Prior to last year, if you were a coffee competitor you would first compete in a regional event and then if you placed high enough you’d be off to the championships that are held along with the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s annual big convention. The winner of that event would go on to represent the USA in the World Coffee Events like World Barista Championship. To lower the costs and ease the logistics of holding these events, 2016 marks the first year where the regionals were cancelled in lieu of a Qualifying Event for the whole country. And, as luck would have it, the United States Coffee Championships Qualifying Event is being held this week right here in good ol’ Kansas City!
Events kicked off on Tuesday and will finish up on Friday. I was lucky enough to be able to attend a lot of the barista competition yesterday, and the lack of reviews this week are reflective of that as well as a hectic early morning schedule at work when I usually do my writing. Things will be back to normal next week!
This is the first coffee competition I’ve ever attended, although I watched some of the Championships on the livecast last week. So, first things first, if you’re stuck at home or work and can tune in online, go here and the livecast will start up when things get rolling later this morning: http://uscoffeechampionships.org/watch/. Right now they are rolling footage from yesterday if you missed it and want to tune in.
I was first struck by how chaotic things seem… there are vendors and sponsors serving coffee and demonstrating products as well as basically a lounge area directly adjacent to the competition stage and no one was whispering or anything. It was loud and people were having a great time even though the comp was going on a couple dozen feet away. I talked to my new friend, Kim Alexander from Portland who was there representing my other friends, Tanager Coffee Roasters, and she said you’re so focused when you compete you have very little perception of what’s going on around you, so the proximity of the audience, the lounge and hangout area, and even the technical judges (the two people who are flying around right next to the competitor as they do everything) is something she said you don’t even notice.
I saw lots of little sample bags being wheeled and dealed as the various roasters and competitors shared coffee with each other. Vendors were pulling shots and doing brewed coffees to sample and there were two espresso machines with rotating baristas and roasters on deck, so caffeine poisoning is a very real possibility! Highlights for me were getting to see some good friends from all over the place who I’ve met through this KCcoffeegeek.com whirlwind and finally getting to shake hands with social media pals that I was getting to meet in person for the first time. For me, coffee is all about community and so that’s what I was there to do.
The competition itself was cool, too, once I settled in to watch. I got to see some really good routines and some really nervous ones. The amount of pressure on these competitors is very evident when you hear them blank our mid-sentence and shake like a leaf in the wind when they try to present a drink to their judges. And these are not people who are “winging it.” They’ve all practiced their routines to death, but it’s obviously a high-pressure situation and my hat’s off to every one of them for having the brass balls to stand up there and do their thing. I could definitely see how valuable competing more often is, as people like Sam Schroeder (Olympia Coffee), Eden-Marie Abramowicz, Maxwell Mooney (Spotted Cow) and Bethany Hargrove (Barista) were palpably more relaxed and even having a good time as they, “Did the damn thing.”
It’s pretty cool, it’s a ton of work and I enjoyed myself and the people I met yesterday were all kind and cool and friendly and etc. And I drank a lot of good coffee! Kudos to Laura Clark from Kaldi’s for pouring an impossibly small macchiato for me and even putting latte art on it for me. LOL An ounce and a half doesn’t leave much wiggle room!
I think I’ll be able to be over there again on Friday, so stay tuned for more and in the meantime, www.sprudgelive.com is where all the info is!