This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon. - It’s almost become a bit cliche. When neighborhoods begin the rebound process, a business that helps in the transition is the local coffeehouse. Any urban blog will tell you the same: A coffeehouse is one of the harbingers of good things to come, especially when run independently. When the chains come’a’callin’, the transition’s complete and the neighborhood’s well down the road to gentrification, with all the good and bad that comes with that term.

St. Louis' Joe Marrocco of Kaldi's Coffee is already a champion barista.  As the top scorer in the South Central regional competition earlier this month, Marrocco heads to the United States Barista Championships this weekend as a man to beat.  Nationals are underway in Houston, where competitors are judged on a number of factors, including taste, technical skills, and presentation.  We caught up with Marrocco during a recent practice session.