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Chef’s Corner

Taste PhotoUncommon Grounds
Bellevue Club barista defends latté art crown

Aspiring actors move to Los Angeles or New York City. Promising politicos aim for the Beltway. Baristas come here.

At least that was Luna barista Raina Howell’s thought when she left her home state of Montana for the fertile coffee grounds of Seattle this past January.

A two-time winner of the Colter Coffee Latté Art championships in Montana and seasoned coffee professional, Raina is now taking a shot at the big time.

“I’m shooting for regionals and nationals next year,” she says.

For the uninitiated, latté art competitions are typically judged on five categories: aesthetic beauty, definition, color infusion, degree of difficulty and creativity, and speed.

Extremely difficult to do well, patterns are created when the steamed milk is poured into a shot of espresso.

“The nerves do start going. Here you are in front of 30 of your peers—I just try to focus completely on the coffee,” Raina says.

Raina’s interest in espresso was born out of necessity. Nine years ago, she was working at a shop in Missoula and a espresso machine rep no-showed for a barista seminar.

“I just started reading and watching videos,” she says. Raina has since earned her rigorous barista certification through the Specialty Coffee Association of America.

Listening to her talk about her craft prompts images of serious winemakers.

“The smell of beans being ground, watching shots pour—it’s like heaven right there,” she says. “It’s a lot like wine tasting. It’s all in the nose, smell and mouthfeel. If your palate is distinguished, you can find berry or cedar notes, among others.”

But coffee culture isn’t just art and tastings for Raina. She loves the community.

“That’s the real fun. You get to know your regulars well, mostly by their drink names. You run into them at the grocery store and you’re like, ‘double soy white mocha.’”

Down the line, Raina plans to open her own shop someday.

“I’d like my own little hole in the wall,” she says.

In the meantime, she’s plotting a trip back to Montana to defend her coffee crown and pulling Caffé D’arte shots at Luna. In fact, it was the Bellevue Club’s use of award-winning Caffé D’arte Italian espresso and drip blends that initially drew her here.

“They’re definitely an amazing roaster,” she says. And good coffee is a must for a any serious barista:

“I take my craft seriously because there’s no reason for anyone to have a crappy cup of coffee.”


Executive Chef: Paul Marks |
Polaris: 425.637.4608 | M-F 6:30-10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. | M-Th 5:30-9 p.m.; F & Sa 5:30-10 p.m.
Cosmos: 425.688.4650 | M-Th 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. | F 11:30 a.m.-midnight | Sa 5:30 p.m.-midnight
Splash: 425.688.3345 | M-F 11 a.m.-9 p.m. | Sa & Su 8 a.m.-9 p.m.
Luna Express: 425.688.3228 | M-F 6:30 a.m.-8 p.m. | Sa 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m. | Su 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
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