Just three weeks after the inaugural Coffee Champs in Knoxville, the US Coffee Championships are headed to Austin, Texas this weekend for their second and final qualifying event of the 2017 season. At the conclusion of the weekend, we will finally know who will be competing for the national title for the Barista Championship, Brewers Cup, Cup Tasters, and Roasters Championship all happening later in April in Seattle.
As we noted during in our Knoxville preview, 2017 is a bit of a transition year for the Coffee Championships structure; the two qualifying event format is the first step toward an eventual three-tiered schedule, with “no fewer than six [micro-regional] events” feeding into the qualifying events as we now know them, which will then decide who makes it to Nationals. Drastic though they may be, these updates are just the start of the changes you can expect to see at this year’s qualifying events.
But one thing remains the same: we’ll be bringing you the best competition coverage in the business over on SprudgeLive, with photos, competitor profiles, and finalist announcements. And make sure you’re following @SprudgeLive as we’ll be live tweeting each barista competitor’s routine to keep you up to the minute on all the action. If you want to know about it as it happens, @SprudgeLive is all you need. Be sure to follow @Sprudge on Instagram and Facebook as well, where we’ll be making finalists announcements and posting photos of all the sights and sounds from Coffee Champs.
Like with the Knoxville event, the changes at the Austin qualifier are substantive, and frankly, pretty awesome. Some are based in practicality. The Barista Competition and Brewers Cup routines, for instance, have been condensed to a tight 10 minutes with only two and five minutes between performances, respectively, as a means of plowing through the 132 routines (60 barista, 36 Brewers Cup compulsory, and 36 Brewers Cup open service) over the course of the two-day event. And the always-exciting live scoring component is back for a second year, though only the Barista Competition this time (you try compiling scores for 132 routines and see how you like it).
But the focus this year is on the spectator experience. The inclusion of the Cup Tasters and Roaster Championships to the qualifying event—both welcome additions from the competitor perspective—adds to the ways onlookers can participate in the festivities, as they are two of the more interactive competitions in coffee. Cup Tasters, with its dramatic “red dot or no red dot” cup reveals, has some of the more dramatic and raucous conclusions to on-stage coffee performances, and the added “sensory activity” for Cup Tasters attendees certainly looks enhance engagement. The Roasters Championship allows for not only side-by-side tasting of the works of these keepers of the flame, but onlookers also get to vote for their favorite and help choose who makes it to nationals.
And there’s the USCC Latte Art Throwdown preliminaries taking place later on off-site at Stouhaus Coffee Pub. More party than official coffee event, latte art throwdowns are always alcohol-fueled good times.
But without question, the best change this year is the addition of “guest judge” spots during the Barista Championships and Brewers Cup. For an additional $15, spectators get to sit alongside the judges during the routines, allowing them a front row seat to the action and best of all, a chance to taste the competitors’ beverages. Guest judges won’t have to do any actual scoring, of course. They just get to sit back and enjoy the experience drinking some of the world’s best coffee served by the some of the country’s best baristas.
If you thought the Knoxville lineup was serious, just wait until you get a gander at the list of competitors heading to Austin. Three finalists each from the US Barista Championship and US Brewers Cup will be competing this weekend, including last year’s runner-up in the Barista Championship Andrea Allen of Onyx Coffee Lab. Other returning baristas include crossover competitor Brandon Paul Weaver, 2016 Sprudgie winner Michelle Johnson, and past Chair of the Barista Guild’s Executive Council Lorenzo Perkins making his triumphant competition homecoming.
Head over to the SprudgeLive.com for a complete set of schedules for the Barista Competition, and scope a full roster of competitors for each event courtesy of US Coffee Champs (excluding the Latte Art Throwdown).
AUSTIN GOOD TIMES
We consulted with some locals and experts on fun stuff to do in Austin, and put together this handy guide for you. Check it and let ’em know Sprudge sent you!
Zac Cadwalader is the news editor at Sprudge Media Network.