By day, Liz Cochrane of Lodi crunches numbers in the finance department at Lodi Memorial Hospital. But before she sets out for a shift of tallying cardiac screenings and payroll, she makes a mean cup of coffee.
"I make different things. I do buy creamers, but sometimes I add whatever I have in the refrigerator. I do mix it up sometimes," she said. "One of my favorites is actually Seattle's Best."
She made an upgrade to her usual cup of joe for the Seattle's Best Coffee Red Cup Showdown on July 14, and it paid off. Cochrane won $500 and free coffee for a year. Plus, she'll be jetting off to New York to compete with other local winners for a shot at $10,000 and maybe seeing her concoction in coffee shops across the country.
Cochrane's hot caramel apple creation took first place among 12 entries. Competitors made their drinks for a panel of three judges at the California State Fair.
Her inspiration came straight from the heart of Lodi's Downtown.
"Whenever we have out-of-town company, I always take them Downtown to the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory for caramel apples. They have so many!" said Cochrane. She loved the flavor of tart apples and sweet caramel, so she found a way to blend them with her usual morning brew.
Blenders, filters and coffee were provided by Seattle's Best. Entrants had to bring their own ingredients for their creations. The only limit to flavors was a ban on alcohol. Five minutes were all she had to pull it together.
"Only the judges were allowed to taste it. I was stressed out, but the recipe is not that difficult," she said.
The judges were hard pressed to pick a favorite.
"The competition was fierce at the first-ever Red Cup Showdown," said TV chef Jeff Mauro, who hosted the event. "The California cooks really stepped up to the challenge with a menagerie of flavors — from a red velvet mocha to a 'Circus Maximus' coffee milkshake. At the end of the day, Liz Cochrane won over our taste buds with her Hot Caramel Apple Coffee, which combined the flavors of a favorite fall treat with Seattle's Best Coffee."
Cochrane isn't allowed to reveal her ingredients or her recipe until after the final competition in August. Six state fair winners from around the nation and one online entry will compete for first place.
Cochrane has plenty of experience competing at fairs. She entered her first lamb at the Dixon May Fair when she was 13 years old. Since then, she's entered cookie contests, craft competitions and vied for the top spot with her jams and jellies. She also works in the auctions as a cashier every summer for the San Joaquin County Fair.
"I've grown up in the fair world, and I'm kind of in tuned to the fairs. I love them; I like to participate," she said.
The mom of two grown children has lived in Lodi for nine years with her cocker spaniel, Ginger. When she's not brewing up something special at home, Cochrane will pick up a vanilla latte at a coffee shop.
Californians can show their support of their hometown winner by participating in public voting on the Seattle's Best Coffee Facebook page from Aug. 18 to 22. The grand prize winning coffee drink will be selected based on the vote of the judging panel at the New York finale, as well as Facebook votes.
Does she have a shot?
"I can't even answer that. I have no idea," Cochrane said.