Interview: Lem Butler: 2010 Southeast Regional Barista Champion

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Barista North Carolina

Photo thanks to Counter Culture Coffee

From April 15-18, 2010, Anaheim is hosting the United States Barista Championship. Leading up to the competition, Food GPS is showcasing regional barista champions. Meet Lem Butler from Counter Culture Coffee, a contender for the American coffee crown:

What is it about coffee that inspires you?

The farmers. I never really understood coffee until I traveled to places that grow coffee. My first trip was just by chance. Some friends and I decided to rent a car and drive around the entire island of Jamaica. The main road took us through the Blue Mountains where we stopped at a coffee farm that was run by the same family for 80 years. My second trip was to Costa Rica where we found a huge coffee plantation on the side of the Poas volcano, but it wasn’t until my third trip to origin that really inspired me. My trip to Nicaragua was strictly all about learning how to organically farm coffee. I actually spent time picking and processing coffee on a farm. AMAZING! I worked alongside coffee farmers and their families. Nicaragua opened my eyes to coffee.

What did you learn by competing at the regional competition?

With this being my third win in the Southeast, I have learned that although I no longer work in a coffee shop and although I sat out of the competition last year, I still have what it takes to compete.

Did anything catch you off guard at the regional?


Do you plan to change your approach at all for the USBC?

No, if it ain’t broke, don’t @&*$ with it!

What’s your goal at the USBC?


What’s the key to a great signature beverage?

Knowing your coffee. Understanding how your coffee was roasted and why it was roasted the way that it was roasted. Having a good palate. These are just a few, but if you stick to the first, then you can’t go wrong.

What’s your approach when choosing music for competitions?

I look for something upbeat, I like to keep the judges in good spirits so they will have an enjoyable experience.

Was there a coffeehouse you didn’t know about before the regional that you now want to try?

I think I knew or heard about all the shops and roasters that competed. A couple places I would like to check out in the near future are Volta, 1000 Faces, Octane 2, Park Grounds, Jittery Joes, Element Coffee, Dripolator, Bean There, Globehopper, Mudhouse….that’s all I remember off the top of my head, there might be a couple more I have not been to.

If you could only drink one more cup of coffee, what would it be?

If I could travel to Ethiopia and help Abdullah Bagersh harvest and process his Misty Valley coffee, I would roast it over an open flame, grind it with mortar and pestle, then French press it! Otherwise, I wouldn’t drink a last cup, there is just too much great coffee out there and I have had so many great experiences with so many great coffees, the memories will suffice.


Joshua Lurie

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

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