Event is 'like the barista Olympics'

This weekend in Los Angeles, Andrew Ogden will have hundreds of eyes watching him as he prepares three caffeinated concoctions for the discerning palates judging the U.S. Barista Competition.

But on Wednesday in Costa Mesa, within the Portola Coffee Lab's Theorem concept bar, it was a friendly practice round, a chance for him to continue perfecting his drink-making and presentation skills before the big event.

This weekend is "like the barista Olympics," said Truman Severson, a fellow Portola barista who also will be competing.

Portola is co-hosting the event, which is a regional qualifying round for participants from the Western U.S. before the nationwide finals this April in — where else — Seattle.

Portola, located in South Coast Collection's trendy OC Mix, has won local awards and developed a loyal following since opening in 2011 with its scientific, precise and gadget-filled approach to serving coffee by lab coat-wearing employees.

Co-owner Christa Duggan said Portola's co-hosting of the high-profile regional event further establishes her business in the world of serious coffee-making.

"It's great news for Orange County," she said.

Ogden agreed.

"We're definitely not to be trifled with, to say the least," he said. "We've got a deep bench of talented people."

This weekend will be Ogden's foray into the barista competition. It's Severson's third year. In 2013, he placed fourth in regionals and advanced to nationals, where he didn't place.

All participants will prepare three types of drinks — an espresso, a cappuccino and a customized "signature" drink — within 15 minutes. As they do so, they will be judged on their technical skills, overall presentation and, of course, the resulting beverage.

Portola is organizing a bus trip Saturday for people who want to cheer on the Orange County team at Lot 613, a multipurpose venue downtown, where the regionals will take place.

The $20 tickets include bus fare, all-you-can-drink coffee and espresso during the event, a $5 Portola gift card and a "Team Portola" sticker. Tickets are available by searching for "Portola Coffee Lab" at Eventbrite.com. For more information, email info@portolacoffeelab.com or call (949) 284-0596.

Ogden said he plans to conclude his presentation by acknowledging those in the coffee community who may not get always their due credit — the farmers, the millers and the like. Then the next step is to just "simplify," he said.

"Because sometimes the best way for a coffee to speak," Ogden said, "is for us to shut up and let it speak for itself."

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