USBC Champion Cole McBride Opens Up About Staying Focused

The recently crowned United States Barista Champion discusses his mindset during competition, taking part in USBC as an independent barista, and much more.


Photos courtesy of Jake Olson for SCA

Over the next few weeks, Barista Magazine Online will present a series of interviews with the winners and top finishers at this year’s United States Coffee Championships, which took place in Seattle in April. You can see a full list of winners along with a rundown of the first and second round of the barista competition, along with a livestream of the competition as well. 

Cole McBride didn’t have to travel far to compete in this year’s United States Barista Championship (USBC). A resident of Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, he made the short jaunt down to the Washington State Convention Center to compete in the national contest. But while the 33-year-old barista’s physical trip to USBC was brief, his life journey to the competition was a much longer one. This was Cole’s seventh time competing in the USBC, and those previous competitions included several difficult losses and learning experiences. This year’s competition turned out to be lucky number seven, however, as Cole won the 2018 United States Barista Championship. Days after winning the prize he had pursued for so long, Cole talked to us about staying focused during competition, how it feels to finally win, and more.

Cole McBride is the 2018 United States Barista Champion. This is his seventh year competing.

Chris Ryan: What was your mindset going into the competition this year? What did you want to accomplish with your routine?
Cole McBride: My mindset for the competition was always set for “staying focused.” It’s really challenging to focus on one thing during the time of competition because my mind wanders to search for different ideas or to deal with doubts in my head about my presentation. Being healthy definitely helps me have a clear mind, so I would go to yoga and run on a regular basis, which became a big part of my competition training routine.

What I wanted to accomplish with my presentation (and the theme: my journey to pursue the mastering of craft) was to show everyone how a hard-working barista could transform themselves into a master craftsman if she or he keeps challenging themselves, pushing themselves to be better, and never stop learning.

CR: Can you tell me about your coffee?
CM: My coffee comes from a farmer/producer named Juan Pena who owns and manages La Papaya in the southern region of Ecuador. Joe Marrocco of Cafe Imports invited me on a coffee-buying trip in 2015, which changed my life. At the beginning of this trip, we cupped multiple tables of coffees from all over Ecuador. Many showed great potential, but one really stood out, which was from Juan’s farm. The farm’s elevation ranges from 1,800 to 2,100 meters above sea level, and the coffee I used this year is grown at the very highest part of the farm. It’s Typica variety and naturally processed. Through my experience, I’ve come to a realization that picking a coffee that you truly love opens the door for more inspiration.

Cole served a coffee he’s familiar with—La Papaya from Ecuador, roasted by his longtime competition partner, roaster Velton Ross.

CR: Were there any elements of your performance this year that you would say went particularly well and helped you win the USBC?
CM: One thing that went right for me this year was “being in the moment,” or as I call it, the “here and now.” I was able to be present while presenting, and this is not an easy thing to do, especially when you’re nervous and your mind holds a lot of thoughts. All barista competitors work so hard on everything for their presentations, and when you are on the stage in front of all your friends, family, and colleagues/peers, being present almost seems impossible. By knowing myself very well and knowing how I’d react under pressure this year, I was able to be myself on stage, and that has made a huge difference for me.

CR: You work at Stumptown Coffee in Seattle and had a bar shift the morning after your USBC win, yet you were listed as an independent competitor. How does that arrangement work?
CM: I do work at Stumptown Coffee as a full-time barista. I was not sponsored by Stumptown for USBC; however, they kindly let me use their training space to practice, where I also train any of our new hires. Using coffee from Stumptown was not an option for me because I have been working with Velton Ross, who owns Velton’s Coffee, for all seven years I’ve competed. We’ve built a strong and wonderful relationship over the years.

Cole, shown here holding the first-place trophy with trophy sponsor Reg Barber, was back on bar the next day. He is currently a barista at Stumptown Coffee in Seattle.

CR: What was your experience as an independent competitor? Was it challenging not having some of the resources that some of the other competitors had?
CM: Yes, it was a huge struggle, and I have made many personal sacrifices and faced challenging moments due to my limitation for all the resources that I hoped for. This year I had the least amount of resources I’ve ever had in all seven years I’ve competed. My strategy to overcome this was again to stay focused and not let any problems/obstacles prevent me from doing my best. I hope this win could be an inspiration to the other competitors who were in a similar position.

Cole, with 2018 USBC runner-up T. Ben Fischer, the moment he realized he won. Cole will represent the United States at the World Barista Championships in Amsterdam in June.

CR: Lastly, how did it feel to win? I know it’s still very fresh, but how does it feel knowing you will represent the U.S. at the World Barista Championship in Amsterdam?
CM: Representing the U.S at WBC had always been one of my goals/dreams, so it feels incredible. I had very rough moments in the past during the competition, but all that hard work has paid off. I can now see that all the time, effort, sweat, and tears that went into it were necessary elements for my entire journey to get here. I’m so very excited and honored to represent our country as a barista (and as an ambassador) at WBC, and I’m also very excited to meet all the amazing baristas from all over the world.

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.