We’re reporting to you live from Durham, North Carolina, at the 2014 Big Eastern Regional Barista Competition. This event draws baristas from across the eastern half of the United States, from Boston to Florida, Pittsburgh to Louisville, for a three-day display of professional coffee service skills, innovative signature drink creations, and best of all, the expression of personal performance. It is our pleasure and privilege to serve as official media sponsors throughout the 2014 United States Barista Championship season, in association with the Speciality Coffee Association of America.

Our coverage is made possible by direct support from Dallis Bros. Coffee and Counter Culture Coffee. The entirety of our 2014 competition coverage – regional, nationals, and the 2014 World Barista Championship in Rimini, Italy – is anchored by the direct support of Nuova Simonelli, whose Aurelia T3 serves as the official espresso machine of the USBC and WBC.

Enjoy this short film produced in partnership with Sprudge by Prima Coffee

All photos by Charlie Burt for All notes culled via our @SprudgeLive Twitter coverage – follow @SprudgeLive for the very best in competition coverage, live from Durham.

1. Dawn Shanks, Independent, DC @DawnShanks


Ms. Shanks begins the weekend with a question: “what are you doing to improve your sensory skills in coffee?”

Ms. Shanks competes w/ @counter_culture‘s Ethiopia Biloya Natural – “a high acidity upfront, backed up by sweetness” – learn more, and take some home to enjoy.

“some people think capps mask the flavor of espresso…but all they do is bring out another flavor” – hers are like “cooked fruit, cocktail style…like red cherries and sweet cream.”

Signature drink includes a peach mixture, and a syrup delicately painted on her judges’ glassware.

2. Nick OddoCommonplace Coffee, Pittsburgh @thecommonplace


Mr. Oddo competes using a washed Kenyan coffee – we’re having some early microphone problems here at #bigeastern… womp womp…so it’s hard to hear which exact Kenyan coffee he’s competing with, but we do know he’s one of two competitors this weekend from The Common Place in Pittsburgh, whose coffee scene is reportedly bumping right now.

That Kenyan coffee? It’s washed, and has “a lively acidity with light citrus notes.”

A cocktail influenced sig drink here from Mr. Oddo, Boston shaker and all. Microphone problems throughout this routine…but Nick Oddo is classy all the way through: “thank you for being here with me, tasting my drinks, and giving me feedback.”

3. Steph Caronna, La Farm Bakery, Cary NC @LaFarmCary @CoffeeSteph8876


This is Ms. Caronna’s third SE regional barista competition appearance – she’s from Cary, NC, which is right near Durham, and she’s brought her cheering section with her.

Steph Caronna competes with Counter Culture’s Papua New Guinea Baroida coffee – a competition favorite for the last several seasons. Learn more here. 

As espresso, her Baroida has “a soft body, tart like sweet cherry, savory herb and rosemary finish” – as capps, it’s “more of a dessert-like cherry.”

Cool signature drink here – two kinds of ice cubes, made out of cherry & vanilla and rosemary tea, served with a piece of bing cherry foccacia bread from La Farm Bakery.

4. Andrew CashJubala Village Coffee, Raleigh @JubalaCoffee


Starts his routine with a set of rhetorical questions: “How is it that two people can walk into the same store at the same time, but leave with 2 different experiences? And how can I engage with a coffee professional without chasing away a first timer?”

Meticulous with how he’s instructing the judges through his espresso course – visual evaluation first, the “6 to 7 big stirs” before taste evaluation.

Mr. Cash competes using Counter Culture’s Valle del Santuario in his cappuccinos – learn more here – yielding capps with “milk chocolate and cashew butter” flavors. For his signature drink he makes a creme anglaise with dried blueberries, which sounds great right about now.

5. Dave PlanerKaffe 1668, NYC @kaffe1668


Mr. Planer spends first 2:45 explaining his history with coffee, a compelling story that includes tremendous personal loss for his family during the events of Hurricane Sandy, and a morning-after redemption of sorts over his miraculously spared brewing kit. Moving and fascinating stuff.

Quote of the event thus far – one of our favorite coffee quotes ever in a barista competition: “Coffee is a love story. It’s poetry. It’s not just a math problem.” – Dave Planer.

Mr. Planer competes using a Burundian coffee here at Big Eastern, with flavor notes similar to “an Islay Scotch” – by which means a heavily peated Scotch, which not all Islay Scotches are, but I digress…as a cappuccino, this coffee is “a sweet tooth’s dream…layers and layers of milk chocolate and caramel.”

Mr. Planer was disqualified for going over the 16 minute time limit. 

