Chattanooga, Amarillo, and Denver: The First Three Preliminary Competitions

Just as the WBC wraps up, we’re back in a whole new competition season! Here’s a recap of the first three preliminary competitions, held in Chattanooga, Tenn., Amarillo, Texas, and Denver.


Cover photo courtesy of Daniel Mendoza

It’s official—it’s competition season! Kicking off in July, 10 cities across the United States will host preliminary competitions leading up to the United States Coffee Championships (USCC) national competitions. At these events, baristas and brewers will compete for spots in two qualifying events—one in Denver in December and one in Nashville in January—to determine who will compete for the title of the country’s best barista and brewer.

Two-time USBC runner-up Andrea Allen talks strategy with husband and business partner, Jon Allen (also featured is the newest member of the Onyx Coffee Family). Photo by Gunnar Widowski.

Three preliminary events have already taken place—one in Chattanooga, Tenn., hosted by Plus Coffee; one in Amarillo, Texas, hosted by Palace Coffee; and one in Denver, hosted by Sweet Bloom Coffee Roasters. Here are some of the highlights of the competition, along with a list of competitors from each competition who will be heading to the qualifying event.


Chattanooga was the very first stop on the coffee preliminaries tour. With just a month in between this competition and the World Barista Championship (WBC), this preliminary was small and intimate (only six baristas and eight brewers competed). Here are the results:

1. Cabell Tice—Orchard Coffee, Waynesville, N.C.
2. Austin Dryden—Spiller Park, Atlanta
3. Juan Diaz—Deeply Coffee, Orlando, Fla.
4. Jonathan Shea—Plus Coffee, Chattanooga, Tenn.
5. Tyler Sowrey—Mean Mug, Hixon, Tenn.
6. Christina Bellatoni—NEAT Coffee, Darien, Conn.

Judge Kate Blackman evaluates a Brewers Cup prelim competitor during the Chattanooga prelims, which were hosted by Plus Coffee. Photo by Caleb Timmerman.
Cabell Tice placed first in the Barista Competition prelim hosted by Plus Coffee in Chattanooga, Tenn. Photo by Caleb Timmerman.
A strong group of competitors from the Southeast were cheered on by enthusiastic members of the local community at the Chattanooga U.S. Coffee Championships prelims event hosted by Plus Coffee. Photo by Caleb Timmerman.

Brewers Cup
1. Wade Preston—Prevail Coffee, Montgomery, Ala.
2. Mark Stahlwood—Mad Priest, Chattanooga, Tenn.
3. Ken Johnson—Due South Coffee, Greenville, S.C.
4. Josh Hubbard—Dynamite Coffee, Cape Girardieu, Mo.


A latte art competition brought people together and loosened up the group before two days of competition.

All photos courtesy of Gunnar Widowski

Palace Coffee hosted one of the most exciting preliminaries, attracting competition veterans like Andrea Allen and the 2017 U.S. Brewers Cup Champion Dylan Siemens in a competitive field of baristas and brewers from around the Midwest.

The top six barista from the Amarillo preliminary event. Photo courtesy of Palace Coffee

1. Dylan Siemens—Onyx Coffee Lab, Springdale, Ark.
2. Andrea Allen—Onyx Coffee Lab, Springdale, Ark.
3. Joel Bigelow—Messenger Coffee, Kansas City, Mo.

At prelims, competitors have to serve an espresso and a milk drink using coffee provided by the host.

4. Rachael Hurd—Epoch Coffee, Austin, Texas
5. Zach Domville—Messenger Coffee, Kansas City, Mo.
6. Ali Abderrahman—State Street Coffee, Dallas

The competition after-party, including cornhole, giant Jenga, and lots of fun and dancing.

Brewers Cup
1. Nick Stevens—West Oak Coffee Roasters, Denton, Texas
2. Jerry Ponzer—Messenger Coffee, Kansas City, Mo.
3. Nicholai Elkins—Individual, Wheat Ridge, Colo.
4. John Ruben Medina—Palace Coffee, Amarillo, Texas

The top three brewers from the competition. They will be moving on to the qualifying events later this year.


Photos by Daniel Mendoza

Lots of returning competitors from the 2018 competition circuit met in Denver to take part in a fiercely competitive event hosted by Sweet Bloom Coffee Roasters.

USBC finalist and Denver preliminary winner Sam Neely of Switchback Coffee Roasters.

1. Sam Neely—Switchback Coffee Roasters, Colorado Springs, Colo.
2. Samantha Spillman—Dillanos Coffee Roasters, Seattle
3. Heather McCullough—Novo Coffee, Denver

Brittney Balestra competing in the Brewers Cup competition.

4. Saige Fuller—Peak Place Coffee/ Holdfast Coffee Roasters, Colorado Springs, Colo.
5. Gizel Alvarez—Monarch Coffee, Kansas City, Mo.
6. Leah Shinke—PT’s Coffee, Topeka, Kan.

The top six baristas and the top four brewers are guaranteed spots at the upcoming qualifying events in Denver and Nashville.

Brewers Cup
1. Jacob Cordie—Brandywine Coffee, Wilmington, Del.
2. Matthew Landford—Sweet Bloom Coffee, Denver
3. Marty Sweeney—Novo Coffee, Denver
4. Sloane Wachob—Commonwealth Coffee, Denver

We’ll be bringing you updates on upcoming preliminary competitions. Next week is a big one—we’ll have updates on the competitions in Washington, D.C., Honolulu, Hawaii, and Canton, Ohio!

About Ashley Rodriguez 413 Articles
Ashley is the Online Editor for Barista Magazine. She's based in Chicago. If you want to share a story or have a comment, you can reach her at

1 Comment

  1. I tried this once, didn’t like my math… So again–Thanks much Barista Magazine ‘n Ashley Rodriguez for this! I went for my first time to Prelims ‘n watching a competition live not just in ig stories or Livestream?! I love our coffee community, so I have to tell you about a correction… Sage Fuller is with PeakPlace Coffee/ Holdfast Coffee Roasters in Colorado Springs, CO – someone please contact to correct this! Go Team Colorado!! I can’t wait for Dec and Qualifiers now to keep cheering!! Thank you!! ????

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