2009 United States Barista Championship Finals

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Barista Competition Portland

The United States Barista Championship finals are underway at the Oregon Convention Center. Discover a rundown of performances by baristas still competing for the American coffee crown.

1. Ryan Willbur – Intelligentsia Coffee – Los Angeles, CA

Willbur revealed more information about his Guatemalan coffee today that during the Semi-Finals, explaining the Huehuetenango coffee received Meyer lemon notes from the alititude and because the coffee on Mauricio Rosales’ farm shares soil with citrus trees. Rosales grows and washes hi Bourbon and Koture varietals at 1650-1850 meters, which encourages sweetness. Willbur said to expect sherry or port wine sweetness, a Meyer lemon body and a flower or jasmine finish.

In his cappuccinos, Willbur told the judges to expect toasted coconut, for the citrus to become caramel, plus hazelnut.

Willbur added butter to a pan for balance, cut off some fresh ginger, then poured in Muscovado sugar for molasses-like characteristics and lighter bodied Demerrera sugar. He added a spoonful of sauce to each judge’s glass, then poured in his espressos. The glass was rimmed with Meyer lemon peel to accentuate the citrus aroma.

2. Devin Pedde – Intelligentsia Coffee – Los Angeles, CA
Barista Competition Portland
Pedde chose a washed Ethiopian Yirgacheffe with “well articulated flavors.” The coffee is primarily grown at 1900 meters. It’s a coffee co-op that produces a blend of 15 unclassified indigenous varietals. The flavors change, but the quality remains the same. Lately, Pedde’s been tasting citrus acidity and sweetness.

In his cappuccinos, the fruit notes come from the coffee in the milk. He has also been tasting strawberry jam.

Before his performance, Pedde placed dishes of ingredients that matched the flavors he’s been tasting in his coffee: cherries, cranberries, plums, Earl Grey tea, blueberries, persimmons, brown sugar and cherries. Then Pedde poured himself a shot of espresso to calibrate and see which direction he’d take his performance. To exaggerate the flavors of the coffee, Pedde asked the judges to each select an ingredient to place in a Belgian brewer. They selected cherry, cranberry, Earl Grey tea and strawberry. Pedde selected brown sugar since he’s been getting “port wine” notes. Once the water heated up, it created an infusion, including brown sugar and strawberry for sweetness. He poured the infusion into espresso shots and asked the judges to take in aromatics before sipping.

3. Mike Marquard – Kaldi’s Coffeehouse – St. Louis, MO
Barista Competition Portland
He used a blend of semi-washed Sumatran Aceh, a “clean” bean with a blue hue and smoky, sweet notes; a pulp natural Brazilian F.A.F. Divino with nuttiness and a trail mix-like dried fruit; and Salvadoran Cerro Las Ranas beans with chocolate notes, acidity up front and hints of orange.

In a cappuccino, milk brought out honey notes with hints of citrus.

Marquard created a caramel sauce using brown sugar, sea salt and a double shot of espresso instead of water. He whisked the bubbling caramel reduction with heavy cream and added a touch of caramel reduction to each judge’s glass. He then added a shot of espresso to each glass. Citrus notes from the El Salvador combined with caramel created a candied orange taste. Marquard added honey pipe tobacco to each judge’s plate to build a bridge to the sweetness of the Sumatran coffee. He lit the tobacco and covered each burning thatch (and signature drink) with a dome, then had the judges pull the dome to take in the aroma before drinking.

4. Scott Lucey – Alterra Coffee – Milwaukee, WI (Great Lakes Champ)
Barista Competition Portland
Lucey went with a single-estate coffee from Nelson Melo, who owns an organic Colombian farm called Finca La Acacias. Melo grows 7500 Koture trees at 1930-meter elevation. The high altitude provides “juicy, crisp, clean acidity.” It’s 100% Koture varietal and a washed process, leading to clean flavors. The coffee is dried on Kenyan beds. He used a fan to waft grapefruit aroma toward the judges, then passed ground samples of his light roasted coffee. Lucey’s notes included lime, grapefruit, fig, apricot and ginger, but he wanted to highlight the grapefruit, so he presented a bowl of Texas Red, the biggest, sweetest, reddest grapefruit possible.

