Games of Foam

Colectivo’s Leeann Soo Wacker turns heads at barista competitions with ingredients like sea salt and blackberry preserves.

Standing 5 feet tall, Leeann Soo Wacker appears tinier as she makes a latte behind the massive espresso machine at Colectivo Coffee in Riverwest. She “pulls” a shot of espresso into a porcelain cup. A steam wand hisses. Milk hums in a stainless-steel pitcher. She tops off the drink with a stacked-tulip design in the milk.

Late nights in the training lab at Colectivo, where she started working in 2013, prepared her for coffee drink competitions, including February’s U.S. Barista Championship, where she placed 17th in the first round. Participants had 15 minutes to prepare three drinks for each judge. Wacker made an Americano, poured it over an ice chip with rosehip-hibiscus tea and clover honey. To this creation, she added hand-separated grapefruit pulp.

For another competition, she made a version of espresso con panna (espresso with cream), pouring the espresso over handmade blackberry preserves, topping the drink with fresh whipped cream infused with orange oil and a sprinkle of Himalayan sea salt. “Salt blocks bitter taste receptors and effectually makes other flavors ‘pop,’” she says.

There have been failures, such as the cold juniper berries and bitter beer hops she rejected after a sip. Wacker hopes to one day open her own cafe and trek to coffee-producing regions, but first, grad school for architecture, fueled by pots of coffee, of course.

‘Games of Foam’ appears in the June 2015 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.
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A seasoned writer, and a former editor at Milwaukee Home & Fine Living, Kristine Hansen launched her wine-writing career in 2003, covering wine tourism, wine and food pairings, wine trends and quirky winemakers. Her wine-related articles have published in Wine Enthusiast, Sommelier Journal, Uncorked (an iPad-only magazine), FoodRepublic.com, CNN.com and Whole Living (a Martha Stewart publication). She's trekked through vineyards and chatted up winemakers in many regions, including Chile, Portugal, California (Napa, Sonoma and Central Coast), Canada, Oregon and France (Bordeaux and Burgundy). While picking out her favorite wine is kind of like asking which child you like best, she will admit to being a fan of Oregon Pinot Noir and even on a sub-zero winter day won't turn down a glass of zippy Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.