This month, Mike Greene and Sam Schaefer will be in Seattle competing at the US Barista Championship. This is an opportunity for baristas from around the country to compete for the title of US Barista Champion (the ambassador for specialty coffee in the country). The competition has been narrowed down from 100 to 36, and we’re thrilled to have two of our own brilliant folks among them. In order to compete in this year's championship, Mike and Sam have spent months proving their talents in qualifying competitions around the country. In Louisville, Reno, and New Orleans, they said, "The Stovetop boys know their stuff," and the judges said, "That's true. On to Seattle!"
The US Barista Championship is a timed service routine. Competitors have 15 minutes to prepare and serve espressos, espresso and milk drinks, and one signature beverage. While they work, the baristas deliver a speech that accompanies the drinks, featuring some coffee information (where the beans came from, how they were roasted) and some personal information (why the barista chose these drinks, what inspired the barista during this season of training). The routine is somewhere between a high-end coffee service and a TED talk.
As the baristas serve their drinks and deliver their speeches, they are evaluated by four sensory judges and two technical judges. The sensory judges assess the flavor and presentation of the drinks, as well as the delivery of the speech and the barista’s overall professionalism, while the technical judges stand behind the workspace with the barista, evaluating and scoring every move the competitor makes. The baristas must move through the space masterfully. No spilling, no wasting, no drips. The goal is to prepare the best beverage you can, making no mistakes, while also explaining how you prepared it and what it tastes like.
What motivates Mike and Sam to compete?
For Mike, it’s a great excuse to spend extra time researching coffee and practicing service. He’s competed in the past, and it’s always been a time to grow significantly as a coffee professional and to think critically about what’s important to him. Watching the work, dedication, and passion of the baristas at previous competitions has inspired and motivated him. It’s a setting that provides time and space for coffee people to grow as a community, and to Mike it’s a privilege to be there.
Sam first became aware of competition eight years ago as a customer in a coffee shop. The shop’s staff was active in competition, and witnessing their craft was what first drew Sam into the coffee world. He started watching the competitions every year, eventually becoming a barista himself. In the 2017 season he served as a judge, and it became a personal goal to compete this year. Competition is an opportunity to push himself beyond what he’s currently capable of. It’s what inspires him to better himself and his community.
We’re lucky to have such talent in the Stovetop crew. See you soon, Seattle.