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urban COFFEE lounge baristas brew up award-winning coffee

Baristas Andrew Milstead, left, and Laila Ghambari tend the counter at the urban COFFEE lounge in Juanita Village. Both competed at a regional barista competition with Milsteadd taking second and Ghambari taking third overall. - Matt Phelps/Kirkland Reporter
Baristas Andrew Milstead, left, and Laila Ghambari tend the counter at the urban COFFEE lounge in Juanita Village. Both competed at a regional barista competition with Milsteadd taking second and Ghambari taking third overall.
— image credit: Matt Phelps/Kirkland Reporter

Most baristas train for their job for about three or four hours. urban COFFEE lounge baristas Andrew Milstead and Laila Ghambari had to train a little bit harder.

"We put in 12 to 15 hour days in the last few weeks," said Milstead.

The two baristas were not just training for their current positions but to compete in the Northwest Regional Barista Competition during Coffee Fest, which was held at the Seattle Convention Center Sept. 25-27.

Milstead took first in the Milrock Latte Art competition and second in the individual barista competition. Ghambari took third in the individual barista competition out of 40 competitors.

All the hard work paid off for the two coffee chefs as the urban COFFEE lounge took first place in the Milrock Latte Art competition.

"I think Laila and Andrew proved with their achievements over the competition weekend that urban COFFEE lounge knows proper coffee," said urban COFFEE lounge owner Alicia Miner. "They wouldn't work for a cafe that didn't appreciate what they can do. I am extremely proud to have them on staff. Merely seeing the pictures and hearing about the competitions doesn't do them justice. This was an intense process that took many hours of their own unpaid time and money just because they love it and want to be the best. Their competitors were from around the globe including a competitor from a major coffee growing region in Guatemala and several returning competitors from top cafes around the country."

The competition was held in front of a crowd of several hundred people.

"It was definitely an intense competition," said Milstead. "Everyone worked really hard for it. The Northwest is normally one of the more competitive competitions. There weren't quite as many people competing this year but the caliber of the competition was still high."

During the competition, seven judges critique the baristas on everything from cleanliness to the technical aspects. Each barista has to make one espresso, one cappuccino and one signature drink.

"This was my first time competing," said Ghambari. "I wasn't really nervous being up there in front of people because I have done public speaking but I just wanted to do well. I was surprised. I had a lot of people helping me out so I give them a lot of credit."

Both baristas were the only ones in the competition from the Eastside, something that makes Miner very proud.

"I would have been proud of them merely entering," said Miner. "But to have them place so high was incredible. Patrons should want to spend their time and coffee money at a place that houses this caliber of barista."

For Milstead, it was his third time competing and he was thrilled with second place.

"Billy WIlson got first place and he has been competing for eight years," said Milstead. "It is just great to be ranked up there with him."

Making coffee for these baristas is not about putting a cup in an automated machine and pressing a button. For baristas who compete it is more of an art.

"It is a lot of practice and work," said Ghambari. "I knew that everyone there had a passion for coffee."

Both of the urban COFFEE lounge baristas helped each other to prepare for the competition.

"It was very well deserved," said Milstaed about his coworker's placing. "She spent tons of time on this."

The urban COFFEE lounge has some intense competition of its own every day as they can see the Starbucks across the parking lot from their front door.

"I think (the Northwest Regional Barista Competition) shows people who work in Seattle that there are places to go outside of Seattle that care about the craft," said Ghambari.

Milstead and Ghambari are starting to prepare for thier next competition when they go to Anaheim, Cal. in March.

urban COFFEE lounge is located at 9744 N.E. 119th Way in Kirkland. Call 425-820-7788 or visit www.urbancoffeelounge.com.

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