Like millions of people who have a tough time getting started in the morning, Abby Lancaster has a love affair with coffee.
The 25-year-old has been an employee at Winter Garden-based Axum Coffee since dropping out of graduate school to look for something she could be passionate about.
The art of the coffee bean was “how I won over my boyfriend,” she said, discovering her vocation and earning a chance to compete this weekend in CoffeeChamps for a chance to qualify in the U.S. Coffee Championships.
Lancaster is a barista at the Orlando Cat Café in the Four Corners area of Lake County, where Axum Coffee operates the coffee shop as part of an unusual operation that encourages adoption of cats through the Animal League, a Groveland-based rescue operation.
She will compete in Knoxville, Tenn., against other baristas around the nation to show off what she can do with $8-a-pound Ethiopian coffee.
In 15 minutes, the barista must prepare and serve espressos and signature beverages for judges basing their score on presentation, dress and taste. Lancaster will explain her actions and selection as she creates the coffee.
“We’ve been practicing around six months now trying to make sure [the] routines are done perfectly,” Lancaster said. In a recent session, she was up until 2 a.m. practicing her set.
“I probably consumed about 15 to 20 shots of the coffee,” Lancaster said. “I think I finally fell asleep around 7 a.m.”
She hopes to entice tasters with “notes of lavender, Baker’s Chocolate and blood orange,” she said. A local bee pollen in the espresso along with sparkling water creates what she’s dubbed the “Lady Marmalade.”
For Lancaster, coffee came to be the answer when she was at a crossroads while attending graduate school.
“I kind of walked out of my class and said this isn’t the thing for me and as a joke I said I always loved coffee,” she said. “I ended up falling completely in love with it.”
Her skills include whipping up portraits of dragons and phoenixes in the foam of beverages, once etching a 10-layered tulip to her impress her date.
The cat café concept originated from Asia, where it’s popular in Japan, and spread to the U.S. a couple years ago.
At the Orlando Cat Café, kittens up for adoption prowl around in a room separated from the coffee shop.
“This is the very first time that any Cat Café is going to be represented at the coffee championship,” owner Sandra Cagan said. “It’s a huge thing.”
If Lancaster wins, she will qualify for the national championships in April in Seattle.
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