And just like that, half the field is set for the 2019 US Coffee Championships taking place in Kansas City, Missouri next year in March. A total of 192 coffee professionals from around the United States gathered together in Denver, Colorado for the chance to move on to the National stage of coffee competition. Over the course of two days, these nearly 200 competitors took part one of (and sometimes more) the five events going on throughout the weekend: the Barista Championship, Brewers Cup, Cup Tasters, Roasters Championship, and for the first time in the US, the Coffee in Good Spirits. Now there are just 62.
If there are any large-scale takeaways from this weekend, it would be that, (1) there are a ton of new faces in every competition, and (2) those who have done well in past competitions continue to do well. While the prevalence of newcomers was felt throughout every competition stage—we’re guesstimating around half of the competitors were first timers—the veterans, unsurprisingly, owned the day. Every competition save for Cup Tasters was won, if not completely swept, by former finalists from the national level. Even Coffee in Good Spirits, which is only in its first year, was won by Sam Schroeder, who has previously made the finals of the Barista Championship (multiple times) and Brewers Cup.
Those moving on must now wait another month to learn who will comprise the other half of the field coming out of the second Qualifying Event, taking place mid-January in Nashville. But until then, let’s take a look back at the road that got these 62 competitors to KC, the weekend that was the 2019 US Coffee Championships Qualifying Event in Denver, Colorado.
SprudgeLive’s coverage of the 2019 US Coffee Champs is made possible by Joe Glo and Mahlkönig. All of SprudgeLive’s 2019 competition coverage is made possible by Acaia, Baratza, Faema, Cafe Imports, and Wilbur Curtis.
For the Qualifying Event, competitors were given 10 minutes to serve the judges an espresso course as well as a signature beverage course; the milk beverage course, along with an additional five minutes of performance time, won't be introduced until Kansas City. But even only having to serve two courses, the 10 minute run time proved to not be enough for many competitors; multiple baristas finished north of 11 minutes, some pushing into the 12-minute mark. This wasn't just first-timers mind you. There were multiple veteran competitors who, while didn't get the full DQ, had us sweating as precious point deductions continued to tick by.
From the field of 60 competitors, two truths crystalized this weekend. First, Andrea Allen remains a favorite. With three consecutive Finals appearances and another strong showing here in Denver, it's hard to imagine she won't make it four in a row. And two, Sam Neely is the real deal. If there was any worry that last year's final appearance was a fluke or that they would suffer a sophomore slump, Neely's significant 18-point win over Allen put that all to bed. Neely stands poised as the heir-apparent to be the barista that brings home a title for the new generation of competitors.
- Sam Neely, Switchback Coffee Roasters
- Andrea Allen, Onyx Coffee Lab
- Emily Orendorff, Boxcar Coffee Roasters
- Cassie Ash, Small Planes Coffee
- Hugo Cano, Independent
- Naida Lindberg, Verve Coffee
- Reef Bessette, The Coffee Movement
- Joel Bigelow, Messenger Coffee
- Hana Kaneshige, Counter Culture Coffee
- Raechel Hurd, Epoch Coffee
- Milo DeGoosh, Bard Coffee
- Matthew Barahura, Intelligentsia Coffee
- Austin Amento, Augie’s Coffee
- Kristi Persinger, Stumptown Coffee Roasters
- Meg Skop, Equator Coffees & Teas
- Douglas Park, Independent
- Maxwell Mooney, Narrative Coffee
- Morgan Eckroth, Tried & True Coffee Co
More so than any other competition, including the Barista Championship, the Brewers Cup is where previous Finalists loomed largest, taking the top three spots as well as ninth with Blair Smith (and let's be honest, Smith is one of the most seasoned Brewers Cup competitors in the field, so I wouldn't bet on her finishing below ninth on the national stage).
At the same time, the Brewers Cup was the only competition last year where a newcomer won it all. It just goes to show that it is anyone's game, but expect to see White, Gann, McCormick-Goodhart, and Smith near the top. Maybe this is the year on of them finally breaks through.
