By Lee Reinsch
SUAMICO – It’s 9:30 a.m., and the pressure in the Collaboration Cabin is so dense you could slurp it through a straw.
As the clock ticks toward the end of second hour at Lineville Intermediate School teams of pint-sized flavor analysts in the combined classroom of Heather Potts and Marissa Wenig are visibly nervous.
They fidget and huddle amongst their teams, wearing pasted-on expressions of nonchalance and confidence.
The buzz of the 51 fifth-graders resonates throughout the double classroom like a swarm of caffeinated bees.
It’s the first-ever latte-naming competition at the school, and one could say the stakes are “Grande.”
The winning teams get the honor of seeing the iced latte they invent on the menu board at LaJava Roasting House this summer.
“We’re incorporating science and math, and we’re also incorporating marketing, which involves persuasive writing, which some have never tried before,” said Potts, a math and science teacher.
Over two class periods, the teams plotted their game plans for the competition.
They brainstormed flavor combinations and how each essence would interact with another.
They had to choose wisely, because they were limited in how much syrup flavoring they could add to the latte base of milk, ice and espresso.
“We could use up to four pumps, with eight ounces of milk. That was the ratio,” said student Josh Kleemann, whose team submitted Cha-ching.
“We patterned Cha-ching after the (Nestle 100 Grand Bar) candy bar, using one pump of hazelnut, one pump of English toffee, one of chocolate and one of vanilla,” said Josh’s teammate, Casey Jacobson.
Their team also came up with the exotic-sounding Chocaza (two shots chocolate + one shot caramel + one vanilla).
Each team came up with two flavors, named the elixirs and submitted their formulas to the jury.
Among the judges: Catherine and Mark Semrau, founders and owners of LaJava Roasting House.
Flavorologist for the day/LaJava sales rep Mark Dunning prepared the submitted recipes, adding each team’s formulary to the milk, ice and espresso foundation.
Students got to taste-test each one to see what the other teams came up with and how their own turned out.
One team came up with a jingle for its latte and even gave an impromptu performance.
“This is a way to connect traditional subjects with the real world,” said Lineville Intermediate School Principal Phil Hart. “They’re learning why what they’re learning matters. If kids have an authentic audience to try their ideas on, it makes for a more authentic experience for them.”
Among the concoctions that didn’t make the cuts include Super Hero to the Rescue (two shots vanilla + one shot raspberry + one shot apple); Mintie Marsh Espresso (three shots toasted marshmallow flavoring + one shot peppermint); and Summer Slide (two shots raspberry + two shots coconut).
“It involves lots of math, measurements, conversions and proportions,” Potts said. “Science is all about experimentation. In fifth grade, they don’t get to do a lot of experimenting, so the opportunity to experiment adds that real-world dimension.”
“It was very fun, experimenting,” said nascent food scientist Chloe Kelly. “At first we had to pick without tasting, so we had to really think what would go together.”
The students spent two class periods designing their drinks, and the May 30 latte-naming showdown culminated those efforts, Potts said.
“We talked about how planning is important in science and business before experimenting and implementing new ideas,” she said. “We actually presented the idea and had students begin thinking about this project back in March when LaJava came in to talk about business models for our store project.”
The store project involved student-produced merchandise, which they marketed and sold to the school community.
“We had the students make a product, such as crocheted items, tie blankets, baked goods, friendship bracelets, knitted items,” said Wenig, an English and social studies teacher. “We printed out a sales (flyer) for their parents and sent it home with them, and we sold the merchandise.”
That project grossed $1,714, and after students repay their parents for any materials they invested into their projects, the net will go to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, Wenig said.
With a figurative drum roll and a pause for jittery silence in the final moments of class, the tension might have rivaled that of participants in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
At long last, the judges announced the winners: See You S’More (one shot each of chocolate, caramel, toffee and vanilla) and Razzlenut (one shot raspberry + one shot vanilla + two shots hazelnut).
These two Lineville Intermediate-created flavors will be on LaJava customers’ lips this summer.
Mark and Catherine Semrau purchased the former Portobello Road coffee shop in 2002, which came complete with a 1937 peanut roaster.
That turned out to be the shop’s main bean-roasting apparatus, so they roasted both peanuts and coffee beans before eventually buying coffee roasting equipment.
Prior to diving into coffee, Catherine Semrau had been working at a company that closed, and Mark kept the coffee endeavor afloat with a position at Shopko while they launched the business.
Over the years, they’ve been involved in a number of community events, including many charity runs and the NEW Zoo’s Sweet Safari, which is June 7 from 5 to 8 p.m.
“This is our first time doing this, and the kids seem to be enjoying it,” Catherine Semrau said.
And, judging by the number of viable flavors the students invented, LaJava might want to supersize its menu board.