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Frank La of Be Bright Coffee has won the 2024 US Barista Championship in Rancho Cucamonga!

The renaissance of the early-2010’s Barista Championship competitor continues. Following Isaiah Sheese of Archetype Coffee’s win last year after over a decade competing, Frank La wins another one for the generation past. Following a nine-year hiatus, La returned to the USBC last year in 2023, where he made it all the way to the Finals, finishing sixth. La came into this season looking to build off that success, and build he did, coming through from Round One to the Semi-Finals to the Finals and before winning the whole thing.

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The theme for La’s winning routine was kodawari, a Japanese word that translates roughly to “dedication” or “the pursuit of perfection.” With the help of coach Jaymie Lao, La constructed a thoughtfully-paced routine that had all the hallmarks of modern competition along with a few nods routines of the past. At the foundation of the routine was his coffee, the Ombligon. Named after the belly button-shaped cherries—ombligon in Spanish means “belly button”—La’a coffee was grown at 1,900masl on Finca El Diviso in Hulia, Colombia by Sprudgie Award nominated producer Nestor Lasso. Anaerobically fermented and natural processed, the Ethiopian landrace variety had notes of tart cherry juice, watermelon candy, fresh, raspberry, and dark chocolate during the Finals (that raspberry note was more rhubarb on Day One).

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Cooling espressos was a big part of the Barista Championship this year. Many competitor chose to pull their shots over frozen spheres, which was said to also lock in more aromatic compounds. Perhaps as a nod to barista competitions of old, La stirred the espressos for the judges himself, both helping cool them and incorporating the crema. (The all Radiohead soundtrack, which is very on brand for La, certainly helped transport back to a specific time and place in coffee.)


For the milk course, La chose to use a shorter shot, going from a ratio of 1:2.5 in the espresso course to 1:1.5. Using an evaporated, freeze-distilled lactose-free milk that he reduced to 50% of its volume—removing much of the water content and intensifying the fat content for a creamier beverage—La’s 3oz-ish milk course had notes of raspberry cheesecake, butterscotch, and strawberry malt.

Concluding with the signature beverage course (every Finalist this year opted for the same course progression: espresso, milk, sig bev), La starts off his service by giving hot towels for the judges to clean their hands while he prepares the drink, adding flourish reminiscent of an Andrea Allen routine from years back where she washed the judges hands herself. At the base of the drink was hyper-chilled Ombligon espresso, which La pulled at a 1:3 ratio; he was the only competitor to use different espresso parameters for each course. To it he adds an oolong tea and honey clarified coffee milk punch, red seedless grape syrup, and coffee saccharum, that he blends together (yes, the blenders are back on the Barista stage and they’re more popular than ever), giving his chilled signature beverage new flavors of lemon yogurt, white grapefruit, and ginger ale.


La then called time at 14:57. As the first competitor of the Finals round on Sunday, he set a pretty high bar for the last day. It proved to be one too high for any of the remaining competitors to clear. La will now move on to represent the United States at the World Barista Championship later this May in Busan, South Korea. He has about six weeks to put the screws to his current routine or construct an entirely new one.

Despite having the tenure advantage, La in a lot of ways felt like an underdog here. Among the last six were two other former Finalists and a former USBC Champion and WBC Runner-Up in Morgan Eckroth. And the company La was there representing, his cafe and roastery Be Bright, is still young, having to navigate through the more established competition juggernauts in Onyx Coffee Lab (with two Finalists), Dune, and perennial San Francisco high-achieving competitors from Saint Frank and The Coffee Movement. But it was La’s day.

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Congratulations from all of us at Sprudge, and we can’t wait to watch Frank La move on to compete next month in Busan! Watch for more Sprudge coverage of the 2024 World Coffee Championships cycle in the coming days.

Zac Cadwalader is the managing editor at Sprudge Media Network. 

Photos by Charlie Burt for Sprudge Media Network. 

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