Katie Carguilo is your 2012 United States Barista Champion. Ms. Carguilo competed in the USBC as a regional champion, having last March earned top prize at the Northeast Regional Barista Competition in New York City, where she lives and works. Let’s get to know her a bit more, shall we?

Katie has worked in the trenches of specialty coffee for nearly a decade, as a barista, a trainer, and a customer service rep for Counter Culture’s NYC office. She got her start in specialty around 2003, whilst working at a Barnes and Noble cafe, where she met Nick Cho and made the jump to his newly-opened murky coffee in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC. She joined the murky crew, going on to manage their Arlington, VA cafe space for four years. In 2007, she moved to NYC to join the Counter Culture Coffee crew as a customer relations representative.

Katie first competed in 2005, in the Southeast Region – she competed using an Indian Monsoon Malabar espresso, and her first signature drink was entitled “The Fighting Vicky”, named after her guinea pig (Ms. Carguilo has owned a series of GPs over the years; they are her spirit animal). She placed second in that year’s SERBC. The next year, in 2006, she competed in the Mid-Atlantic region, and went on to compete in the 2006 USBC using a signature drink called the “Ring of Fire”, which was supposed to capped off by lighting a ring of fire around the signature drink vessel. Unfortunately, Ms. Carguilo left the lighter on a cart that was wheeled off stage prior to her performance. Hearts sank in the audience as Katie conceded, “It appears that I’ve forgotten the lighter.”

Katie competed and won the 2007 Midatlantic Regional, with a signature drink comprised of espresso and pistachio gelato. At that year’s USBC, held in Long Beach, CA, she made a last minute decision to change a signature drink to a popular murky coffee menu item. Called the “Coffee Maker”, it involved a shot of espresso dropped into a glass of warmly steamed milk which all four judges, head judge and Katie consumed together. The signature drink was not well received at USBC; comments from the judges included “Milk? Coffee? Really?”

In 2008 Katie competed at the NERBC in Ithaca representing Counter Culture Coffee, using a signature drink comprised of goats milk, beet juice, and a natural processed Ethiopian espresso, from Biloya. She placed 3rd. After a year off, she came back to the NERBC in 2010 and placed fourth after re-pulling shots and going over time in finals. We spoke to Katie about her 2010 performance:

“I took that loss really hard and thought that I’d never compete again. I felt like I had let myself and my company down.

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A judge stopped by the Counter Culture pop-up bar in Houston last year and asked me why I wasn’t competing. I told him that I always messed it up and didn’t have the stuff to win. He said that was ridiculous and that I was a really great barista and that the USBC could use my talent. That confidence inspired me and I began devising a way to reinvent myself as a competitor and really showcase the talents I had accumulated over the last ten years in the industry.”

For her winning routine at the 2012 USBC, Katie competed using organic natural and washed coffee from Ethiopia. She pulled shots of the Idido co-op’s naturally processed coffees for the cappuccino flight. “I did that because naturals have great flavor that’ll cut through milk,” Katie explained. Between cappuccinos and espressos, Katie brought out a sorting screen and described the process of sorting to screen size. Uniformity in bean size lends to an even roast, and at Counter Culture, Katie cupped several screen separations with coffee buyer and quality manager Tim Hill. The roasters in Durham hand sorted all of Katie’s competition coffee, using coffee from the Haru washing station, so that Katie served coffees to the judges that had been separated at screen size 16. She used the screen as a tray for the espresso course.

The signature beverage was a play on the fermentation that occurs before the Ethiopian washing process. “The first washing station was built in Yirgacheffe at 1959. Ethiopia has a unique way of washing coffee, soaking coffee seeds underwater for 48 hours,” she told us, paraphrasing her opening speech to the judges. Using stone fruit, Katie drew an analogy between the pit of a nectarine with the seed of a coffee cherry. Dropping the pit in a glass of water, she explained that over time, the pit/seed   ferments. To recreate the flavor of fermentation water, Katie used jasmine green tea, lemon juice, a nectarine, soda water, and white vinegar, topped with espresso and served the judges a sparkling beverage in grappa glasses.

Throughout the presentation, Katie infused analogies of human relationships and coffee & milk with gems like, “If espresso is my best friend, then drinking a cappuccino is like hanging out with her and her boyfriend. A cappuccino is a relationship between espresso and milk because the elements are not only balanced, but they bring out the best qualities in each other.”

Before calling time at 14:56, Katie finished, “Coffees are indigenous to Ethiopia; you could make the argument that that’s the place they’re truly meant to be. Ethiopia produces the champagne of the coffee world.”

When asked what advice she’d give to baristas that have aspirations of winning the championship she answers, “Keep competing. Take the feedback, don’t let it get you down, and keep pushing yourself.

While conducting these interviews with Katie and others backstage, we had a chance to chat with outgoing USBC Director Marcus Boni. We’ll leave you with his quote on Katie Carguilo:

“I think Katie is a consummate, poised professional, and I’m so excited she’ll be representing the United States in Vienna. And I’m doubly excited that it’s a woman. It’s about damn time we got another girl up there!”

Congratulations, Katie Carguilo!

Further reading:

New York Times Interview With Katie Carguilo (published Monday, April 23)

Photos by Alex Negranza, extended USBC coverage made possible with the support of Stumptown Coffee Roasters.


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