Big news from the world of United States competitive coffee as Charles Babinski, the co-owner and operator of Go Get Em Tiger and G&B Coffee in Los Angeles, has won his second consecutive Southwest Regional Barista Competition title. He'll move on to compete (with a first-round bye) at the 2015 United States Barista Championship next February in Long Beach, California.
This is Mr. Babinski's second career regional win, and it sets him up to continue improving upon his legacy as a league-leading competitive barista here in the United States, including appearances at US Barista Championship finals in 2010 (5th), 2012 (2nd), 2013 (2nd), and 2014 (2nd). Those three consecutive second place finishes on the US national stage loom large over Babinski's 2015 bid, as he seeks his first career USBC win and the opportunity to represent the United States on the World Barista Championship stage.
Befitting the multiroaster concept of his Los Angeles coffee bars, Mr. Babinski competed at Big Western with two distinct coffees: Honduras El Ocotillo by 49th Parallel in Vancouver, BC and Ethiopia Reko, by Madcap Coffee Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan. El Ocotillo is a tiny farm–“just 3 hectares,” Babinski told the judges–but it's part of a larger narrative at this year's Big Western Barista Competition, an event that was awash with high quality Honduran coffees. He led with El Ocotillo in his sig drink, combining that coffee as espresso with pine tree honey, spiced juniper syrup, and reduced grapefruit. These ingredients were blended together on-stage in just a single brief pulse.
As we've come to expect after years of watching Charles Babinski compete, there was a significant cerebral component–some might call it an agenda–to his routine at Big Western. His script this year focused on the ways in which efficiency and large scale systems are vital to success in coffee, be it at the farm or in the cafe. There's a push and pull between wanting to keep things boutique, special, and small, and the economic viability that comes from pushing a quality product at scale, and with efficiency. For farms this means all kinds of things, up to and including reserving the most beautiful coffees from any yield for sale on the specialty coffee market. For cafes, too, this means a careful walk between business realities and the drive to deliver a great product; at Mr. Babinski's cafes it's meant pre-grinding and dosing espresso, crowd pleasing popular drinks with high price points, and a focus on workflow that emphasizes volume and efficiency.
Most people don't talk about this kind of stuff in a barista competition routine, but most barista competitors aren't Charles Babinski. For competitors that return year after year, it affords us at Sprudge the ability to watch them grow and hone their purpose on stage, as competitors and professionals, yes, but as people, too. These 2014-2015 routines from Charles Babinski are intimately informed by the rigors and challenges of small business ownership. If anything, it's drawn him closer to the global process of producing great coffee, and led Babinski to better understand his small but important role in that.
Cafe owners and coffee personalities can rant and rave about this stuff on the internet, or in interviews, or whatever, but Charles Babinski seems to prefer reserving a set of big statements for his annual 15 minutes on stage. It's must-watch stuff from one of the real leaders of American progressive coffee, and it happens here, on the competition stage.
And you wonder why we follow these things so closely! Listen, this is nothing–check out our brand new website dedicated to coffee competitions, SprudgeLive.com. There you can enjoy complete coverage of the 2015 Big Western Coffee Competition from Palm Springs, including photos and routine details from all 51 competitors.
All photos by Cookie Carlsen for Sprudge.com.