Houston's Best Barista
Houston's best barista: Meet the coffee master who is recognized as one of the best in the world
At Montrose coffee shop Blacksmith, John Letoto's title is simply "Coffee." Letoto, the always well-dressed, jack-of-all-trades, contributes to all aspects of the business by being equally adept at roasting coffee beans, preparing coffee drinks and training Blacksmith's top-notch staff to meet his high expectations for customer service.
In order to afford a trip to Tokyo where he'll compete in the Coffee Fest Latte Art World Championship Open, Letoto will teach a series of classes that cover the fundamentals of four aspects of coffee: Roasting, brewing, espresso and latte art. Each class will be capped at 20 students. Classes cost $45 each, but participants may purchase all four for $135.
"By no means will you learn everything, but they’re a good foundation to understand how to approach learning more about coffee and those different disciplines," Letoto tells CultureMap. Each of the one-hour classes will blend lecture and a brief, hands-on component.
Letoto anticipates his students will be a mixture of Blacksmith regulars and those who just want to learn more about coffee. "Maybe an enthusiast who’s been around the block and understands coffee pretty well but wants a little bit of a primer. Maybe someone who has a friend who’s interested in coffee but doesn’t know where to start," he says.
Letoto says beginners can get started on high quality drip coffee for as little as $200.
While sourcing an espresso machine capable of making coffee shop quality brew might cost a couple thousand dollars, Letoto says beginners can get started on high quality drip coffee for as little as $200. Surprisingly, Letoto says the most important piece of equipment isn't the coffee machine.
"A good grinder is always going to be the most important piece of equipment, because, if you can’t grind your coffee evenly, you’re not going to be able to extract it evenly," he notes.
Although, as Blacksmith barista Mikey Nguyen quickly adds, "it's not about the money. It's about the time. Time is money." Letoto has put in the time, which is why he's both qualified to teach these classes and one of only three Americans heading to Tokyo for the competition. Just look at the ridiculous pours he shares regularly on Instagram.
Although Letoto regularly competes in latte art competitions both locally and nationally, he earned the coveted slot in the Tokyo bracket with a second-place finish in February at another Coffee Fest event in Atlanta. He's looking forward to the challenge.
"They are literally the best of the best," Letoto says about his future competitors. "Probably the toughest bracket that will be assembled for latte art competitions. If you’re in the bracket at all, it’s kind of a big deal."
The competition will be held April 15 through 17. That's when Houstonians will learn whether their instructor is simply the city's most accomplished barista — or a world champion.