Samuel Lewontin of Everyman Espresso in New York City has won the 2015 Northeast Regional Barista Competition, which took place this past weekend in Durham, North Carolina as part of the Big Eastern Coffee Competitions. He’ll move on to compete (with a first-round bye) at the 2015 United States Barista Championship next February in Long Beach, California, and his NE win secures him a spot on Cafe Imports' 2015 origin trip to Colombia.
This is Mr. Lewontin's second NE Region win, following his first place finish in the region during the 2013 cycle. He would go on reach finals at the 2013 United States Barista Championship in Boston, placing fourth in a field won by the eventual 2013 World Barista Champion, Pete Licata. Mr. Lewontin's win this year at regionals is sweetened by the shared success of his colleague at Everyman Espresso, Erika Vonie, who placed 4th in the NE region and is now eligible to compete at the 2015 USBC in Long Beach as well.
Sam Lewontin’s competition coffee was a ringer of sorts, grown by noted Salvadoran coffee producer Aida Batlle at her Finca Los Alpes farm in El Salvador's volcanic Santa Ana department and roasted by our partners at Counter Culture Coffee. Perhaps the world's most well-known coffee producer, Aida Batlle's coffee is the stuff of legend, New Yorker think pieces, and TIME magazine awards. Her coffees are roasted and sold by some of the very best roasters in the world, including Counter Culture, PT's Coffee, Stumptown Coffee, Blue Bottle Coffee, Dogwood Coffee, Equator Coffees, Square Mile Coffee, and more.
In Mr. Lewontin's hands, Batlle's Finca Los Alpes yielded “nectarine and grapefruit” notes as espresso, with a “beautiful sweetness and crisp acidity.” It was a routine that touched frequently on the myriad of ways in which service impacts flavor, from the color of the napkins to the tactile feel of the vessel being served, to the demeanor and verbal choices made by the barista. While clearly a honed and exhaustively practiced 15 minute routine, Lewontin's script never felt rote or overly performed–this is a barista competition set designed to win, with careful decision making influenced by the rules of the game and confines of the score sheet, influenced by Mr. Lewontin's previous competition experience, both as a competitor and judge.
“It’s important to know when to step back and let my guests enjoy just a cup of coffee,” Lewontin told the judges, shortly after serving them a signature drink whose ingredients included chrysanthemum flower syrup, white vinegar, and muddled grapefruit peel, served in a lowball cocktail glass with an elegant grapefruit garnish. In that moment you've got a dichotomy: a call for simplicity and enjoyment of service, paired with the complex, complicated, and at times beguiling thing that's actually being served. Coffee is a complicated beverage, but the enjoyment thereof doesn't have to be. It's all in the presentation.
All photos by Zachary Carlsen for Sprudge.com. Want more #BigEastern coverage? Dig in at SprudgeLive.com.
Our Big Eastern coverage sponsored by Wilbur Curtis Company and Counter Culture Coffee, with additional support from our partners at BonaVita. All of our 2015 USBC and WBC barista competition coverage is underwritten in partnership with Square.
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