The 2018 U.S. Barista Championship Semifinals Recap

Eighteen baristas competed in the semifinal of the United States Barista Championship—heres a recap of Round Two.


Photos courtesy of the SCA

Kay Cheon—Dune Coffee Roasters, Santa Barbara, Calif

“Transformation takes place at each step of the coffee supply chain,” Kay begins, “leading into how coffee transforms the lives of those in the supply chain.” Kay is using a coffee from Hacienda La Papaya. It’s a washed Typica varietal grown at 2,100m. 11-minute roast, lower roast time, 25 percent development, maximizing sweetness.

David Castillo— Joe Coffee, New York

David is one of the competitors who made it through from round one. He posits that although coffee pros enjoy the big top notes of the Gesha variety, it perhaps lacks some of the depth that most customers would find viscerally satisfying. David finishes with a call for us to understand our customers’ preferences, and for us to use our knowledge of the supply chain to find coffee that can be exciting for those both inside and outside the coffee industry.

Edward Griffin—PTs Coffee Roasters, Kansas City, Mo.

Edward uses a coffee from longtime direct trade partner Aida Battle called Finca Kilimanjaro. Aida grows a coffee unlike many coffees from El Salvador; this coffee is a natural-processed Kenyan varietal. Menu boards on the table for judges to reference.
Long extraction time on the espresso at 35 seconds. First sip: creamy body, sweetness of milk chocolate, brown sugar, blueberry. As espresso dries on palate, it fades, leaving semi-sweet dark cocoa and orange blossom.

Mike Greene—Stovetop Roasters, Holland, Mich.

Mike is another competitor who made it through from round one. “Im truly ecstatic to be here this morning.” Mike uses a dry-processed coffee from Burundi and makes a signature drink reminiscent of an amaro. Beet sugar + pectin + miel de cacao + herbal infusion + espresso in a heavy, dense glass.

Sam Neely—Switchback Coffee Roasters, Colorado Springs, Colo.

This is Sams first time on the USBC stage. Sam competes using a Sidra variety, a naturally occurring cross of Red Bourbon and Typica from Ecuador. The coffee was fermented for 24 hours, washed, dried on raised beds. Added step: whole coffee cherries are placed into steel container and sealed for 60 hours. Sams cheering crowd includes the fun and friendly Colorado coffee scene.

Samantha Spillman—Dillanos Coffee Roasters, Seattle

Hometown hero Sam won a spot in the semifinals from round one. Sam competes with a washed Gesha coffee from Colombia. Toffee, honey, graham cracker in Sam’s milk drink. “Reminds me of a little bit of milk leftover from the bottom of a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios.”

Isaiah Sheese—Archetype Coffee, Omaha, Neb.

“Every coffee farmer story we hear this weekend is important, and needs to be shared.” Isaiah moves into a discussion about the effects of climate change on coffee production—production needs to increase to keep pace with demand. Isaiah uses a coffee grown at 1,450m from the Santa Barbara region of Honduras. Isaiah has an interactive routine, asking judges to build a part of his signature drink, smelling and adding ingredients.

Jared Holt—Black & White Coffee Roasters, Wake Forest, N.C.

Jared competes using a coffee from Gesha Village in Ethiopia. Sifting his coffee for over a minute, its a naturally processed Gesha 1931, 1,900-2,100m, vast diurnal temperature cycle, first dried in shade, then in sun for 28 days. “The cleanest natural Ive ever tasted,” says Jared. Jared calls out flavors of sweet lemon, bergamot, Earl Grey tea, and jasmine aromas.

Reef Bessette—Saint Frank Coffee, San Francisco

Reef introduces his coffee, from San Vicente mill, Santa Barbara, Honduras, on a farm close to a lake, which cools the coffee trees down, drastically slowing harvest. This hand-picked coffee is washed and fermented in plastic tanks, helping it be clean. Benjamin Paz, who operates the mill, is in the audience.

