Competition routines are a strange thing. Baristas will spend months and months finding a meaningful topic, preparing a script, committing it to memory through countless practice hours. And if they are lucky (and good), they will get to run that routine three, maybe four times in front of colleagues and judges. Then after that, it’s gone. For most, there’s no hardware, nothing material, to show for all that work. And it’s on to prepping for the next season. A new coffee, a new topic.
For Bay Area’s Equator Coffees & Teas—the company behind Talya Strader, third place finisher from the 2017 US Barista Championship—the solution was surprisingly simple: film the journey. With the help of director Billy Yang, the 13-minute video follows Strader to origin and during practice leading up to Seattle, bringing to life the script that led to her best US Barista Championship finish.
Like many routines that have made it to the national level of competition, Strader’s 15 minutes centered around an origin trip—her first ever–to Finca Sophia in Panama, a farm partially owned by Equator’s co-founders Helen Russell and Brooke McDonnell. Yang and company were there when Strader “got to see coffee for the very first time,” as she memorably mentioned in her routine. From harvesting to processing, Yang follows Strader around Finca Sophia for this revelatory experience, one that Strader believes played a role in her success this year.
“I think that in order to put your best foot forward, a trip to origin is a good first start, but there was the daily schedule, the commitment to never settling (even when we wanted to), the support of the entire company, and a greater community (outside of Equator) of helpers that really made this routine shine,” Strader tells Sprudge. “Of every year that I have competed, this is absolutely my best run, hands down.”
The video then follows Strader throughout her training leading up to Nationals, giving a little insight into just how much of a team effort these competition routines really are. Though the 15 minute stage time is a one-person show, there are a handful of folks behind the scenes heavily invested in the success of each competitor. This adds untold amounts of additional pressure for baristas to perform well, one they can rise to or crumble under.
“I look at the immense amount of pressure that we endured during this season as a huge equation that could have resulted in great disappointment or insurmountable pride and elation. Firstly, Helen Russell is a force that you don’t disappoint, because she never does. Secondly using the majority of the Finca Sophia second harvest was a great risk for Equator, because it was unclear at the time that that was the most beneficial use of it. Billy Yang documenting the entire way was more of a pleasure, because he is such an awesome professional and will make sure that even if you only place third, you feel like a champion,” Strader states. “The real pressure though, was knowing that this was the last time I was competing and I wanted nothing more than make Tovara [Salley] and Devorah [Freudiger] proud of me and our accomplishments together. Representing all of these people, places, and product was some of my proudest two rounds of fifteen minutes of my life.”
Of course, we know how it ends, with Strader placing third this year, no small accomplishment in the face of an increasingly competitive field. This video does more than just record a barista routine, though for Strader this would have been a good one to record, it being both her best and her last. It works more like a companion piece, one that fills out and enriches the original content. It gives a context for Strader’s thoughtful script.
It’s sometimes easy for those of us who witness hundreds of routines a year to forget that they are more than just words meant to score points. This video pulls back into focus just how sincere and deeply meaningful these performances actually are.
Zac Cadwalader is the news editor at Sprudge Media Network. Read more Zac Cadwalader on Sprudge.
Photos sourced via coverage on Sprudge Live, the worldwide leader in coffee sports.
Video courtesy of Equator Coffee.