10 Minutes With—2020 U.S. CoffeeChamps Edition: Chelsea Kallman

We talk to Chelsea Kallman of Nashville’s Stay Golden Coffee Co. about discovering coffee, qualifying for nationals, and more.


Cover photo by @jessepaul

Editor’s note: The 2020 U.S. Coffee Championships season is nearing its end. Over the past several weeks, we’ve interviewed some of the competitors who have qualified for the national competitions taking place in February and April about their coffee careers, approach to competition, and much more. Today, we continue this series by speaking with USBC competitor Chelsea Kallman.

Chelsea Kallman was a high school student with a burgeoning interest in coffee when she somewhat spontaneously applied for a café job. The unexpected gig ended up turning into a career, as Chelsea has since worked for some of the biggest coffee companies in Nashville, Tenn. Now with Stay Golden Coffee Co., Chelsea began competing this year; working with her team, she placed second at last month’s Nashville Qualifier to qualify for this month’s United States Barista Championship. We talked to Chelsea to learn more about her journey in coffee.

Chelsea with her trophy after placing second at the Nashville Qualifier in January. Photo courtesy of Chelsea Kallman.

Chris Ryan: Can you tell us a bit about your background and your life before coffee?

Chelsea Kallman: I grew up about 25 miles outside of Chicago, in a town called Munster, Ind. My family moved to Nashville when I was in high school. I went to Belmont University for journalism. I wanted to tell people’s stories. I worked in coffee all through high school and college and kept getting more and more opportunities. Eventually I thought I would become a food and drink writer, but it seems my life is meant to be spent working closely with coffee alone. 

How did you start working in the coffee world, and what sorts of jobs have you had before Stay Golden? 

I homeschooled for most of high school. This meant I got to have a part-time job at my dad’s office as a secretary. A coffee shop was opening across the street from his office and it was an Intelligentsia wholesale account. I was so excited for the shop to open that one day I saw people inside and just walked in. They looked at me and said, “Are you the next interview?” and something just came over me and I said, “No, but I can be!” They interviewed me immediately and hired me on the spot. I worked at a few other places after that. I was on the opening team at Barista Parlor in 2012 and became their first GM. I got to work on a lot of different projects in this role, which prepared me to help open the Revelator Coffee in Nashville in 2015. 

Chelsea decides on her competition coffee by cupping with the team at Stay Golden. Photo courtesy of Chelsea Kallman.

How long have you been with Stay Golden? What do you do there, and what are some of your day-to-day duties? 

I’ve been with Stay Golden for a year and a half and I’m a wholesale account representative. In my day to-do, I seek out new wholesale business for our roastery and assist with account management. I write all the content for our wholesale marketing materials—so I get to utilize my degree a bit! I also give input into new product design and which coffees we bring on. (We’re a small team of seven people and all of our opinions are very valued.) But mostly I email a lot of people every day and act sassy with my coworkers. We laugh a lot in the roastery. 

How and when did you get interested in competition? What do you enjoy about Barista competition, and what was it like to finish second at the Nashville qualifier and make it to nationals? 

I’ve always wanted to compete—but I’m kind of an all-or-nothing sort of person. I actually didn’t realize how competitive I was until I started working in sales! I just think Barista competition is this ultimate display of your coffee knowledge and barista skills, and it’s a way to really honor the brand you work for.

Chelsea representing Stay Golden at the Nashville Qualifier. Photo by @jessepaul.

I really enjoy all of the prep that goes into a routine and how much I have to interact with my team for it. Getting to cup amazing coffees as a team to decide which I would present on stage was really special. Our whole team brings different strengths to the table. Even though I’m the one on stage, all these ideas and techniques I’m sharing are a culmination of our whole team coming together and editing every single little piece of what I do and say to make a strong, cohesive statement to share with the coffee industry. It’s beautiful!

The entire roastery team is so supportive of me competing. They’ve all said all along that I’m going to do well this year—some of them say I’ll win it or place top six—which would be incredible, but I honestly just thought they were being nice saying all that! After I finished my routine I felt like I put it all out there and really nailed it, but you just never know until the results come in. It truly felt like a dream coming true being called up there for second. It felt like all my hard work was recognized and was a huge validation for me as a coffee professional. 

Chelsea getting some input from 2016 U.S. Barista Champ Lem Butler during practice time at the Nashville Qualifier. Photo by @jennforgivn.

Finally, what do you enjoy doing outside the world of coffee?

I love having people over to my house for dinner. I love to cook and create menus and themes. My husband, Isaiah, and I just love hosting and getting to know people. I want my home to be peaceful and a place of rest for anyone who walks in, and I think by feeding them food and drinks and playing some Cards Against Humanity it’s a really easy way to make that happen. Outside of the food and beverage world I actually really like playing Dungeons & Dragons. I know! Nerd alert! But, seriously … when in our adult lives do we get a chance to play pretend? It can be really healing to let yourself just have some fun for a few hours.

About Chris Ryan 261 Articles
Chris Ryan (he/him) is Barista Magazine's online copy editor and a freelance writer and editor with a background in the specialty coffee industry. He has been content director of Sustainable Harvest and the editor of Fresh Cup Magazine.