Reyna Callejo on Finding Victory with Coffee Cocktails 

We talk to the new U.S. Coffee in Good Spirits Champion about tropical cocktails, coffee competitions, and more.

Photos courtesy of Olympia Coffee

Reyna Callejo is no stranger to the U.S. Coffee Championships stage—since the 2018-2019 season she has competed in Barista competitions, earning a semifinal berth in the U.S. Barista Championship (USBC) three times.

Reyna, who works as the director of training and innovation at Olympia Coffee, decided to switch things up for competition this year, taking part in both the USBC and the U.S. Coffee in Good Spirits Championship, in which competitors make and serve coffee cocktails.

The latter competition is one she has been well aware of: Sam Schroeder, co-owner of Olympia Coffee, won the U.S. Coffee in Good Spirits Championship in 2023, and Reyna traveled to Taiwan with Sam in November 2023 to serve as his coach at the World Coffee in Good Spirits Championship.

Reyna built her 2024 Coffee in Good Spirits routine around tropical coffee cocktails.

This year Reyna stepped into the Coffee in Good Spirits competition herself, and it was a successful endeavor. Making five drinks over three rounds of competition, she bested the field to become the 2024 U.S. Coffee in Good Spirits Champion, earning a spot at the World Coffee in Good Spirits Championship in Copenhagen, Denmark, in June.

She earned the victory by serving drinks honoring her home state of Hawaii, creating tropical cocktails featuring coffee from her friends at Maunawili Coffee and telling a sustainability-minded story about the island nation.

We talked to Reyna about crafting her beverages, channeling Hawaii, and more.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You’ve taken part in Barista competitions since 2018; what do you like about competing?

The thing that drives me to compete is the personal development, generally speaking. I think coffee competitions are an excellent way for people to explore innovation and new technology, and to get on the stage and talk about the thing they’re really excited about. But more than anything, I think competition drives excellence in people.

Reyna has been competing in Barista since 2018; in her first season taking part in Coffee in Good Spirits, she claimed the title.

As a longtime Barista competitor, why did you decide to also compete in Coffee in Good Spirits this year?

Sam won last year, and he competed in Barista for a number of years also. After my 2023 season, he told me, “Hey, I think you should compete at Coffee in Good Spirits, and I think I should be your coach. And I think you’ll win.” (Laughs.) That was a conversation we had.

Honestly, it was a hard sell for me. I really wanted to continue competing in Barista. And juggling both competitions at the same time was a nightmare. I think Coffee in Good Spirits is a completely different mindset than Barista competition. I feel like with Barista competition, I had to put in a lot more of myself in terms of time, effort, and emotion, whereas Coffee in Good Spirits, for whatever reason, came more easily.

Reyna brought one of her tropical cocktails to life with a fiery garnish.

Can you tell me about putting together your Coffee in Good Spirits routine, which was inspired by where you grew up in Hawaii?

This routine for me has been in the works since I started working in coffee.

When I first started working in coffee, I had a unique opportunity to volunteer on the Hawaii Agriculture Research Center’s coffee farm. My friend Juli (Burden), who is the producer of my coffee, had started working for Hawaii Agriculture Research Center, mostly assisting some of the researchers doing variety trials at the farm. So as a very fresh baby barista, I got to spend time on a coffee farm; it was really fun.

So building the routine for Coffee in Good Spirits in 2024, thinking about the coffees that I had received from Juli this year, we wanted to move in the direction of featuring the tropical characteristics of this coffee—and what better way to do it than with tropical-based drinks?

When you think of Hawaii, I think generally the public thinks of the super-touristy areas, the beautiful landscape, and most importantly, drinking a beautiful cocktail on the beach. Yes, that is what Hawaii is to a lot of people. That’s not what Hawaii is to me, though. Hawaii is my home, and Hawaii has a rich history that I think is often brushed aside.

So when I was mulling over ideas with Juli, we started talking about sugarcane. Hawaii Agriculture Research Center was key in rebuilding and restoring heirloom sugarcane production on the island—the same organization that helps to do coffee research on the island these days was responsible for bringing back I think 34 varieties of heirloom sugarcane.

So after we had talked about what I could do with sugarcane, she was like, hey, do you want to meet my friends? They make rum from this. And it all kind of fell together. It’s so crazy to be able to serve ingredients sourced from Maunawili, sourced from Hawaii Agriculture Research Center, grown literally 20 minutes from my childhood house, ya know? It’s wild.

In her winning routine, Reyna served rum and coffee sourced from Hawaii.

I understand you were coached this year by Sam Schroeder and your partner, Alan Jones. Can you talk about that collaboration?

My coaches are honestly such incredible hard workers. Sam is a wealth of knowledge who is able to provide really solid feedback, regardless of whether it’s positive or negative. Alan, my partner, is the person who takes care of the details—like managing the schedule and making sure all our items are packed.

To some degree though, I don’t have just these two coaches; the whole team at Olympia Coffee supports me, and helped me with my flavor calls. It’s a huge team effort. Sam and Alan are my coaches on paper, but everybody at Olympia Coffee who has the time will come by and help me prep for my competitions. I love them all so much.

Finally, now you get to go to Worlds in June. What are you working on for that competition?

At the World level, you have to be more confident in every single flavor call that you make. That’s one of the things we’re going to work heavily on when we get to Copenhagen—we’re going to spend a lot of time making and tasting the cocktails there with the water, with the ice, to make sure that when we give a flavor call, it is absolutely that, and hopefully appealing to the Worlds palate.

Cover image of the April + May 2024 19th Anniversary Issue

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About Chris Ryan 261 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.