Simeon Bricker—Splitlog Coffee, Lees Summit, Mo.

“The pressure of farming and fighting for change in Burundi is beginning to produce coffees with immense beauty and vibrancy,” begins Simeon. Edge of a forest, within view of Long Miles Coffee Project washing station. Heirloom Bourbon variety. Simeon grinds his coffee on an EK coarsely, then runs it through the PEAK grinder to make it finer to eliminate boulders.

Jenna Gotthelf—Everyman Espresso, New York

“When you overcome adversity you can achieve extraordinary things.” Jenna uses a natural coffee from Burundi. 1,900m, Bourbon-lineage cultivars. Cherry selection adds cleanliness, picking slightly under-ripe making processing easier to control. Lots of processing details, roasting details; Jenna understands how the producers and the roasters worked to achieve quality in this coffee.

Andrea Allen—Onyx Coffee Lab, Springdale, Ark.

“I hope my daughters see me working really hard as a business owner,” says Andrea. Talking with Pablo, the producer of her coffee, makes Andrea think about the legacy of her own business. With water for each course, Andrea presents a lot of service details. Andrea uses El Obraje, from Nariño, Colombia, grown at 2,200m and naturally processed.

Brandon Acuña—Fleet Coffee, Austin, Texas

Brandon talks a lot about the senses, and how we experience taste without tasting things. Tartaric acidity, demerara sugar sweetness mango and currant creamy mouthfeel, mild tannic finish: tasting notes on Brandons espresso, with an aromatic jasmine and blueberry aromatic element. Lots of careful movement and intentional details in this routine.

Eli Ramirez—Counter Culture Coffee, Dallas

Eli starts by talking about the producers of this coffee, a partnership between husband and wife, whose dueling viewpoints come together in Finca El Puente in Honduras. Honey-processed, this Gesha coffee has a “singing acidity,” clear sweetness, and satisfying body. Coffee is bagged, sits overnight, kickstarting fermentation, before being pulped. They leave 25 percent of the mucilage on, before drying in both sun and shade.

Joel Bigelow—Messenger Coffee, Kansas City, Mo.

“Be grateful,” says Joel. At the start of a comfortable-looking routine, after preparing espresso. Orange citrus turns to orange creamsicle in Joels milk drink. Also, Milk Duds. Cara cara orange juice, sarsaparilla syrup, shaken with ice, strained into an elegant coupe, Joel calls his sig drink The Optimist; “Self image is vitally important. I would love for baristas to view themselves as influencers in a global industry, creating experiences for customers that are so meaningful.”

Cole McBride–Independent, Seattle

Cole gets right to work, speaking quickly, housekeeping details, then straight to story.
“Mastery is more about the journey, not the destination, the constant pursuit of attaining the next level.” Cole has used coffee from La Papaya in competition for the last three years from the same roaster, Velton Ross. 100 percent Typica, natural-processed. Tropical aroma, soft pineapple, grapefruit zest, sweetness of brown sugar, medium body, silky: espresso notes.

Naida Lindberg—Verve Coffee Roasters, Santa Cruz, Calif.

“It was floral, acidic, and complex … and I hated it,” Naida, muses on an espresso experience, and then takes a moment to learn her judges names. Using a harmony and synergy in blending the coffees in her signature drink. “I hope you feel that same feeling of joy when you try this signature beverage,” says Naida. Highlight florality with oolong tea, frozen into sphere, muddle blackberry and honey, unlocking a raspberry flavor, an Ethiopian honey spritzed on a rocks glass for the sig drink.

T. Ben Fischer—Elixr Coffee Roasters, Philadelphia

“Happy Saturday, friends. When I was five years old I had my first sip of coffee,” leads T. Ben to reminisce about his grandmother, “the first person I connected to over coffee.” Then moves into a memorable customer interaction, and his opportunity to visit a coffee farm, La Palma y El Tucan, in Colombia.
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