From March 5-8, the Oregon Convention Center in Portland is hosting the United States Barista Championship. Leading up to the USBC, I’m showcasing baristas who placed in the Top 6 in their respective region and decided to compete for greater glory. Meet Robin Seitz from PT’s Coffee Roasting Co. Topeka, Kansas, the Midwest Regional Barista Champ and a contender for the American coffee crown.
Josh Lurie: Did anything surprise you about your regional competition?
Robin Seitz: Nothing was really a surprise. I’ve been here for 3 years so I kind of knew what to expect, but I come away still inspired.
Our region has a reputation of new competitors coming in and doing very well. This year 3 made the finals and one took home a trophy! It’s awesome to watch the game advance every year and new blood coming in pushing it further with new ideas, new energy and enthusiasm.
I also love how “Midwest-y” our region is. Everyone is totally friendly, there are no egos. We are all here for the same reasons, to watch and encourage each other for the purpose of making each other better. And LEARNING! Everyone is excited to be here and share everything we have learned in training, our experiences, our failures, and our successes. The back room is totally open, people sharing stuff (thanks Kaldi’s for loaning me a cart!) and just really having fun and encouraging each other. We want each other to do well. We want to represent how good the region really is. We are all such good friends. Even the “bitter rivals” share hugs, tears, and congrats when it’s all done.
JL: Will adjust your approach for the United States Barista Championship? If so, how?
RS: Probably not very much. Maybe a few service changes, but pretty much the same thing. There isn’t much time to re-invent the wheel in the compressed schedule this year.
JL: What is your goal at the USBC?
RS: It would be easy to say it is to win. But it’s not.
I have 3 goals:
1. Have fun. That’s why I’m a barista. I love this job!!! I never want to take the competition so seriously that I forget why I do this every day in my cafe.
2. Learn something. THAT is the purpose of the competition after all. To provide an atmosphere of competition that encourages the growth of the barista. At least that’s my take on it.
3. Be true to what I do, serving great coffee. At MWRBC in the first round I had a choice to make. I had had a great run up till my last set of shots, that were bad. I could have just served them and had 2 bad sig drinks and probably gone to finals in OK shape. But I would never serve those in my cafe, so I pitched them, even though I knew it meant probably going towards DQ time. I was lucky and called it at 15:59.72. But I would have been OK with my choice even if I did DQ. As a barista, i do what I do to best represent the coffee, not for my own personal accolades.
JL: What did you learn by competing at your regional?
RS: I learned that even though I am tired of spending the money on gear and time away from my family that it takes to really give the comp what it deserves, I am still energized and excited by them.
I learned that the level of the midwest barista is rocketing forward.
I learned that having fun and just being with your Barista Buddies is worth a million trophies.
JL: What’s your training schedule like until the USBC?
RS: We took 1 weekend off of comp training because I had to work my cafe, Chris was busy, and Holly had a client training. And now it’s back to regular training. About 22 hours each weekend, and whenever we can squeeze a little time during the week. I work about 50 hours on bar at my cafe each week, Holly goes 40 at least in her role, and Chris is our assistant roaster at about 40 or so per week. So its pretty tight. I’m also going to CoffeeFest Chicago, so I’m losing that weekend, but I’ll make it up somewhere. 🙂
JL: What’s a coffeehouse you didn’t know about before your regional competition that you now plan to visit?
RS: I never really have time to travel around our region because of work, family, etc. But i would love to check out all of the cafes that were represented. Time prevents me from actually planning on it though.
JL: What’s your approach in choosing the music that plays during your performance?
RS: I need music that energizes me, that makes me feel good, that i can work too. I always hope it sets an enjoyable mood with “up” emotions. It’s all about feel, vibe and energy.
Then I just spend about a million dollars on iTunes till I find about 3 songs that fit.