U.S. CoffeeChamps Crowns Winners in Orange County, Calif.

The national Barista and Brewers Cup champions are crowned, while finalists from three other competitions proceed to Portland.


Cover photo by Jenn Hall for the Specialty Coffee Association

The hundreds of coffee professionals who descended upon the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa for the U.S. Coffee Championships last weekend were welcomed by Southern California’s classic charm: blue skies, 70-degree weather, and palm trees left and right. Inside the Costa Mesa building, five stages were set up for the competitions, and the outside sounds of the fairground added to the feelings of excitement and nerves throughout the day.

Kay Cheon of Dune Coffee Roasters in Santa Barbara, Calif., made his second appearance in the United States Barista Championship final round, and earned his highest rank to date: a very admirable second place. Photo by Jenn Hall.

Inside, baristas working at the Barista Guild Café churned out great espresso drinks all weekend. Pacific Barista Series is always the nondairy milk of choice there, and this weekend the bar was stocked with their newest offerings—Unsweetened Almond and Hemp. In addition to the baristas staffing the bar, U.S. Barista Championship competitors took turns making drinks for the crowds using their competition coffee. For guests, it was the closest they could get to tasting the milk beverages that the judges are served by each competitor.

The Roaster Village in full swing at USCC. Photo by Valorie Clark.

Adding to the five stages and the café were the Roaster Village and The Market. Dozens of vendors were in attendance to show off products and give out samples. In keeping with the fairground locale, many booths were holding games with prizes. At Curtis’ booth, anyone could step right up to test their palate by guessing the origins of four brewed coffees they were serving. At stake was a brightly colored water bottle and, of course, pride. Meanwhile, Anita Tam of Slow Pour Supply and Andrew Bettis of Rancilio were there staffing the Latte Art Competition activation stage. All weekend Latte Art Champion Angie Chun wowed people with demonstrations of the intricate latte art that is expected of World Latte Art Championship competitors. It was all in service of getting U.S. baristas excited for the competition’s return to the country for the 2021 season.

USLAC Champ Angie Chun demonstrates award-winning pours. Photo by Valorie Clark.

Other vendors included Slayer Espresso, Acaia, and Able Coffee Roasters, an Orange County roaster focused on hiring people with autism and others who are differently abled. Hella Cocktails was there sponsoring the Coffee In Good Spirits competition, as well as introducing the specialty-coffee community to their canned Bitters & Soda beverage. Down the row, Rishi Tea was also introducing their new line of six canned sparkling teas, Sparkling Botanicals.

The seven baristas who earned a spot in the semifinal round of the United States Barista Championship after a particularly competitive preliminary round. Clockwise from top left: Reyna Callejo of Olympia Coffee, Olympia, Wash.; Jason Yeo of Saint Frank Coffee in San Francisco; Meg Skop, an independent barista from Oakland, Calif.; Gisel Alvarez of Monarch Coffee in Kansas City, Mo.; Elisabeth Johnson of Hagen Coffee in Seattle; Rodrigo Vargas of Elixr Coffee in Philadelphia; and Jenna Gotthelf of Counter Culture Coffee in New York City. Photo by Jenn Hall.

At the five stages—for the U.S. Barista and Brewers Cup Championship and the Coffee In Good Spirits, Roaster, and Cup Tasters Qualifier—competitions were timed so the crowd could shift from one to another without risk of missing out on too much. The crowd held its breath for seemingly every performance, and cheered enthusiastically for every finish. As the competitions progressed, the air grew progressively heavier with that kind of excited tension that promises so much. When winners were finally announced on Sunday evening, it broke with cheers for the competitors who are moving on to Portland and Melbourne. Andrea Allen is this year’s U.S. Barista Champion and Elika Liftee is the U.S. Brewers Cup Champion; both will represent the USA at their respective world competitions in Melbourne in May.

The U.S. CoffeeChamps event in Costa Mesa was also the second and final Qualifier for the Coffee In Good Spirits Championship, which will have its national competition in Portland, Ore., during the Specialty Coffee Expo in April. This photo shows the talented coffee bartenders who scored high enough to earn a spot in the national championship, including the top three finishers from left: Meghan-Annette Reida, independent, Milwaukee, Wis., in second place; Alexandra Hager of CJ Foodville USA in Los Angeles, who placed first; and third-place finisher Kelsey Maccombs of Glitter Cat in Philadelphia. Photo by Jenn Hall.

For a full list of rankings for the U.S. Barista and Brewers Cup Championships, you can read the lists here. For finalists moving on to Portland, Ore., for Cup Tasters, Coffee in Good Spirits, and Roaster, the rankings are here.

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Valorie Clark (@TheValorieClark) is a freelance writer with a background in specialty coffee. She is based in Los Angeles.

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