The 2017 U.S. Barista Champion talks about his run at November’s World Barista Championship in Seoul, South Korea, where he placed sixth overall.
BY CHRIS RYAN
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos by Kenneth R. Olson
Back in 2016, Kyle Ramage traveled to the World Barista Championship in Dublin, Ireland—not as a competitor, but as coach for his friend and USA champ Lem Butler, who went on to place fourth at the 2016 WBC.
Fast forward to 2017, and Kyle and Lem again traveled together to the WBC: This time in Seoul, South Korea, and with Kyle as the competitor and Lem as the coach. Again they had a great run, with Kyle making it to the finals and placing sixth at the 2017 WBC.
It was another highlight in the partnership between Kyle and Lem that has yielded not just consecutive United States Barista Championship wins and WBC finals appearances, but a business as well: In August 2017, Kyle and Lem launched Black & White Coffee Roasters in Wake Forest, N.C.
Kyle talked to us about his experience in Seoul, the new business, and much more.
Chris Ryan: What was your experience like competing on behalf of your country at the WBC?
Kyle Ramage: It was amazing to represent the USA. I must admit the pressure I put on myself to do well, especially in the first round, was to make sure that I made it through so that the USA would at least be represented in a way I felt it deserved. The level of competition is crazy high in the USA, and I feel and felt honored to perform on behalf of my home country, and of course continue Lem and I’s narrative of “the coach has become the competitor.” It felt pretty amazing up there—very stressful, but very fun at the same time. If you don’t enjoy the competitions, don’t do them. They take too much out of you if you ultimately don’t enjoy them.
CR: Competition-wise, what it was like to make the finals?
KR: Oh yeah, wow, what a dream come true. It felt truly amazing to realize that dream that seemed so far away for so many years. I remember sitting in Dublin watching Lem and thinking, “Wow, it would be cool to do that someday.” To be able to do it the very next year is a true honor and was an amazing experience.
CR: I understand that Jose Gallardo, owner of Finca Nuguo that produced the coffee you used in WBC, was with you in Seoul. Can you describe that experience?
KR: Yeah, Jose (whom we call Pocho) stayed in the AirBnB with us at APT1904. When he arrived we were rehearsing at the kitchen counter, and then he sat down in one of the judges’ seats beside Lem, Pete from Push tampers, and [former UK WBC competitor] Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood. To say the least it was hard to keep my focus talking about the producer to the actual producer, but Jose is a great friend and an amazing guy for sure. What an honor. He is one of the very few producers to ever have back-to-back WBC finals competitors, and for sure the only one to have won two USBCs back to back. He is an inspiration: a Ph.D. holder in engineering who does coffee as a passion project, and to say he has been successful would be a massive understatement.
CR: Finally, now that WBC is over, what’s your future look like?
KR: Lem and I opened Black & White Coffee Roasters here in North Carolina, and we always have a few other things going on. We’re working with a few people for competition this year, including one of our own baristas, which is pretty fun. We will continue to be normal guys who love coffee and are committed to the industry, education, and experimentation. It is really gratifying to do the café/roaster concept, especially with the amazing team at Black & White.