The 2017 United States Coffee Championships kick off this weekend in Knoxville, Tennessee with the first of two qualifying events taking place over the next month (the second happening in Austin in February). 2017 is a bit of a transition year for the Coffee Championships structure; the two qualifying event format is the first step toward an eventual three-tiered schedule, with “no fewer than six [micro-regional] events” feeding into the qualifying events as we now know them, which will then decide who makes it to Nationals. Drastic though they may be, these updates are just the start of the changes you can expect to see at this year’s qualifying events.
But one thing remains the same: we’ll be bringing you the best competition coverage in the business over on SprudgeLive, with photos, competitor profiles, and finalist announcements. And make sure you’re following @SprudgeLive as we’ll be live tweeting each barista competitor’s routine to keep you up to the minute on all the action. If you want to know about it as it happens, @SprudgeLive is all you need. Be sure to follow @Sprudge on Instagram and Facebook as well, where we'll be making finalists announcements and posting photos of all the sights and sounds from Coffee Champs.
The changes to this year’s qualifying events are substantive, and frankly, pretty awesome. There are of course the practical modifications—the 10-minute presentation times for the Barista Competition and Brewers Cup as well as the removal of the milk course during Barista qualifying rounds—but there appears to be a focus on the spectator experience this year. While the inclusion of the Cup Tasters and Roaster Championships to the qualifying event are welcome additions from the competitor perspective, they are also two of the more interactive competitions in coffee. Cup Tasters, with its dramatic “red dot or no red dot” cup reveals, has some of the more dramatic and raucous conclusions to on-stage coffee performances, and the added “sensory activity” for Cup Tasters attendees certainly looks enhance engagement. The Roasters Championship allows onlookers to not only taste side-by-side the works of these keepers of the flame, but also have their vote help choose who makes it to nationals.
But the best change this year and the one that is truly exciting is the addition of “guest judge” spots during the Barista Championships and Brewers Cup. For an additional $15, spectators get to sit alongside the judges during the routines, allowing them a front row seat to the action and best of all, a chance to taste the competitors’ beverages. Guest judges won’t have to do any actual scoring, of course. They just get to sit back and enjoy the experience drinking some of the world’s best coffee served by the some of the country’s best baristas.
And the list of competitors heading to Knoxville this year is pretty serious. There are no fewer than 15 baristas to take the stage have made it to nationals previously, including perennial favorites (and previous members of my Barista Fantasy League squadron) Bethany Hargrove of Wrecking Ball Coffee, Sam Lewontin of Everyman Espresso, Cris Mendoza of Saint Frank Coffee, and Cole McBride.
Head over to the SprudgeLive.com for a complete set of schedules for the Barista Competition, and scope a full roster of competitors for each event courtesy of US Coffee Champs (excluding the Latte Art Throwdown).
We consulted with some locals and experts on fun stuff to do in Knoxville, and put together this handy guide for you. Check it and let 'em know Sprudge sent you!
Zac Cadwalader is the news editor at Sprudge Media Network.