The Top Six USBC Competitors Share Their Signature Drinks: Part One

The top six competitors at last month’s United States Barista Championship crafted some diverse—and tasty—signature drinks. We talked to the competitors, who shared the inspiration behind their drinks and how to make them at home.


Photos by Nate Gwatney. 

Each of the top six competitors at last month’s United States Barista Championship had to craft a signature drink for the judges. The signature drink is meant to be an expression of the barista’s skill, understanding of their coffee, and their creativity. Below, we talk to the sixth-, fifth-, and fourth-place finishers about how they came up with their drinks and the recipes they used so you can re-create these top-finishing drinks. Check out part two of this feature tomorrow featuring the signature drinks of the top-three finishers. 

Josh Taves, Novo Coffee

What inspired your signature drink? 

I allowed my coffee to inspire the signature beverage. My journey with this coffee was unique, and I found the roast profile and the way I was pulling the shots to be unconventional. I decided the best way to create synergy between the sig bev and the coffee was to create a drink that was also unconventional, so I turned to molecular gastronomy. Ancillary inspiration came from the recent rise in TV shows that highlight the world’s best chefs. I really love seeing how some of the world’s top chefs don’t just cook a meal, they create an experience through interaction with all the senses, visual stimulation and intrigue, complementing and contrasting flavors, layers of experience in a single bite, and general playing with the emotions. I wanted to create a drink like that.

What coffee did you use and why did you choose it? 

I used a washed Ethiopian coffee from Ninety Plus Coffee called Belekatu. I chose it because it is a delicious coffee and my favorite in our current offerings. I like using coffees in competitions that are accessible to the general public. We sell this coffee at any of our locations and on our website for $17/12oz, and I think that is a great way for the public to connect with what is happening on the competition stage.

I also wanted to highlight Novo’s relationship with Ninety Plus Coffees, in that Belekatu is a mutual project we have developed with them.

What did you hope to accomplish with your signature drink?

In addition to what I previously said, I would add that I was hoping to guide the judges through an understanding of my signature beverage in the easiest way possible. It was a difficult signature beverage to pull off in that it had three “acts,” you might say, but you had to experience it all at once. I wanted to showcase the complexity and intrigue of the drink through my description while still making it accessible to the judges and not making it so complicated that pieces were lost along the way.

What’s the recipe? 

Juice Recipe:

-200g juiced Granny Smith apples, reduced by half and clarified to create an intensified green apple juice
-75g whole milk
-65g Dark brown sugar
-2.5g xanthin gum
-1.5g calcium lactate gluconate

Blend all that up until smooth and then put it in the refrigerator overnight or as long as it takes to remove all bubbles.

Bath Recipe:

-.5g sodium alginate
-1000g distilled water

Blend until thoroughly mixed, then put it in the refrigerator overnight or as long as it takes to remove all bubbles

Sphere Recipe:

-Scoop 3/4 tbsp of juice recipe into the bath gently and allow to sit for 5-10 minutes. A sphere will form with a jelly casing outside and a liquid center. Gently scoop sphere out of bath with a small mesh sieve.

Crumble Recipe:

-Halved pecans, charred in a pan until glossy black throughout. Allow to sit, covered, until cool
-Crumble in blender until a fine consistency is reached


Place one sphere in a shallow ceramic vessel. Crumble a small amount of burned pecans on top for color and flavor contrast. Pour a single shot of espresso around the sphere. Drink the entire contents at once. (Shoot it like an oyster.) Break the sphere with the tip of your tongue as it enters your mouth. Buckle up for a crazy ride!

Bethany Hargrove, Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters

What inspired your signature drink?

If the question was a signature beverage, I found the answer in my thesis—technique—and the flavors that made the coffee taste the way it tastes.

Tell us about your coffee and why it works with your signature drink?

The coffee was the organic grade 1 from Hambela Estate in Ethiopia. I let my ingredients be informed by the techniques that made the coffee what it is, so I needed them to reflect 1) agriculture, 2) fermentation, 3) roasting, and 4) brewing.

What did you hope to accomplish with your sig drink?

Reinforce my thesis, build synergy, and make something that tasted awesome.

What did you want the judges to get from it?

Honestly, I wanted to make it easy for the judges to give me points.

What’s the recipe?

4 shots Ethiopia Hambela espresso
12g blackberry blossom honey
2ml wild-foraged rosehip vinegar
Chill/dilute with rose water ice
Top with blackcurrant foam (60:40 blackcurrant jam to rose water under pressure)

Sam Lewontin, Everyman Espresso

What inspired your signature drink? Tell us about your coffee and why it works with your signature drink?

I competed at USBC with a washed Variedad Colombia, grown and processed on an 0.4-hectare farm in Colombia’s Nariño department by Tito Raul Quelal. Both on the cupping table and as espresso, this coffee had a distinct Cherry Coke thing going on: super-balanced phosphoric and citric acidity, spice flavors, and tons of sweetness. I’m a big fan of looking outside of coffee for inspiration, both in flavor construction and in service, so this was a great fit. Cherry Coke—and Coca-Cola in general—are incredible feats of flavor engineering, so I was inspired to pick apart their flavors, see what made them tick, and then see if I couldn’t construct my drink in a similar way, using the coffee as the main flavor driver.

What did you hope to accomplish with your sig drink? How did you want it to fit into your routine and theme? What did you want the judges to get from it?

Mainly, I just wanted to serve my judges something delicious, which was genuinely built to complement the flavors which I first fell in love with in the coffee, rather than supplanting them. So often, the other ingredients in a signature drink overwhelm everything about the coffee but its “brown” flavors—Maillard saccharides and the like—so here, in contrast, I wanted to use the coffee as the sole source of acidity and fruit flavor.

At its root, my routine was about finding a common language with which to build a common understanding of coffee with our guests. In the end, it turns out that this language is just the flavors of the coffees we serve, and drinks like this one—which place those flavors in a context which makes it easier for our guests to perceive and understand them—are great tools for building it.

What’s the recipe?

3 extractions of Don Tito’s coffee, using 21g of coffee for a 35g yield in 25 seconds
20g 1:1 dark muscovado simple syrup
4.5g whole mace blades
4.5g whole green cardamom pods

Combine all ingredients in a whipped cream charger. Charge with nitrous oxide, shake, and relieve pressure, holding charger upright to avoid dispensing. Strain mixture through a fine-mesh strainer to remove solids and foam. Stir with ice until thoroughly chilled, and strain into four 4oz cider glasses. Express the oil from one slice of lime peel over all four drinks to garnish, discarding the peel.

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