6. Couper Cox5&10, Athens GA @coupercox


Mr. Cox competes using a natural Ethiopian espresso roasted by Counter Culture – it’s “meyer lemon, honey, dark chocolate and cranberries – a body that is delicate and tea-like…juicy” as an espresso, and a “lemon poppyseed muffin” as a cappuccino

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We did a nice feature on Mr. Cox’s shop in Athens – it’s the coffee program at 5&10, a newly renovated restaurant by well-known chef Hugh Acheson. Read that feature here. 

Mr. Cox’s signature drink includes a pecan orgeat syrup – that’s Southern and seasonal take on a classic ingredient. Nice.

Mr. Cox was disqualified for going over the 16 minute time limit. 

7. Jennifer HallSola Coffee Cafe, Raeligh @solacoffee @jennforgivn


A tightly scripted first 2 minutes from @jennforgivn – aroma! lipids! milk! Yirg! Creamy and delicious! Flavor. She’s competing using – who else? – Counter Culture Coffee, her local roaster.

“judges, I am an avid science nerd” – a whole floatillla of beakers and flasks up on stage for @jennforgivn‘s sig drink…which includes fruits, jasmine green tea, alkaline water (pH of 9.5, duh), which includes orange rind that has been gassed and infused with peach oil. Wowzers.

This was an impressive and polished routine from Jennifer Hall, a first-time competitor and one of our favorites of the day here at Big Eastern.

8. Michael SammartinoBaked And Wired, DC @bakedandwiredDC


“I want to meet my customers expectations, but also want share what I really like in coffee” – Michael Sammartino.

Some early intensity here…Mr. Sammartino attempted to call a technical time-out, but it wasn’t granted by his head judge. Observing from his audience, we saw that his first espressos weren’t to his liking, and he lacked back-up cups to re-pull them. This is not grounds for a technical time-out.

Moving on to cappuccinos, his have “whiskey-like aromatics…and an overall flavor of butter toffee.”

Mr. Sammartino’s sig drink: espresso in a cocktail shaker, egg whites, milk, orange marmalade & cumin syrup.

9. Jonathen LiuGimme! Coffee, Brooklyn @gimmecoffee @jonathenlewd


“The thing I love most about coffee – like absolutely the most – is that I get to see people trying to do things better everyday.” – Jonathen Liu.

Mr. Liu competes at #BIGEASTERN using @gimmecoffee‘s Honduras Linda Vista – learn more, take some home! We got to learn quite a bit about the producer in this routine, including drying and processing information for this pacas variety coffee. 

“A nice medium body, crisp finish, with flavorful cocoa” in Mr. Liu’s espressos, melting into “brown butter and toasted pecan” in cappuccinos.

Deceptively simple signature drinks: he’s simply serving his espresso in a different vessel, charred cherry wood cups that change the espresso’s aroma and flavor. Identical shots to his espresso course.

10. Tery Honeyghan, Peregrine Espresso, DC @peregrineDC


“I’m here today because I want to talk about energy in coffee. What does energy taste like?” – there’s a theme to this routine, and it’s energy.

Ms. Honeyghan competes using Counter Culture’s Valle del Santuario – learn more and take some home. 

Energy. Electron transfer cycles. “Your body turns that energy into energy”, but “how will we emit that energy?” As a cappuccino her coffee tastes of “wheat loaf with swirls of caramel cream.”

Ms. Honeyghan was disqualified for going over the 16 minute time limit. 

11.  Seth CookNorthside Social, Arlington VA @northsidesocial


Mr. Cook competes using @aidabattle‘s Aida’s Grand Reserve, roasted by Counter Culture Coffee – learn more here. It tastes like “brown butter, prunes, cherry acidity and molasses” as espresso.

This was a lovely routine from Mr. Cook – in control and carefully paced throughout, soundtracked to the great minimalist Steve Reich.

Memorable sig drink flavor notes: “delicate strawberies on the nose, dark fruit acidity and cane sugar.”

12. Dylan McFatrichThe Morning Times, Raleigh @TheMorningTimes @DylanMcFatrich


Mr. McFatrich competes w/ @counter_culture‘s Papua New Guinea Baroida – learn more, darn it, you should by clicking right here.

sig drink: sweet potato juice, pom juice, molasses rim, garnished w/molasses & ginger sugar – juicing sweet potatoes here live on stage with a nice big juicer. What a lovely auburn orange color.

Mr. McFatrich was disqualified for going over the 16 minute time limit. 

13. Wade Reed, Joe Bean Coffee Roasters, Rochester NY @JoeBeanRoasters


Serious audio problems throughout this routine. First no mic, then no music. No music! Mr. Reed could have called (and been rightly awarded) a technical due to audio malfunction, but he chose to soldier on, delivering a strong routine in the face of adversity well outside of his professional control.

