Get to Know the U.S. CoffeeChamps Winners

Meet Frank La, Weihong Zhang, and Mehmet Sogan, three of this year’s USCC winners.

BY KATE VAN PETTEN
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE

Yesterday we gave a shout-out to this year’s USCC winners, who all gathered at Klatch Coffee in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., over the weekend for three national competitions of the U.S. Coffee Championships. Today we’ll introduce the winners for the U.S. Barista, Brewers Cup, and Cup Tasters Championships.

Frank La (left) won the 2024 U.S. Barista Championship. Here, Frank is interviewed by 2023 Champ Isaiah Sheese after his presentation. Photo by Kenneth R. Olson.

U.S. BARISTA CHAMPION: FRANK LA

Frank La, founder of Be Bright Coffee in Los Angeles, was surrounded by a large support system of friends and family, all in tears as he claimed his title of U.S. Barista Champion. Frank competed for the first time in 2013, and then again in 2014, placing third in the Southwest regionals. He left the competition due to lack of representation, and decided to return nine years later after he saw changes. In 2023 he made it into the USBC finals, and now he is the 2024 U.S. Barista Champion.

In the 2024 United States Cup Tasters Championship, Brittney Gross gets eight out of eight cups correct. Photo by Kenneth R. Olson.

Frank served an anaerobically fermented Ethiopian landrace variety coffee known as Oberon from Nestor Lasso at Finca El Diviso in Huila, Colombia. Frank framed his routine around the theme kodawari, a Japanese word that translates roughly to “the pursuit of perfection.” His milk was a 50% freeze-distilled lactose-free milk, and his signature drink was made with hyper-chilled espresso, honey and oolong tea clarified coffee milk punch, red seedless grape syrup, and coffee oleo-saccharum. Between courses, he served the judges hot towels and displayed his signature beverage ingredients in a light-up display case, each representing a pillar of kodawari.

Weihong Zhang at the final round of the U.S. Brewers Cup Championship. Photo by Kenneth R. Olson.

U.S. BREWERS CUP CHAMPION: WEIHONG ZHANG 

Born and raised in China, Weihong Zhang opened his café Blendin Coffee Club in November 2017. He picked up the coffee passion after moving to the United States in 2009 to pursue his Ph.D. This marks Weihong’s third time competing in the Brewers Cup. His first attempt was in Orange County, Calif., where he placed third, followed by last year’s competition in Portland, where he finished second.

Brewers Cup Champs united! From left, Todd Goldsworthy, 2014 + 2016 Brewers Cup winner; Elika Liftee, 2020 + 2022; and Andy Sprenger, 2011 + 2012. Photo by Kenneth R. Olson.

Weihong served a decaf Los Nogales Typica, making him the first competitor ever to serve a fully decaffeinated Typica coffee. He did an immersion full bypass brew with the Hario Mugen and the Hario Switch paired with Origami Sensory Cups, leading him to win the competition.

Mehmet Sogan celebrates becoming the U.S. Cup Tasters Champion. Photo by Kate Van Petten.

U.S. CUP TASTERS CHAMPION: MEHMET SOGAN 

Originally from Paris, Mehmet Sogan developed a passion for coffee and its ability to connect people and cultures, but was interested in the gap between specialty-coffee quality and consumer knowledge. Armed with an engineering degree and fueled by a passion for coffee education, he founded Memli Coffee Lab in San Diego to revolutionize the industry with transparency and education as its core values.

Mehmet’s accolades include being a semifinalist in the 2023 and 2020-2022 U.S. Cup Tasters Championships, finishing in third place in the 2018 U.K. Coffee Brewing Championship, and earning recognition for delivering the Best Coffee Experience in London in 2017. Now, he is the 2024 U.S. Cup Tasters Champion!

Peace Sakulclanuwat addresses the judges during their finals performance in the 2024 United States Brewers Cup. They went on to place second. Photo by Kenneth R. Olson.

What’s to Come: U.S. and Worlds

Looking forward, the World Barista Championship will take place at World of Coffee Busan, in Busan, South Korea May 1-4, 2024. The World Brewers Cup and the World Cup Tasters Championships along with the the U.S. Latte Art Championship will be held April 12-14 and the U.S. Roaster Championship will be April 11-14—both at the Specialty Coffee Expo in Chicago, Ill. The 2024 U.S. Coffee in Good Spirits Championship will be held at the Lavazza Training Center in Chicago at a to-be-confirmed date.

Veteran USBC competitor Kay Cheon, who has made it to the final round of the competition four times, placed fourth this year. Photo by Kenneth R. Olson.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Van Petten (they/them) is a writer, musician, and coffee professional based in Seattle. They have worked in the specialty-coffee industry for years with a focus on creative storytelling through marketing. You can find their songs and poems in Coffee People Zine, and you can listen to their debut audiobook, For Someone, on cassette tape or online via Hello America Stereo Cassette. They are currently an editor and publicist for Poetry Northwest, the Pacific Northwest’s longest-running literary journal. If you want to share a story or connect, you can reach them at katevanpetten@gmail.com.

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