Since this coffee is acidic, light roasted and very bright, the Melo becomes a very light cappuccino.

Lucey began his presentation of “Liquid Swords” by explaining an experience involving Nelson Melo sticking his machete in the soil to reveal worms, demonstrating the organic nature of his farm. Liquid Swords is a stacked drink colored brown, white and pink. Melo espresso, a little bit of butter to bring the volume up. He added heavy cream and honey “glue” to seal the edges. On top, he poured Texas Red grapefruit juice. When serving his drink, Lucey said, “This drink is my machete.”

5. Nick Griffith – Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea – Los Angeles, CA (Western Champ)
Barista Competition Portland
Griffith decided to explore sweetness. With that in mind, he selected a Guatemalan coffee from Huehuetenango produced by the Rosales family on a farm called La Maravilla. He described citrus and spice notes up front, a citrus body, and molasses and tannins on the back end. Growing the coffee at almost 2000 meters allows fermentation of up to 36 hours. The east-facing hillside has intense sunlight in the morning, triggering sugar production in the beans. Intelligentsia roasts the beans just three-and-a-half minutes past first crack to preserve the coffee’s natural sweetness.

For his two-part drink, Griffith isolated his favorite flavors from the coffee and applied them to different textures. Citrus was dominant in his coffee, so he took cream, a small amount of sugar and organic orange blossom water, a hint of vanilla for dimension and whipped it. This takes the sweet and citrus aromatics from the coffee and put them in the glass. He asked judges to take a small sip and take in the aromatics.

He created a puree using Medjool dates and Muscovado sugar, soaked the dates in sugar and hot water, pureed it and ran it through a sieve to remove the solids. Then he added the espresso. This is the heavier sugar like note found at the bottom of the espresso. You still get the predominant citrus tang. He asked the judges to add the espresso-date combination to the cream and sip.

6. Michael Phillips – Intelligentsia Coffee – Chicago, IL
Barista Competition Portland
A Bolivian coffee combining three varietals: Koture, Tipica and Bourbon. He served the coffee five different ways, beginning with French press.

In his espresso shots, the coffee featured a juicy berry-like acidity, green grape and fig sweetness. Acidity and sweetness play together to form juicy body.

In his cappuccinos, the coffee’s fig sweetness continues to pronounce itself, and acidity gives way to sweetness.

Phillips began by steeped brown sugar, diced almonds, dark chocolate and sea salt in heavy cream. He decided to split his shots in half, serving the espresso hot, then cold. At the beginning of extraction, espresso has darker color, and at the end, it has lighter color and more crema.

For the base of his hot drink, Phillips had almonds, dark chocolate, salt and brown sugar. For the cold drink: fresh pressed blackberries, and a little simple syrup. He served them in a pair, asking judges to sip hot, then cold. After that, he encouraged the judges to switch back and forth at their leisure.

The USBC finals are complete at the Oregon Convention Center and your 2009 United States Barista Champion is…Michael Phillips!

Phillips placed out of the Top 3 in the Great Lakes Regional, but he was convinced he could perform better and paid his own way to Portland to compete. Now he’s left holding the oversized novelty check, which will cover up to $7500 in travel expenses to Atlanta for April’s World Barista Championship. His face will also appear on the label for DaVinci Gourmet vanilla syrup. Phillips also won $1000, courtesy of the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), a prize pack from Barista magazine and the adulation of the coffee industry.

Overall, Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea dominated proceedings, taking four of the top five slots. Here are the final results of the 2009 United States Barista Championship:

1. Michael Phillips – Intelligentsia Coffee – Chicago, IL (730 points out of 870)
2. Nick Griffith – Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea – Los Angeles, CA (719.5)
3. Scott Lucey – Alterra Coffee – Milwaukee, WI (697.5)
4. Ryan Willbur – Intelligentsia Coffee – Los Angeles, CA (693)
5. Devin Pedde – Intelligentsia Coffee – Los Angeles, CA (658.5)
6. Mike Marquard – Kaldi’s Coffeehouse – St. Louis, MO (654)


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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