Charles Babinski, co-owner of G&B Coffee and Go Get Em Tiger in Los Angeles, has won the 2015 United States Barista Championship. Held over the past three days in the Long Beach, California, the 2015 USBC whittled down 36 of the very best baristas in the United States first to 18, then six, and finally, one. This is Charles Babinski’s first career US Barista Championship win, following three consecutive second place finishes at the event, and it makes for one hell of an enviable trophy case at Go Get Em/G&B (Mr. Babinski’s business partner, Kyle Glanville, was the US national champion in 2008). Babinski now moves on to represent the United States at the 2015 World Barista Championship, happening April 9th-12th in Seattle, Washington.
For Mr. Babinski, who’s been competing since his early days as an Intelligentsia Coffee barista back in 2008, it’s hard to understate the sweet relief afforded to him by the thrill of this particular victory. After three consecutive years playing runner up, the Susan Lucci and early 90s Buffalo Bills comparisons were starting to creep in; to come so close, so many times, well, for some, it might break them. Not Charles Babinski.
But we won’t overstate the meaning of this victory, either. Charles Babinski’s routine was built around exalting systems for automation and time saving—the ease of batch brewed coffee, the simplicity of pre-ground espresso—all decisions and coffee choices influenced by life on the floor of two very busy cafes. Mr. Babinski’s routine made use of a coffee called Honduras Ocotillo, roasted by 49th Parallel in Vancouver, British Colombia, as well as an Ethiopian coffee roasted by Heart Coffee Roasters of Portland, Oregon. His signature beverage (a concoction each barista develops using any ingredients they desire, sans alcohol) combined pine tree honey, juniper syrup, and a grapefruit reduction, blended together live on stage with Honduran espresso.
Some competitive baristas use their time on stage to create a fantasy wonderland of coffee experiences, with dramatic signature drinks and lofty dialogues. Babinski’s time on stage this year was far more practical and in that way, more urgent and real. As the droves of Angeleno coffee lovers who crowd his cafes can tell you, 15 minutes of coffee service from Charles Babinski is a memorable, splendid thing, and his ability to carve out those moments in a busy environment—to make you feel special as a customer and coffee drinker—makes him one of the best baristas in the world, and I mean the real world, not just at a barista competition. Evidently this year the judges agree.
It’s often rare in the tight knit, cloistered world of competitive coffee for consensus to emerge following a weekend of competition. But this year that seems to be exactly what’s happened, as Charles Babinski is a widely beloved and respected feature in that community, even as his shops cater to an ever-growing customer base of mainstream coffee lovers. At the top level of any competition, nobody likes to lose, but in conversations following this year’s USBC event several finalists expressed the sentiment that losing to Charles Babinski was a sort of honor. You don’t hear stuff like that most years.
Susan Lucci did finally win, after all, although the Bills…we can’t help you there. Congratulations to Charles Babinski, his team and tight knit group of supporters, and the city of Los Angeles, home of one of America’s very best coffee scenes and now, undeniably, the best barista in the country. There are still worlds left to conquer for Charles Babinski, and the stage gets even bigger next. We can’t wait to watch.
Read so much more (like really, a lot more) coverage from the 2015 US Barista Championship over at our sister site SprudgeLive.com, the worldwide leader in coffee sports.
Sprudge’s coverage of the 2015 US Barista Championship has been sponsored by Nuova Simonelli, Cafe Imports, and Bonavita. All of our 2015 barista competition coverage, including next week’s UK Barista Championship and the World Barista Championship this April, is underwritten with direct support from Square and Urnex Brands.
Jordan Michleman is the co-founder and senior editor at Sprudge.com.
Zac Cadwalader contributed to this reporting.