Sam Schroeder, the co-owner and retail director of Olympia Coffee Roasting Company in Olympia, Washington, has won the 2015 NW Regional Barista Competition title. He’ll move on to compete (with a first-round bye) at the 2015 United States Barista Championship next February in Long Beach, California.
This is Mr. Schroeders first ever NW Region win, following a 4th place finish in 2014 and a 7th place finish in 2013. This regional win follows a strong showing from Mr. Schroeder at the 2014 United States Barista Championship, where he advanced to Semi-Finals. It caps off a huge showing for Olympia Coffee at Big Western, which included a 2nd place finish in the NW division for Brady Macdonald and a second place Brewers Cup finish from Olympia Coffee barista Alex Choppin.
He competed at Big Western with a coffee from the Konga cooperative in Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia. This cooperative is Fair Trade certified and Organic certified, and Olympia Coffee have been featuring it for the last 3 years. Olympia Coffee's Ethiopian Konga was a 2014 Good Food Awards winner, and Mr. Schroeder's success at Big Western continues a remarkable run for Olympia Coffee's expression of this coffee.
As espresso, Mr. Schroeder told the judges his coffee had “black tea, lemon, and jasmine” flavors, with a “light and silky, elastic and supple” tactile experience. In a cappuccino there’s still “black tea and lemon” but also a new note, “milk chocolate.” His signature drink paired this espresso alongside a black tea & lemon “drinking custard,” which, if that doesn't sound delicious–Ethiopian espresso & drinking custard–well, you're probably reading the wrong website.
Coffee competitions are a lot of things–exciting, complicated, driven by personality–but they're often quite deceptive as a spectator sport. The work we do covering these events, which is now hubbed around SprudgeLive.com and the @SprudgeLive Twitter feed, is a little bit like commentating on a basketball game where you can watch every pass, every dribble, but have no clue what happens once the ball leaves the players' hands. There's no live scoring; heck, there's not even public scoresheets for most of these events. You can set the scene but you can't make declaratives about who won or how stuff tasted.
Sam Schroeder's routine at Big Western was technically proficient, brainy, professional and well-crafted, there can be no doubt, but it was also marred by a series of technical timeouts relating to the positioning of Schroeder's on-stage hands free microphone. Technical timeouts are rare enough–they happen about once in every 25 routines–but multiple technical timeouts in the same routine are nigh unheard of. It's hard to maintain work flow and concentration once you stop the clock for a technical, and routines disrupted by techs rarely result in an advancing competitor. Sam Schroeder kind of blew all that out the window. Tech or no tech, he dealt with it just fine on stage, only showing signs of frustration in his exit interview after the clock had finally stopped.
That frustration stuck around for a long 24 hour interim between the end of his routine and the finals calls, before finally giving way to elation. In those final moments you'd be forgiven for assuming Sam Schroeder had all but counted himself out. Then he won. That's barista competitions for you. This is not a spectator sport in the traditional sense, but wow, can it be a lot of fun to watch.
All photos by Cookie Carlsen for Sprudge.com.