryam Abdullayeva of Azerbaijan prepares a drink during the 2019 World Barista Championship in the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center on Thursday afternoon.
Maryam Abdullayeva of Azerbaijan prepares a drink during the 2019 World Barista Championship in the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center on Thursday afternoon.(Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe)

Harry Mole’s game face was on. Dressed to compete in a brown leather apron with metal spikes on the strap around his neck, he had a punk rock look as he stood before a panel of judges to show off his barista skills. His goal: to make them the best espresso drink they’d ever tasted.

“I’ve created a rose hydro floral,” he said, explaining one of the ingredients in his signature beverage. “I made this by simmering a dozen Ethiopian rose petals for three hours.”

The judges — also wearing aprons — held clipboards in their hands and listened intently to Mole, occasionally jotting down notes.

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Mole, from South Africa, was one of 55 contestants competing in the 2019 World Barista Championships, which kicked off Thursday at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.

The field of contestants — which also includes baristas from places such as Japan, Kenya, Turkey, Singapore, and Uganda — will be whittled down over the next few days until a champion is crowned Sunday.

Baristas are evaluated on many criteria, including the flavor and taste of each beverage, the visual presentation of their drinks, and the cleanliness of their cups and saucers (spills and drips are a big no-no).

Judges conducts a smell test of a drink prepared by Wojciech Tysler of Ireland.
Judges conducts a smell test of a drink prepared by Wojciech Tysler of Ireland.(Nathan Klima forThe Boston Globe)

Martha Grill, 33, lives in Brazil and has been a barista for a total of two years and eight months.

“I’m a newbie,” she said, with a laugh.

But she’s already proved to be a master at making espresso. She previously came in second and eighth place in her country’s national barista competition, and this year she won it all and was named 2019 Brazilian Barista champion.

She enjoys the competition.

“Once you’re there, in that arena, something else starts to happen, and you’re not yourself anymore,” she said. “It’s magic.”

Boston, MA--04/11/2019--A judge tasted a drink prepared by Maryam Abdullayeva.
Boston, MA--04/11/2019--A judge tasted a drink prepared by Maryam Abdullayeva.(Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe)

The first round of competition is overseen by four sensory judges, one technical judge, and one head judge.

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Each barista must prepare four espressos, four milk drinks, and four original signature drinks in 15 minutes.

“Competitors should strive for a harmonious balance of sweetness, acidity and bitterness,” the official rules state.

When it comes to signature drinks, creativity is key.

“Ingredients must complement and showcase the espresso while creating an interesting taste experience,” the rules state. “Signature beverages with a complimentary blend of creative ingredients and technique will be rewarded with a high score.”

Drinks were poured for judging.
Drinks were poured for judging.(Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe)

For espresso, “The expectation will be a full-bodied, round, and smooth finish.”

The milk beverage should “produce a harmonious balance of rich, sweet milk and espresso.”

“Milk beverages may be served with latte art or with a central circle of white milk,” the rules state. “Latte art expression may take any pattern the competitor chooses.”

The first World Barista Championship was held in Monte Carlo in 2000. This marks the 20th year of the event.

The winner will receive a trophy (shaped like a giant espresso tamper), an espresso machine, grinder, a trip to a coffee growing country, and the chance to serve as an ambassador of the craft.

Judges looked on as Maryam Abdullayeva explained her process of making a drink.
Judges looked on as Maryam Abdullayeva explained her process of making a drink.(Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe)

Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.