A group of skilled baristas from all over the country gather in a tasteful coffee shop in Los Angeles for a coffee competition. They’ve worked hard to get here, hand-crafted their costumes, and fine-tuned the ingredients to make their signature beverages. They’ve trimmed the velvet on their Prince outfits and spent hours buffing the leather brim of their witch hats. A trio of judges sit uncomfortably close to the competitors, rubrics in hand, their palates cringing. Audience anticipation is high—what will the next competitor bring to the table? Will the aftertaste of their coffee concoction linger in the throats of the judges? Will anybody barf?
And then Erik Staack, a Blue Bottle Wholesale Trainer, steps out on to the stage dressed as “Pocket” the Homeless Cat-Villain, ready to prepare his signature drink—a combination of mouth-ground coffee and catnip. This is the 1st annual World’s Worst Coffee Competition.
Held in early March at Dinosaur Coffee in Los Angeles, the competition seeks to be a “fun counter” to the tight-lipped seriousness of traditional coffee competitions. Ben and Michelle Hantoot, owners of Dinosaur Coffee, always wanted the cafe to be a place for “weird and offbeat events.” When a customer and coffee super-friend suggested the idea, the Hantoots knew they had found just such a contest.
Judged by Tony Konecny (formerly of Intelligentsia, Victrola, and his own eponymous Tonx Coffee brand), Lizz Hudson (formerly of Stumptown), and celebrity judge David Pinsof of Cards Against Humanity, contestants from some of the top specialty coffee cafes in the greater Los Angeles area competed to create the most disgusting cup of coffee possible. Based on a loose approximation of actual coffee competition judging, contestants were rated on aroma, mouthfeel, flavor, and “aftertaste” as well as performance, “service vessel”, and outfit. The winner would walk away with the coveted World’s Worst Coffee Championship spoon. “Our goal,” says Ben Hantoot, “was to create an event that brought the local coffee community together for a night of pure fun.”
Aside from a barely averted late-round walkout from judges too disgusted to continue, the goal of fun, or some form of it, was certainly achieved. Christopher “Nicely” Alameda, the head barista at Menotti’s, poured a full tin of Chock Full ‘o’ Nuts into a French press before finishing it off with heaping spoonfuls of creamy, white lard. Tayler Mehit, a trainer at Four Barrel in San Francisco, dressed in a full-on Prince costume, made a concoction out of 18-month old, mud-dried Robusta green coffee, and what she described as “dove’s tears.” Hantoot admits it tasted “truly horrible.”
What sticks out the most in Hantoot’s mind as the “most memorable moment” of the inaugural WWCC was Devin Chapman of Verve LA, who brewed his coffee with a cheese made with “literally” the same bacteria that crops up when one doesn’t properly wash their nether-regions. The resulting flavor was so horrible, so putrid, the assorted judges gagged and attempted to flee in disgust. In Hantoot's words, “We passed the cheese around for everyone to smell, and oh, my God.”
In the end, prizes were awarded. Tayler Mehit and her Purple Rain-tastic beverage took home the lauded spoon—the bowl of it reading “I’m just the worst”—and a handmade dunce cap. Erik Staack, the competition’s runner-up, walked away with a $10 gift certificate to Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. Next year, the Hantoots hope to encourage competitors to bring enough coffee for each and every member of the audience to “enjoy” a cup. As the competition fades, the scent of genitalia cheese still ripe in the air, it would be remiss for anyone to say that the first ever World’s Worst Coffee Competition was anything but a success.
Noah Sanders helms Sprudge.com’s Bay Area desk, and is a contributor to SF Weekly, and The Bold Italic. Read more Noah Sanders on Sprudge.