Lemuel Butler, a Customer Support Representative at Counter Culture Coffee in Durham, North Carolina, has won the 2016 United States Barista Championship. Butler is the most decorated barista champion in United States history, having won an astonishing five regional events in the South East division, but this is his first-ever USBC win, and his first appearance at the USBC finals. Lemuel Butler now moves on to represent the United States at the 2016 World Barista Championship in Dublin, Ireland, happening June 23rd-25th.
For Butler, whose competition career dates back to the middle of last decade, this win comes as a towering achievement in the face of an historically competitive field. More than 48 total competitors did battle across these three days in Atlanta, with Butler emerging as the champion from a Finals field that could have gone any number of ways.
Lemuel Butler competed at USBC using a bronze and green tipped Gesha variety coffee from producer Jose Gallardo, of Finca Nuguo in Jurutungo, Panama. There is a bit of a legend around this coffee: an unsolicited sample from Finca Nuguo showed up at Counter Culture HQ in Durham back in 2014, with scant information about the coffee. From there Counter Culture initiated a relationship with the Gallardo family that saw a refinement of production and processing, with a remarkable end point in Lemuel Butler's victory today in Atlanta. Much more information about this coffee can be found here, via Counter Culture—it's a remarkable story and we'll be following up for a more in-depth feature on Sprudge in the coming days.
In Butler's hands, this coffee yielded notes of “jasmine, bright lime acidity, and a big sweetness” as espresso, mellowing into something more dessert-like during the milk course. Butler's signature drink—dubbed “SouthernPlayalisticCadillacCoffee”, in a nod to Atlanta native hip-hop group Outkast—combined Finca Nuguo espresso with magnolia flower simple syrup, hibiscus, lemongrass and nitrous, served in stemless beer snifters. Outkast's classic chill jam “Prototype” anchored the final portion of the routine—stank you very much.
Lemuel Butler's closing remarks to his panel of judges left no doubt as to the impact he hopes to leave on the specialty coffee industry, and the impact it's had on him as a professional and human being. “If we strive for that podium,” he told the judges, “no matter where we land, it's a sustainable win win for us, our customers, and our farmers.” He went on to add: “It's not what has the industry done for me—it's what have I done for my industry?” Inspiring stuff, and a lesson to coffee competitors everywhere: if at first you don't success, do like Lem, and try again.
We'll see Lemuel Butler next representing the United States of America, Counter Culture Coffee, and at the 2016 World Barista Championship in Dublin, Ireland. Much more coverage of Lemuel Butler's win, and all of the 2016 United States Barista Championship competitors, can be found on SprudgeLive.com, our sister site dedicated to coffee sports.
Our coverage from Atlanta was produced by Zac Cadwalader. Photos by Charlie Burt and Kate Beard for Sprudge.com, all rights reserved.