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Coffee clash: Brooklyn baristas let it drip at java-making competition

The Brooklyn Paper
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This Gowanus barista is doing everything she can to win the cup.

Rose-Emma Lunderman has put her brews, sweat and tears into becoming America’s espresso master — spending more than 100 hours grinding beans and frothing milk in preparation for the Northeast Regional Barista Championship this weekend.

“This is a craft versus going to Starbucks and pressing one button — every little thing counts,” said Lunderman.

The hometown favorite will battle 28 other doyens of the demitasse at a chichi Manhattan showroom for a shot at the national title this spring.

And Lunderman, who has worked at Root Hill Cafe on Fourth Avenue for the past eight months while moonlighting as a Shakespearean actress, is taking the competition seriously.

“I’m so nervous and excited that I’ve been having dreams where I bring a sword to my espresso machine.”

Indeed, the tournament will be the ultimate test of honor, passion and professionalism.

Java jockeys will have only 15 minutes to serve four espressos, four cappuccinos, and four signature drinks. Their fate is in the hands of seven eagle-eyed judges, who will mercilessly rate them on taste, cleanliness, consistency, and other technical details. Only the top six will go to the national showdown in Portland, Ore. in April.

Since December, Lunderman has become the coffee world’s Rocky, steaming and sipping late into the night to perfect her grapefruit espresso at Dallis Bros. Coffee in Queens — a boot camp for aspiring baristas.

But she won’t be the only Brooklyn brewmaster competing.

Lunderman will face off against fellow Brooklynite Justin Schulz, of Roberta’s restaurant in Bushwick, whose secret weapon will be a full-bodied espresso with a touch of green apple and fennel.

And working in the coffee business in a borough where people are so passionate about java that they even serve it to babies, Schulz says he and other Brooklyn baristas have an advantage.

“We’re already winning,” said Schulz, who modestly sized up his Brooklyn competition. “We all came here just to hone our craft.”

Teresa von Fuchs, a Dallis Bros. roaster and judge at this year’s tournament, said that baristas must be “extremely smooth” presenters to win — and it’s never over until the final shot.

“People think what we do is silly, that we’re just waxing poetic about coffee,” von Fuchs said. “This will be the best cafe service you’ll have in your life, and a lot can happen in 15 minutes.”

Preliminary rounds will be held at 7W Event Studios [7 W. 34th St. near Fifth Avenue in Midtown] on Saturday from 11 am to 5 pm. Finals are on Sunday. For info, usbaristachampionship.org">visit usbaristachampionship.org.

Reach Kate Briquelet at kbriquelet@cnglocal.com or by calling her at (718) 260-2511.

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