- Jacob White, Bird Rock Coffee Roasters
- Kaley Gann, Messenger Coffee
- Justin McCormick-Goodhart, Sweet Bloom Coffee
- Lance Hedrick, Onyx Coffee Lab
- Joshua Modisette, Narrative Coffee
- Madeleine Longoria-Garcia, Independent
- Augustine Toscano, Windmill Coffee
- Avery Leith, Elixr Coffee
- Blair Smith, Augie’s Coffee
- Stephen White, Joe Coffee Co
- Nicholai Elkins, Switchback Coffee Roasters
- Kelly Hill, Temple Coffee Roasters
Coffee in Good Spirits
Coffee in Good Spirits has been a staple of the World Coffee Events competition roster since 2011, but somehow, it wasn't until the 2019 season that the United States decided to get involved, with the first appearance of the event on US soil taking place over the weekend.
CIGS in America still feels a bit like it is in the beta testing phases; only a total of six competitors decided to give it a go in Denver, but this is surely poised to change. America has some of the best cocktail bars in the entire world as well as an already established mixology competition scene; combine in the fact that many baristas have made the switch from coffee bar to bar-bar and you've got a recipe for strong future performances. It's only a matter of time.
- Sam Schroeder, Olympia Coffee
- Kimhak Em, Peixoto Coffee Roasters
- Joshua Smith, West Oak Coffee Bar
- Michael Slomzenski, Huckleberry Roasters
- Kasey Headley, Trinity Street Coffee Bar
It doesn't matter where you are in the building, whenever competitors start raising those cups looking for red dots, you can hear the roars of the crowd. With the immediacy of the scoring—is there a dot or isn't there—Cup Tasters makes for some of the most exciting spectating in all of coffee competition.
In Denver, speed was the name of the game. With Sebastian Legner going a perfect six for six and another 10 competitors only missing one, that left only four spots for the 19 competitors that correctly identified four of six cups. Only two seconds separated Jie Jiang and ReAnimator‘s Cody McGregor, 2:25 to 2:27, but that was the difference between booking a ticket to KC and a ticket back home.
- Sebastian Legner, Copper Door Coffee Roasters
- Chris Kornman, Royal Coffee
- Jen Apodaca, Royal Coffee
- Chloe O’Connor, Everyman Espresso
- Scott MacBride, InterAmerican Coffee
- Roman Deshong, Amethyst Coffee Co
- Kevin Nealon, Huckleberry Roasters
- Andy Sprenger, Sweet Bloom Coffee
- Jin Chiew, Sweet Bloom Coffee
- Austin Amento, Augie’s Coffee
- Michael Schroeder, Oddly Correct
- Noah Goodman, Faema
- Khristian Yurchak, Sisters Coffee Co
- Brandon Despain, Caffe Ibis
- Jie Jiang, Andante Coffee Roasters
For the second time in competition history, the US Roasters Championship has a qualifying round. No more sign-up and show up, not that it made much of a difference for Andrew Oberholzer, last year's sixth place finisher and the winner of the Denver Qualifiers.
If there was a single feet at the Denver Qualifying Event that could be considered as the most remarkable, it comes from Roasters (and Cup Tasters) with Jen Apodaca making the podium in both events. If she can repeat this performance in Kansas City, it will undoubtedly be one of the best US Coffee Championship appearances in the history of the competition.
- Andrew Oberholzer, Joe Coffee Co
- Shelby Williamson, Huckleberry Roasters
- Jen Apodaca, Royal Coffee
- Leo Sideras, Independent
- Evan Inatome, Elixr Coffee
- Aaron Rollins, Caffe Ibis
- Hugh Morretta, La Colombe Coffee Roasters
- Daniel Mauck, Social Hour Coffee Roasters
- Mark Boccard, Southdown Coffee
- Weston Nawrocki, Manzanita Roasting Co
- Andrew Burgason, Windmill Coffee
- Nathan Van Dusen, Brio Coffeeworks
Photos for Sprudge and Sprudge Live by Elizabeth Chai and Charlie Burt.