Mr. Reed’s espresso is a Nicaragua & Ethiopia blend, with notes including “walnut, an herbal freshness, and chocolate.”

A lot of love for Rochester in Mr. Reed’s routine, especially in the signature drink portion – a cocktail-influenced sig drink that includes a shout out to The Revelry, a cocktail bar in Rochester.

“The coffee and booze trade has never been healthier in Rochester than it is right now.” – Wade Reed.

14. Jesus GomezJ. Rene Coffee Roasters, West Hartford, CT @jrenecoffee


“I want to create beverages in the same manner as Picasso spent a lifetime painting” – a running theme throughout Mr. Gomez’ routine, an intellectual space between art and coffee.

Jesus Gomez is the first competitor at Big Eastern to compete with a Brazilian coffee – he uses a oka pot to highlight acidity and chocolateyness in his signature drink.


Seeing a moka pot on stage is exceedingly rare in barista competitions; just as artists will use different mediums for expression, he’s focusing on different brewing methods to display his coffee.

15. Alison MaitlandSwing’s Coffee Roasters, Alexandria VA @SwingsCoffee


Ms. Maitland competes using a Costa Rican coffee from Linda Vista, a washed coffee from the Tarrazu region.

Great soundtrack here! Dolly Parton & Fleetwood Mac hits from Ms. Maitland.

Ms. Maitland’s sig drink – a mocha! “I make millions of these things a day, they’re very comfortable & familiar” – hers has chai spices and coconut milk. Coconut milk! Steamed coconut milk! Sure why not.

Ms. Maitland was disqualified for going over the 16 minute time limit. She’s the 5th DQ of the day at Big Eastern.

16. Jonathan Moehlig, Land Of A Thousand Hills, Roswell GA @1000hillscoffee


The folks at @1000hillscoffee actually own washing stations in Rwanda, which is what we’ll be hearing about today at Big Eastern – he’s introducing his producers by name, the men who manage their production in Rwanda.

His espressos have sweet, orange-type flavor – characteristic of the Bourbon, Jackson & Mbezi coffee varieties found throughout the varied growing regions in Rwanda.

Quoth our MC today, veteran Counter Culture competitor Lem Butler, “You were like Speedy Gonzalez up there!” – Mr. Moehlig calls time at a lightning-quick 13:20.

17. Jenna GotthelfNorthampton Coffee, Northampton MA@NohoCoffee @this_is_jennaG


“This is my first time doing this and i’m really excited to be here! drove 15 hours from Northampton…” – there’s something really cool and different about this routine form Jenna Gotthelf, not your average barista competition routine. She’s wearing a shirt that says “See No Weevil”, for starters.

Ms. Gotthelf competes using @BarringtonCoffe‘s Gold Espresso blend – learn more about this blend here.

Sig drink is a “deconstructed abstraction of the @barringtoncoffe espresso” – butter, maple syrup, & rose water. She compares the aromatics on this drink to “a McDonald’s cheeseburger pickle… or let’s say something more refined, like a savory tart.”

“It has been a pleasure preparing coffee for you today, I cannot wait to do this 1 million more times!” This was a really engaging routine here at today at Big Eastern, a highlight we heard discussed a lot around the event throughout our subsequent Nonstop Recap Evening.

18. Erika VonieUltimo Coffee, Philadelphia @ultimocoffee @OkAn_EerieEvil 


Addressing her judges, she says: “You four are very lucky – you get to taste one of, if not the most transparent coffees on the market today.” That’s Counter Culture Coffee’s Taroira Cherry Project from Papua New Guinea.

Her routine’s opening dialogue is a blur of details on the sourcing chain – every last person, from the producer to the mill to the exporter to the importer, is mentioned by name, finishing with Counter Culture’s green-buying guru, Tim Hill.

It’s all about umami in this routine – did you know “umami” is derived from Japanese for “delicious taste”? Her capps taste like “delicious brown butter shortbread…lingering toasted graham cracker note.”

Sig drink is called the “Lovage On Top” – it takes Lovage soda, fennugreek, celery seeds, espresso, spearment & cucumber water, carbonation, and Taroira Cherry Project espresso. She instructs the judges to garnish each drink with a single coffee bean, thus including them in the coffee’s chain of touch points.


This is the second event of the 2014 competition season here in the United States, with one more regional event scheduled for next month in Los Angeles, California. The United States competition coffee season wraps up in April, at the 2014 United States Barista Championship in Seattle, Washington.

Follow @SprudgeLive for the very best in barista competition coverage, live from these extraordinary events. 

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