Mark Michaelson of Onyx Coffee Lab had just won the US Coffee Roasting Championship. Andrea Allen of Onyx Coffee Lab was a prohibitive favorite to win—or at very least place high—in the finals at the US Barista Championship. And in the middle of it all, a third Onyx competitor stepped up to put Arkansas on the coffee map in a huge way at this year's US Coffee Champs events in Seattle. He is Dylan Siemens, and he is your 2017 US Brewers Cup Champion.
Siemens competed—and won!—using the same coffee as Allen, a co-owner at Onyx, who wound up placing a hard-fought second nationally in the 2017 US Barista Championship. That coffee is a Green Tip Geisha from the La Palma y El Tucan farm in Colombia's Cundinamarca department. Siemens' winning coffee underwent a Lactic fermentation process, in which the coffee sits in a cold water tank, sealed off from additional oxygen, so as to produce lactic acid in the tank over the course of 80 hours. “This results in a creamier mouthfeel, and winey acidity,” Siemens told the judges.
This year's winning brewer employed a Kalita Wave as his coffee dripper of choice. “I’m here to express my passion for technical coffee brewing,” Siemens told the judges, and he brewed using a precise 1:14.8 ratio—25 grams of coffee total, 370 ML of water. Want more precision? Dylan Siemens used a probe thermometer in his routine to monitor the temperature of his brew bed, based on extensive testing he'd done prior to competing relating to temperature and extraction rates. “You know, basic thermodynamics,” he quipped, but he's actually able to use temperature to better dial in his coffee on the fly, and can manipulate temperature to yield a tastier cup.
“How much control do I have over extraction rate, and how do I manipulate flavor?” This was more than just a rhetorical question—Dylan actually adjusted the temperature of his water throughout the routine for flavor purposes. Starting with a lower temp “for acidity” in the first part of the brew, Siemens cranked the temp up to 188 “for sweetness and body” as the brew went on. He then finished with a cooler water temperature as the filter drained, “minimizing additional extraction and increasing balance.”
Heaps of thought and intent in this routine, and plenty of script as well, made for that interplay of coffee dexterity and knowledge dropping that Brewers Cup prizes. It's enormously impressive to watch a competitor give so much information and show a high degree of intentionality, all while managing temperature gauges and concentric brewing. In the end his La Palma y El Tucan Green Tip Geisha yielded aromas of jasmine tea and pomegranate, with flavors like ripe raspberry and more floral tea notes in the cup.
As he called time (with four seconds to spare), Dylan Siemens could not have know that victory would be his. And as his colleague Mark Michaelson took home the Roasting honors, with another colleague in the infamously difficult to reach finals at USBC, what must have been going through Siemens' head? Did it feel like victory enough just to have made the finals? Did he know he was about to win? We asked him these questions in more in an upcoming episode of the Coffee Sprudgecast, so stay tuned, but in the meantime—allow us to set aside the bigger queries and say simply, congratulations to Dylan Siemens and the team at Onyx Coffee Lab for their extraordinary showing at this year's US Coffee Champs.
Jordan Michelman is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge Media Network.
Zac Cadwalader and Elizabeth Chai contributed to this reporting.
Photos by Elizabeth Chai and Charlie Burt for Sprudge Media Network.
Sprudge’s coverage of the 2017 US Barista Championship is made possible by Baratza, Cafe Imports, AeroPress, Pacific Natural Foods, Hario, and Swiss Water Decaf. All of our 2017 Barista Competition coverage worldwide is supported by Urnex Brands and Nuova Simonelli.