Goodbye Letter From Lem Butler

Lem Butler,2016 United States Barista Champion, reflects on his travels, experiences, and unforgettable moments of his reign.

Editor’s note: We asked outgoing United States Barista Champion Lem Butler to share some photos and notes from his year as 2016 USBC Champion, which is just coming to an end. We asked him for 800 words, which he told us was far too few to encapsulate the momentous experience that was his championship year. So he wrote a short letter instead, accompanied by snapshots of some of his favorites memories.

Dear Barista Magazine,

I write to you and your readers as your current U.S. specialty-coffee industry ambassador, and although my term comes to an end this week, I feel I am just getting started on a continuous journey to bring people closer together through coffee. U.S. Barista Champs will come and go, but the work of those dedicated to quality, sustainability, and education will continue on through all those magnificent people we inspire now, tomorrow, and yesterday. I know now what it means to be that ambassador, that “people’s champ”—my life will never be the same again. I see my role in this magnificent play as a small part of a larger collective of coffee professionals all around the world seeking to perfect the coffee experience. From farmer to roaster to barista, we are in this together. I want to thank all your readers for this life-changing opportunity to represent you all for an entire year.

I could spend 800 words on each of my trips around the world, but here is a collection of photos from my year as your most humbled barista.

Warmest Regards,


After winning the USBC, I had to go to Panama to cup through 30 lots with Jose Gallardo. Having the opportunity to participate in the last of his harvest and enjoy time with the Gallardo family made my presentation for the WBC more genuine. I was able to create an experience like no other because of this personal connection to Finca Nuguo and the Gallardo family.
The non-electric pulper at Jose Gallardo’s Finca Nuguo.
Not only did I physically struggle at almost 2,000 meters of elevation, I could not keep up with the rapid-attention-to-detail harvesting of these seasonal pickers.
Last of the 2016 harvest.
I was invited to cup with the Specialty Coffee Association of Panama at the Best of Panama competition. I was extremely nervous, but I found I was calibrated with the best palates in Panama and tasted some outstanding coffees.


This picture sums up the WBC for me. Focus. Relax. Breathe. Repeat. Fourth in the world.


I was honored to be the keynote speaker for Barista Nation in New Orleans.


On the trip to Brazil that Ally Coffee hosted for the top two in the U.S. Barista, Roaster, and Brewers Cup Championships, as well as the World Brewers Cup Champ, they set up a roaster, espresso machine, and grinder on a stage in the middle of a coffee farm. We roasted, prepared espresso, and brewed coffee amongst coffee trees. We held a latte art throwdown with coffee farmers as the judges.
I also flew in a private jet with some really awesome people.
Ally changed my stereotyped view of Brazilian coffees. Espirito Santo is a magical place with beautiful coffee farms, where hand-picking shattered my conditioned thinking of Brazil as having only mechanically harvested coffee.
It is always great to travel with friends.
Sometimes you just have to pimp your ride around the finca.
The Brazil trip brought together a truly amazing group of coffee professionals. We shared our side of the coffee supply chain with farmers, and they shared their side. And we had cachaca.


Fritz Storm has always been an inspiration who I’d only watched through Barista Magazine as a young barista just getting into competition. Not only did I meet Fritz in Dublin, but he invited me to be an instructor at his Barista Camp in China.


Fritz extended an invitation to teach the Barista Camp again, but this time in Tokyo! I’ve never experienced hospitality on such a large scale. The Japanese baristas were so hospitable, but their shyness challenged me in new ways to break through cultural barriers and connect with some amazing coffee-driven people.
Reconnecting with old friends is always heart-warming. I’m so happy for Katsu, and to see a dream from 2005 become legend in 2016 almost made me tear up. Y’all know me, I’ll tear up quick.
The Barista Camp, Tokyo, Japan.


I helped curate six cafes with an amazing coffee program for 3,800 people. And not just any people—these were young professionals who have influenced their industries. Summit allowed these inspirational people from different industries to come together and build a network to continue that inspiration on a larger scale collectively. In addition to meeting these Buddhists and reconnecting with my own spirituality, I met Quentin Tarantino, Kendrick Lamar, LeVar Burton, Orlando Bloom, and I sang “Walk on the Wild Side” with Perry Farrell. Perry F*CKING Farrell!


WCE All-Stars Guangzhou autograph hour—we signed everything from cell phone cases to shirts to whatever anyone could bring us.
WCE All-Stars taking a coffee tour of Guangzhou.
Alexandru (2016 World Roasting Champ, Romania) and I share our dreads with Yoshi (2016 Barista Champ, Japan).


WCE All-Stars Ethiopia brought Amanda Juris, Sarah Anderson, and myself to Addis Ababa for AFCA (African Fine Coffee Association).
I worked with baristas from Ethiopia, Uganda, Zambia, Kenya, and South Africa on bar flow, customer service, competition, and approaching new coffees with new equipment. This not only helped them better understand their profession, but having such a diverse group also enriched my experience.
Against the U.S. travel advisory, I traveled south to the birthplace of coffee and Kaldi (who the Oromo call Khalid). I met nothing but the nicest, most hospitable people. Here we have some local sugarcane salesmen.


Emceeing Coffee Masters New York was one of my favorite gigs with a microphone. The energy level was intense and the audience made my job so easy.
I love meeting my inspirations in the industry. This is latte art master Hiroshi Sawada of Japan.


Editor’s note: Thank you for being such an amazing, inspirational champion for 2016–2017, Lem! You are so loved by the worldwide specialty-coffee community!

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