Isaiah Sheese Reflects on Earning Fourth at the World Barista Championship: Part Two

We finish our conversation with the 2023 U.S. Barista Champion, who placed fourth at last month’s World Barista Championship.

BY CHRIS RYAN
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE

Photos courtesy of the Specialty Coffee Association

Editor’s note: The first part of this interview can be found here.

Anything can happen on the World Barista Championship (WBC) stage—sometimes even the last thing you expect.

For Isaiah Sheese, losing an espresso and having to remake it during his performance was not how he expected things to go in his first finals appearance at the WBC. And while the mishap may have tanked his chances of winning the WBC, he handled it like the champion he is, persevering to finish his routine on time and earn fourth in the world.

Isaiah, who owns Archetype Coffee in Omaha, Neb., and has taken part in barista competitions since 2009, made the most of his first taste of international coffee competition experience. As we conclude our conversation with him today, he talks about making the WBC finals, processing the event in the weeks afterward, and much more.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Barista Magazine: You had a great run in the competition, advancing to the finals and placing fourth in the world. What was it like hearing your name called as a WBC finalist?

Isaiah Sheese: It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve competed … so many years you think you’re gonna do great. I’ve been there so many times with the anticipation that I’m going to make that finals stage, and haven’t made it. And so it does not matter how many times I stand there or how great I think I did or how terrible I thought I did … my heart just starts pounding every time. And when they call your name, it’s just the biggest relief. I thought my second run-through was hands down the best—it felt great, things seemed to be pulling the way they’re supposed to. But even still, until they call your name, it’s the most intense feeling.

Isaiah wears a pink striped shirt with a denim apron and pours steamed milk into a ceramic cup during the competition.
At both the 2023 USBC and WBC, Isaiah used a Pink Bourbon coffee grown by Lucy Fernanda Galindez at Finca Buena Vista in Colombia, finished with a thermal shock process by Diego Bermudez of Colombia’s Finca El Paraiso.

In the finals, you had an espresso mishap and had to pull another shot. What was that experience like for you?

(Laughs.) For so many years I’ve had several little hiccups during a routine, whether it was my fault or not. I had a fly fly into a drink down in Atlanta. We were in that big convention center, and as soon as I called time, a big fly just landed in the drink.

For me, all I want for my performance is to go out there and do what I practiced, and then let the chips lie where they fall. Knowing that I had that mishap, it shook me for like two seconds, and then I was able to regain composure. One thing I can say is that most people don’t finish on time when they have to re-pull an espresso shot. They almost always go over. So the fact that I was able to finish on time, I definitely credit that to working lots of bar shifts on crazy busy days.

How have you processed the experience and the result since returning home?

I mean, how many people can say they’re fourth in the world at anything? You just have to celebrate the journey. To be able to be on that stage with a smallholder farm, a female producer, the amount of collaboration that it took to be able to even bring her coffee to that stage—it was a huge accomplishment.

Isaiah pours milk during the finals, wearing a floral patterned shirt and denim apron. Judges watch in front of his table, and the audience watches from the background.
Isaiah prepares beverages for the judges during the WBC finals, where his presentation was inspired by the “happy accidents“ concept familiar to Bob Ross fans.

Has your recent barista competition success had much of an impact on your life in Omaha and Archetype Coffee?

I would say we see the effect more on the website than we do locally. Also, I feel like these are those moments where you have to work it really hard via Instagram or all of those channels, and I just suck at that. So our website has definitely given us a little bump and a little bit more exposure, but yeah, I can probably do better at it. But through the website we’re shipping coffee to the U.K. and Japan and China … it’s always cool to see that.

Locally, it’s just such a niche competition that no matter how much you explain it, Omaha just doesn’t fully understand what we do. The TV news did a little interview with me, and then you read all the comments, and the comments are just very humbling. Locally it’s just a different beast, so you have to keep a lightheartedness about it.

The six WBC finalists pose together.
The 2023 World Barista Championship finalists, from left: Dawn Chan, Hong Kong; Daniele Ricci, Italy; Boram Um, Brazil; Jack Simpson, Australia; Isaiah; Patrick Rolf, Denmark.

Any final thoughts to share on the experience you just had?

I think worlds is one of the hardest things that I’ve done. Winning the U.S. is a hard thing, but I just think, when it all sets in that you’re representing the United States on a world stage, it’s like, oh crap, this is the closest I’ll ever get to becoming an Olympian. I think it’s a bit sobering and it’s like, oh shoot I’m representing my country, I’m not just representing Archetype.

You always want to give your all, but it’s just a hard competition. The world stage is a whole other level. I’ve always had great respect for anyone that steps on that competition stage because you’re putting out your art, and art is very subjective. And so when you get those scorecards it’s a very humbling thing. But to do it on a world scale where there’s even more exposure and pressure, hats off to anyone who puts in the time and passion. I have the utmost respect for all of those people representing their countries.

READ THE LATEST BARISTA MAGAZINE

Out now: It’s the June + July 2023 issue of Barista Magazine featuring Martin Shabaya of Kenya on the cover. Read it for free with our digital edition. Get your Barista Magazine delivered; start a subscription today! Visit our online store to renew your subscription or order back issues.

About Chris Ryan 263 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.