Montgomery and Seattle: Continuing Coverage of the 2018 Preliminaries

Two weeks, two coffee competitions—we travel coast to coast for the most recent coffee preliminary competitions in Montgomery, Ala., and Seattle.


Cover photo by Willard Meades Photography

Two more competitions down, two left—over the last two weeks, the United States Coffee Championships preliminaries jumped across the country. First, we saw competitors flock to Montgomery, Ala., to compete for guaranteed spots in the upcoming qualifying competitions. The two qualifying events—one in Denver in December and the other in Knoxville in January—will determine who goes on to compete for the title of the best barista and brewer in the U.S. at this year’s United States Coffee Championships, which will be held in early 2019.

Two coffee competitions down, two more to go—these competitions are designed to remove barriers in most competitions—primarily cost—by providing competitors coffee and wares. Photo by Willard Meades Photography.

After Montgomery, baristas and brewers were found making coffee in Seattle for another preliminary event. So far, we’ve seen eight preliminary events, with the top four brewers and six baristas in each event guaranteed a spot at the qualifying event of their choosing. We previously covered those first competitions in Chattanooga, Tenn.; Denver; Amarillo, Texas; Canton, Ohio; Honolulu, Hawaii; and Washington, D.C. After this weekend, there are two events left—one in Grand Rapids, Mich., and one in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.

A Brewers Cup competitor practicing with their compulsory coffee. Competitors must choose a coffee provided by the host, and have a few hours to get to know the coffee and determine the best way to brew it. Photo by Willard Meades Photography.

Here’s what happened, including rankings and results, at the competitions over the last two weeks.


All Montgomery photos by Willard Meades Photography

Barista competition winner and last year’s USBC runner-up T. Ben Fischer presenting coffee to the judges.

Prevail Coffee hosted the Deep South Preliminary Competition in the historic Kress Building in downtown Montgomery. Although most competitors traveled from southern states, the competition brought in baristas from all across the eastern seaboard.

Prevail Coffee hosted the Montgomery event at the Kress Building downtown.


1. T. Ben Fischer—Elixr Coffee Roasters, Philadelphia
2. Samuel Smith—Topeca Coffee Roasters, Tulsa, Okla.
3. Joseph Monett—Cafe Grumpy, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Brewers Cup winner Elika Liftee presenting coffee to the judges.

4. Whit Hagemann—East Pole Coffee Co., Atlanta
5. Jimmy Truong—Woodlawn Cycle Cafe, Birmingham, Ala.
6. Sarah Gill–Mama Mocha’s, Auburn, Ala.

The top six baristas from the Montgomery competition.


1. Elika Liftee—Onyx Coffee Lab, Springdale, Ark.
2. Avery Leith—Elixr Coffee, Philadelphia
3. Blake Neil—Seeds Coffee, Birmingham, Ala.
4. Chelsea Dubay—Purity Coffee, Greenville, S.C.

The top four brewers. By placing in the top four, they are guaranteed spots in the upcoming qualifying competitions.


All Seattle photos courtesy of Molly Flynn

La Marzocco was the site for the Seattle competition.

We go back to Seattle for the next preliminary competition, hosted by La Marzocco USA. For the last two years, Seattle has hosted the U.S. Coffee Championships, and the city has lots of baristas and brewers ready to compete.

Lizzie Johnson, above, place second in both the barista and Brewers Cup competitions.


1. Kristi Persinger—Stumptown Coffee, Los Angeles
2. Elisabeth Johnson—Independent, Seattle
3. Damien Giles—Prince Coffee, Portland, Ore.4. Robert Uribe, Jr.—Cherry Street Public House, Seattle
5. Rebekah Sears—Portland Roasting Coffee, Portland, Ore.
6. Camille Bevans—Nossa Familia, Portland, Ore.

Preliminary events have been a fun and interesting way to play with the format of competition and brainstorm ways to make it more accessible to a larger group. Unique to the Seattle competition, the top finishers were given funds to offset their future competition costs. We’re excited to see what other innovations and steps forward event sponsors will take in the future.


1. Chelsey Walker-Watson—Atlas Coffee Importers, Seattle
2. Elisabeth Johnson—Independent, Seattle
3. Zach Perkins—Roseline Coffee, Portland, Ore.
4. Kelly Hill—Temple Coffee Roasters, Sacramento, Calif.

Tune in later this month for updates from the last two hosts: Grand Rapids and Rancho Cucamonga!

About Ashley Rodriguez 413 Articles
Ashley is the Online Editor for Barista Magazine. She's based in Chicago. If you want to share a story or have a comment, you can reach her at