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Starbucks barista generates buzz with coffee competition

June 22, 2015

To hear Jasmine Hect speak about coffee is akin to hearing a sommelier discuss wine.

The 21-year-old Wayne State student and Starbucks barista’s knowledge of the caffeinated bean would enlighten even the most ardent cup of joe consumer.

“There is more to coffee than just being a caffeine vector,” said Hect, a barista at the Starbucks on Anthony Wayne Drive that is franchised by Aramark Corporation. “It is like wine. There’s the bean, the fruit, where it’s grown, how it’s washed and roasted. All of these things influence the flavor.”

It’s this expertise (along with her gregarious personality) that helped get Hect to the 2015 Starbucks Barista Championships. She was chosen from all of the licensed Starbucks store baristas in Michigan and northern Ohio to compete in the regional competition that takes place July 15-16 in York, Pennsylvania.

If she impresses the judges there, Hect and another winner will advance to nationals in Seattle — the Starbucks motherland. Hect will then face off against others from around the U.S. This is the first year the Starbucks Barista Championships makes its way to American soil. For the last few years, Starbucks has held a similar competition in Europe.

For those unaware, a barista is something of a mixologist. They spend hours steaming milk to a velvety foam, pulling espresso shots and perfecting latte art (such as a heart or leaf design in the foam). They also smell, slurp and pair coffee with different foods to see what flavors they pick out with each combination.

At the regional competition, Hect must craft three Starbucks Flat White drinks — shots of ristretto, steamed whole milk and a velvety micro-foam topper — with latte art of her choosing.

At the competition, Hect will present a signature drink she invented: an espresso-mocha-raspberry-infused whipped cream atop a single shot of ristretto. The second part of the regional competition also includes a tasting for the judges, where Hect will choose two to four coffees and incorporate sight, sound, touch or smell stimuli to complement the beverages.

“They give you a lot of creative freedom,” she said. “I’ll probably bring a visual aid that will help with certain flavor notes I can talk about during the tasting, such as citrus fruits or chocolate.”

Hect is quick to point out that baristas don’t just make coffee. They are also the face of the company. What’s more, baristas must connect with people before they feel human from that day’s first pick-me-up.

“An underlying factor of this competition is customer service — personality and how you engage with the customer,” she said. “I’ve always been about that. I’m excited to represent Wayne State and Aramark.”

As Hect enters her senior year at Wayne State, the Honors psychology major is on the pre-med track with the long-term goal of obtaining an M.D. or Ph.D. She also minors in dance. She’s lived on and off campus, but has always resided in Detroit during her time at WSU.

Hect said she, too, appreciates a good cup of coffee and drinks a healthy amount per day. “But with every cup, I have water. The feeling of dehydration and that my heart might stop isn’t worth it,” she joked.

*Story and photo courtesy of Today@wayne.edu