At a special event at the La Marzocco Café in Seattle this week, Sam Spillman, the reigning U.S. Barista Champion, made her competition signature drink for café visitors.
BY CHRIS RYAN
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos by Jenn Callender
In the last couple of months, if you wanted to see Sam Spillman make her elaborate barista-competition signature drink, you would have had to catch her on the U.S. Barista Championship stage—where she took home the 2019 title—or performing at the World Barista Championship in Boston earlier this month. And even then, you’d just get the visual element—including a burst of steam mimicking a rising fog—rather than the full sensory experience of tasting it.
However, that changed on Thursday, April 25, when Sam took part in a special event at the La Marzocco Cafe in Seattle in which she made her signature drink for guests at the café, who had the opportunity to talk to the U.S. Barista Champion about the drink and her recent competition experience.
Sam created the beverage after a visit to the celebrated La Palma y El Tucan (LPET) coffee estate, located in Colombia’s Cundimarca Department. To evoke the experience of the visit, she paired a natural lactic coffee from LPET with “passion-fruit sipping vinegar, a lychee-infused soda water, and finally, an orchid aromatic fog made with dry ice to re-create the aroma of the coffee that gets lost when the beverage is chilled,” according to La Marzocco’s website.
Because she had spent so much time selecting the coffee and creating the drink for her competition routine, Sam says she was very excited at the opportunity to share the beverage with a wider audience via the café. “Serving my WBC drink was truly an honor,” she says. “It’s so crazy that all of these incredible coffees that are used for competition only get to be tasted by four judges. When La Marzocco Café asked if I wanted to serve my signature beverage, I couldn’t help but say ‘yes.’”
Sam, who works as a coffee education specialist at Dillanos Coffee Roasters in Sumner, Wash., says the drink required a little more preparation than the average drink served in the café setting—as well as the assistance of the café’s baristas. “At first, it was a little challenging to get everything organized, but as soon as I got the coffee dialed in and my ingredients prepped, it felt completely natural,” she explains.
Sam says a wide range of visitors lined up to try the signature drink—from café customers to coffee-industry professionals—and she encountered a wide range of questions. “I was very surprised by so many people asking about the coffee I was using, and more specifically the natural lactic processing it went through,” she says. “People were also very curious about the design process for this beverage. This was fun to answer because it gave me the opportunity to share the challenges of creating a signature beverage that not only tastes good, but also is synergistic with my barista routine.”
Ultimately for Sam, serving the drink at the La Marzocco Café was a fitting capper on an ultra-eventful coffee-competition season. “It honestly felt like I was going through the signature beverage portion of my routine over and over again,” she says. “Sharing a beverage that I spent over eight months creating and tweaking was a very sentimental experience for me—it was truly a joy to serve this coffee and this beverage to the general public.”