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Travel Costa Mesa Blog

Portola Coffee Lab Prepares for Barista Competition at Theorem

Posted on March 1, 2013 | 12:25pm | Travel Costa Mesa

To prepare for the upcoming 2013 Southwest Regional Barista Competition & Brewers Cup, Portola Coffee Lab is using Theorem as a training ground.  Portola is sending two talented representatives, Ryan Redden and Truman Severson, to compete for the title of best barista in the West and the opportunity to advance to the national competition.

Judges Sheet at Theorem

Baristas are expected to execute the preparation and service of 3 different beverages for 4 judges for a total of 12 beverages in 15 minutes.  Judges grade the baristas on presentation, crema, balance (sweet vs. acidic and complex vs. simple flavors), mouth-feel, body-feel, latte art, creativity and explanation.

Together, Redden and Severson form “Team Portola,” the lone representatives from Orange County at the SWRBCPortola Coffee Lab is already known throughout Costa Mesa, Orange County and Southern California as one of the best places for quality beverages and first-class service.  Entry in the competition will only widen Portola’s reputation to a national level.


The original concept behind creating Theorem, the six-seat private tasting bar at the OC Mix, was for use as a space dedicated to experimentation and creation.  The brew bar serves beverages presentation style in a unique, intimate setting.

Leading up to the competition, Theorem will be used exclusively as a competition simulator where Severson and Redden will practice their competitive sets while guests serve as sensory judges, grading a range of aspects from the flavor of the beverage to the barista’s ability to articulate his explanation of the drink served.

Beverage Prep

Severson served his competitive set: one espresso, one cappuccino and one “signature” beverage.  He also included a brewed version of the espresso to highlight how different the same coffee can taste when prepared differently.

Our first beverage, the espresso and brewed coffee, was Yukro from Ethiopia.  Severson used the Yukro exclusively throughout the presentation and described it as “big, juicy and fruit-forward.”  He explained the lemon and cherry notes and how the coffee has a big honey characteristic.  He further explained that bees are kept on the grounds where the coffee is grown, which adds to the points of synergy in the characteristics in the coffee.

Portola Espresso

The next beverage was the cappuccino.  The natural acidity of the Yukro “takes a back seat” when the steamed milk is added.  The cappuccino was smooth and sweet and the latte art was certainly impressive and added  a nice visual touch to the beverage.  One sip of Severson’s cappuccino is to have an immediate feeling of comfort.  It’s as close to a hug as a beverage can get.  As we consumed our cappuccinos, Severson mused about how something so simple as milk, water and coffee can be such a magical experience.

Portola Cappuccino

Once the cappuccinos were consumed, it was time for the signature beverage.  As a self-proclaimed cocktail nerd, Severson used his passion for a great libation as the inspiration for his signature beverage.  Although his beverage is nameless, Severson referred to his “coffee cocktail” as a “coffee old fashioned.”  The combination is the same, minus the whiskey.  Severson wanted to maintain the simple formula of bitters, sugar and kiss of citrus and a combination of brewed coffee and espresso without the crema to create the mouthwatering treat. The outcome produces something as simple and timeless as an old fashioned – a big smile.  Even if your palate isn’t the most sophisticated, an understanding of the complex flavor isn’t a mandatory pre-requisite for enjoying the drink.  The first drop is sure to bring a smile to your face, even if you don’t understand why.

Signature Beverage

As Severson completed his competition set, he continued on about his love of cocktails, particularly sours, or shaken beverages.   He said that coffee seems to always go well in place of spirits in sours, so to prove his point he created a truly unique concoction known simply as “coffee sour number 14” that is plum bitters, under-ripe California grapes (for sweetness) and egg whites.  Just watching the drink come to life is a saliva-inducing experience.  The flavor is incredible and has the ability to awaken slumbering taste buds while the frothy, smooth texture adds a depth that is unlike any other coffee beverage.

Coffee Sour 14

As our tasting came to an end, Severson said that all of the bizarre ingredients used and unique beverages created at Theorem is all about bringing the focus back to Portola Coffee and the simplicity of coffee in its purest form.  While the bizarre beverages exemplify certain flavors within a coffee, it’s all so guests can gain a fuller understanding of coffee and enables them to recognize those flavors in other drinks and have the ability to better communicate in coffee.

End of the tasting

Needless to say, a reservation at Theorem is certainly a wonderful experience.  It’s a true treat for your senses and, whether it was your intention or not, you will definitely walk away with a much greater appreciation of coffee. You might get out of there with the idea to take a barista course in Sydney, which is not a bad idea if you are a coffee lover. Be sure to make a reservation to taste Severson’s competitive set.  The only drawback to the Theorem experience is attempting to stomach the office coffee the next day.

Team Portola Buttons