Meet the U.S. Regional Champs: NC Brewers Cup ”George Burnett

In the days leading up to the United States Barista Championship and the U.S. Brewer’s Cup, we at Barista Magazine are proud to share with you exclusive interviews with the six regional champions in each competition. We will feature the Southwestern Barista and Brewer’s Cup Champions; the Northwestern Barista and Brewers Cup Champions; the Southeast Barista and Brewers Cup Champions; the Northeastern Barista and Brewer’s Cup Champions; the South Central Barista and Brewers Cup Champions; and the North Central Regional Barista and Brewer’s Cup Champions on Tuesday. And stay tuned right here on Barista Magazine’s blog all next week for more of our preview coverage of all the exciting events and parties happening in Seattle in conjunction with the SCAA, and reports and photos of all the action every day through the end of this epic week in coffee.

George Burnett
Retail Shift Lead
Intelligentsia Coffee Old Town
Chicago, Illinois

When did you first get into coffee?

I worked at a Starbucks for a couple weeks when I was eighteen and fell in love with coffee. I hadn’t had another opportunity to work in the industry until last May, when Intelligentsia hired me. So, arguably, this is my first coffee job.

Study with Chemex on Patio.
Study with Chemex on Patio.

What was your first amazing experience with coffee?

I used to always walk past one of the Intelligentsia cafes in the Loop on my way to school, but I never went in. The smell was intoxicating every time though. My first close encounter with incredible coffee was during training this last June. We cupped a Guatemala that was sweet in a way I’d never experienced before. It was the coffee that opened my eyes to what the beverage is capable of being.

Alternate title: Gooseneck on patio in Chicago winter.
Alternate title: Gooseneck on patio in Chicago winter.

Barista competition history?

My first competition was the Big Central last October. The first of many, I hope.

Also know as: Profile on Patio at Chicago Sundown in Winter, Chemex and Small Dog
Also known as: Profile on Patio at Chicago Sundown in Winter, Chemex and Small Dog

The coffee scene in the Chicago area seems to be hoppin!

I’m so new to the community I don’t feel qualified to comment. I’ve had nothing but good experiences at the Chicago cafes I’ve visited, though. All the Chicago coffee people I’ve met so far have been great.

Steam with Dog, Coffee, George.
Steam with Dog, Coffee, George. Melancholy.

How did you train for the regional, and how are you preparing for the U.S. Brewers Cup?

Training for Big Central happened mostly during the week leading up to it. Most of it was working on a routine and choosing a coffee. There were some late nights, but it was worth missing out on a little sleep. Training for the U.S. Brewers Cup has been a little different. I picked a coffee a few weeks ago and spent the last few weeks working on relegating brewing three batches to muscle memory so I can focus on talking while I do it. I’m still working out my concept and presentation, but it’s coming together.

Hospitality in Winter by George.
Hospitality in Winter by George.

Can you tell us about the coffee you used in the regional?

I used a tiny lot of coffee from Limu Kossa in Ethiopia. It comes from a washing station owned by the Shegole Cooperative, where we started a pilot program to produce the highest-quality coffee possible. Extreme care was taken in every step of the process, from harvesting the ripest cherry all the way through processing, roasting, and brewing. It has all the complexity I’ve grown accustomed to in coffee from Ethiopia. However, while other coffees from Ethiopia (especially the many Yirgacheffe offerings I’ve tasted) have been incredibly juicy and floral, this particular lot was sweet enough to balance out the sharpness of its acidity. It tasted incredible and cooled amazingly well. I love it not only because it was phenomenal in the cup, but also because it was very easy to connect that quality back to the efforts of everyone involved in the process of creating it. Something like that doesn’t come about unless everyone involved is passionate about what they do. It was really exciting to be a part of that.

This one really speaks to me of love, loss...
This one really speaks to me of love, loss…

Why do you feel competing in barista comps and brewers cup type things are important educational experiences for baristas?

Aside from the great opportunity the competition stage provides for presenting new ideas and techniques, I think the events are great opportunities to network, and learn how-to. It’s a skill that I think is hard to teach, but the environment at the competition I attended made it very easy to just talk to people. We’re all there with a shared interest, so conversation isn’t hard to find. While the stage itself is a platform to advance coffee as an industry, the crowd is why we have such an amazing community.

What do you do when you’re not doing coffee?

I spend a lot of time fulfilling stereotypes about baristas. I just got a Kindle so I’ve been reading a lot in the last few weeks. I like riding my bike when doing so won’t turn me into a popsicle. I should draw more, but I usually fall asleep on the couch with Netflix on in the background when I try to. I play video games, though my interest in them is waning.


About Sarah 932 Articles
Sarah Allen (she/her) is co-founder and editor of Barista Magazine, the international trade magazine for coffee professionals. A passionate advocate for baristas, quality, and the coffee community, Sarah has traveled widely to research stories, interact with readers, and present on a variety of topics affecting specialty coffee. She also loves animals, swimming, ice cream, and living in Portland, Oregon.