2015, NR, 103 min. Directed by Rock Baijnauth.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Nov. 6, 2015
The peppy, goes-down-easy Barista is the latest in a trending mini-industry of documentaries about rarefied food and drink cultures. (See also: Hey Bartender, Somm, Kings of Pastry, and the exceptional Jiro Dreams of Sushi). Barista is worth a watch alone for presenting information most java drinkers never considered, but it gets extra style points for mimicking the hipster-cool attitude and caffeinated bounce of the tattooed coffee artists it profiles.
Director Rock Baijnauth homes in on five particular baristas, whose purpose is twofold: to pull back the curtain on what it takes to pull the perfect espresso shot, and to give the audience five distinct horses to bet on when the action moves to the competitive stage of the 2013 U.S. Barista Championship. Yes, that’s a thing, and you’ll walk away with deep respect for the level of professional expertise and showmanship required to rise to the top.
With this kind of competition doc, a filmmaker has to be incredibly savvy and soothsaying in selecting his subjects early on: They have to be both charismatic enough to hold the camera’s gaze and competitive enough to advance to the final rounds. In both respects, Baijnauth struck gold with his five baristas. Their collective passion steers the sometimes-unfocused narrative, and their perfectionist brushes with madness give this celebratory portrait a slight edge.