Friendly Competition at the USCC Preliminaries in Oakland, Calif.

Winners in the Roaster and Cup Tasters competitions will advance to the regional finals in advance of April 2023’s national championships.

BY EDDIE GOMEZ
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE

Photos by Eddie Gomez

The Specialty Coffee Expo in Portland, Ore., in April 2023 seems like a long ways away. But the new year comes only 61 days from now, so the time to plan for the event is at hand.  

One of the exposition’s most popular events has always been the U.S. Coffee Championships, which crowns a winner in six categories. The competition consists of multiple rounds taking place over the course of a few days during the Specialty Coffee Expo to crown winners of the U.S. Barista Championship, Brewers Cup Championship, Coffee In Good Spirits Championship, Cup Tasters Championship, Roaster Championship, and Latte Art Championship.  

Three people, all with long hair and wearing black, stand together for a photo in front of the green tiled wall at The Crown. They are the Oakland prelims champs.
The top qualifiers in the Cup Tasters prelim were, from left to right: Steve Cuevas (3rd place), Jasmine Rangel Rodriguez (1st place), and Helen Choi (2nd place).
The top qualifiers in the Roaster prelim were, from left to right: Alex Spishakoff (2nd place), Rudy Altimirano (1st place), and Sam La Robardiere (3rd place)

The preliminary rounds for the 2023 U.S. Coffee Championships started in August and run through the end of October. Coffee professionals will have dropped into 13 major cities to compete in preliminary rounds of the hugely popular preliminaries: Kailua, Hawaii; Tucson, Ariz.; San Francisco; Raleigh, N.C.; Houston; Denver; Oakland, Calif.; Richmond, Va.; Indianapolis; Minneapolis; Essex, Vt.; and Burlington, Vt.

Competing in Oakland

Royal Coffee in Downtown Oakland proved a magnificent host for a round of preliminaries in the Roaster and Cup Tasters categories during the first weekend in October. The event was held at their ultra-modern tasting room and lab aptly named The Crown. A buzz of excitement prevailed as coffee lovers, competitors, and throngs of supporters filled the venue on Saturday and Sunday. Attendees followed the competition and the subsequent results with great interest. They socialized and enjoyed drinks and pastries on offer at the café between competitive rounds. A palpable sense of relief that the event was taking place also hung in the air, as it was put on hiatus last year during the pandemic.

Local Coffee Scene

In the surrounding neighborhood, urban life pulsed around nearby high rises, and pedestrians enjoyed a sun-filled walk around Lake Merritt. The colorful neighborhood also gave visitors a chance to immerse themselves in Oakland’s burgeoning specialty-coffee scene.  

A concha filled with ube and a cappuccino at Royal Coffee in Oakland.

Although not as well-known as specialty-coffee scenes in other major metropolitan areas in the U.S., Oakland’s downtown core contains a heavy concentration of cafés and roasteries within walking distance of one another. It was hard for some attendees to pass up the opportunity to visit popular coffee destinations such as Red Bay Coffee, Highwire Coffee Roasters, and The Bicycle Coffee Company while in town for the preliminaries.  

In the end, a spirited competition took place, friendships were made, and three winners from the Roaster and Cup Tasters categories were chosen to go on to the regionals. Specialty coffee’s popularity continues to grow, and Americans are ready to turn the page on the constraints that have dominated public life during the last few years.  

Looking Ahead to the World Coffee Championships

The top qualifiers from the preliminary rounds will move on to regional finals. According to Grace Freeman of the Specialty Coffee Association, “U.S. Coffee Championships preliminary competitions are community-driven events hosted entirely by the SCA USA Chapter and U.S. Competitions Committees alongside community volunteers, allowing community members the chance to host an official competition as an accessible, low-stakes platform to introduce any newcomer to competitions.” Competitors for the U.S Coffee Championships are narrowed down during preliminary rounds and subsequent regional finals—a process that is now taking place in the year before the exposition. 

The national U.S. Coffee Championships will take place at the Specialty Coffee Expo in Portland April 21–23, 2023. The winners of the 2023 U.S. Barista Championship, Brewers Cup, and Cup Tasters Championship will compete at the World Coffee Championships to be held at the World of Coffee event June 22–24, 2023, in Athens, Greece. The winners of the U.S. Latte Art, Coffee In Good Spirits, and Roaster Championships will compete in their global championships on November 17–20, 2023, at the Taiwan International Coffee Show

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eddie P. Gomez (he/him) is a freelance writer based in Modesto, Calif. When he is not substitute teaching kindergarten classes, he wanders from city to city, perfecting the art of the food and coffee adventure.

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