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Here we are, the last day, the Finals round of the 2024 US Barista Championship. We’ve spent the last two days at Klatch Coffee’s lab and roasting facility in Rancho Cucamonga, California to get to this point, and now we’re just 90 short minutes of stage time away from it all being over.

Today’s roster is stacked with familiar names. Morgan, Meg, Kay, Frank, Jason, Onyx, Saint Frank, Dune, The Coffee Movement. We’ve got former Champions and Finalists, we’ve got competitors with other a decade’s worth of experience under their belts and we’ve got a first-timer who, along with three other competitors, fought their way through Round One to get to the Finals.

That’s the beauty of the US Barista Championship. What happened last year or 10 years ago is in the past. Hell, what happened yesterday has been thrown out the window. The winner will be decided by today’s routines and today’s routines alone. How will the competitor’s change them from the Semi-Finals? Will there be new flavor calls? Script modifications? We’ll know soon enough.

We’re going deep today on our coverage of all six Finals routines for the 2024 US Barista Championship, so make sure to stay tuned in all day long.

Sprudge’s coverage of the 2024 US Barista Championship in Rancho Cucamonga is presented in partnership with Third Wave Water

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Frank La (he/him) – Be Bright Coffee – Log Angeles, CA

And we’re off! Our first competitor for the Finals round of the 2024 US Barista Championship is Frank La! La took a nine-year hiatus from competition before returning last year to make it all the way to Finals. He is looking to improve upon his 6th place finish from 2023.

It wouldn’t be a Frank La routine without at least one track from Radiohead’s Kid A, and we’re starting off today with none other than the title track.

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The theme today for La is Kodawari, a Japanese word that translates roughly to “dedication” or “the pursuit of perfection.” At the basis of theme is his coffee, the Ombligon. Translating to “belly button” in Spanish—so named because of the coffee’s belly button-shaped cherries—La is using an anaerobic fermented, natural processed Ethiopian landrace variety coffee grown at 1,900masl by producer Nestor Lasso at Finca El Diviso in Huila, Colombia.

Pulled at 20g in to 50g out, the Ombligon espressos, which La stirs for the judges after serving, have notes of tart cherry juice, watermelon candy, fresh, raspberry, and dark chocolate, with a medium weight, silky mouthfeel, and lingering finish. Pulling a tighter 1:1.5 ratio shot for the milk course, La incorporates the espresso with an evaporated, freeze-distilled to 50% volume lactose-free milk for flavors of raspberry cheesecake, butterscotch, strawberry malt.

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Turning to the signature beverage, La serves the judges hot towels before proceeding with the drink construction. It’s interesting to see the same Ombligon coffee pulled to different parameters for each course. The sig bev uses a 1:3 ratio of hyper-chilled espresso, adding it to oolong tea and honey clarified coffee milk punch, red seedless grape syrup, and coffee saccharum, all blended together to new flavors of lemon yogurt, white grapefruit, and ginger ale. Frank La calls time at 14:57, and the Finals are off to a blistering start.

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Meg Skop (she/her) – The Coffee Movement – San Francisco, CA

We now turn our attention to Meg Skop. After making Finals in 2022 as an independent, Skop returns to competition after taking a year off, this time competing for The Coffee Movement, hoping to top her fourth place finish from two years ago. Skop brings an effervescence to the stage that’s undeniable. She’s so much fun to watch because she looks like she is just having the time of her life up there. Competition at this level can feel like a deeply serious affair (because it is!), but Skop is always a quick reminder that it can also be a well-earned good time.

Skop’s routine this year is themed around Kenyan coffees, but is throwing a bit of a Kenya curveball by not using a wash processed coffee. Instead, she is using a field blend of SL28, SL34, Ruiri 11, and Gesha varieties from the Thunguri factory in Nyeri that has been anaerobic fermented and natural processed. To it, she adds a honey processed, watermelon co-ferment Pink Bourbon from Colombia, which makes up just 8% of the total blend.

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As an espresso, Skop’s custom coffee has notes of fresh raspberries, watermelon candy, and pineapple juice, with a medium weight, creamy texture, and a lingering ruby red grapefruit finish. In a roughly 3oz milk course, the Kenya-dominant coffee combines a 90/10 blend of Ghost Town Oats oat milk and freeze-dried raw dairy milk from Rochat Farms to give flavors of strawberries and cream instant oatmeal, shortbread, and honey granola. Skop is one of many competitors this weekend taking advantage of the new rules allowing for alternative milks, and we love to see it. The milk course has become one of the most innovative.

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For her signature beverage, Skop wanted to highlight the flavors typical of Kenyan coffees. To that end, she combines espresso and a raspberry oleo saccharum to a botanical tea concentrate of lemongrass, tarragon, and spearmint that all get rapid chilled and finished with a homemade elderflower tonic. Served in wine stemware—with the instructions to swirl before drinking—Skop’s sig bevs have notes of blackberry jam, tart green apple, and mint in the finish.

All drinks are down by the 14 minute mark, leaving Skop more than enough time for a few final remarks and to tidy up. Meg Skop calls time on her Finals routine at 14:45.

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Morgan Eckroth (they/she) – Onyx Coffee Lab – Portland, OR

Now up is Morgan Eckroth of Onyx Coffee Lab. Eckroth is the 2022 US Barista Champion and World Barista Championship Runner-Up from the same year, and she is looking to get back to the World stage after finishing second at the 2023 USBC. It’s anybody’s game here in the Finals, but you have to imagine that high-level competition experience gives Eckroth a slight advantage.

“What is the future of our industry?” Eckroth beings. While the answers may differ from one person to another, she concludes we all have one thing in common: “We want others to care.” For Eckroth, caring comes not from data but experience, and the judges’ experience today begins high up in the Talamanca Mountain Range in the far west of Panama, where Kai Janson produced the anaerobic fermented, natural processed Gesha Eckroth uses today in competition. As an espresso pulled over frozen spheres at 19g in and 40g out for 25 seconds, Eckroth’s Panama Gesha has notes of bright strawberry, 65% dark chocolate, grapefruit, lime, and floral and botanical orange blossom.

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Very intentional pacing today from Eckroth. Never feeling hurried or in a rush and with a real economy to her movement, Eckroth is a tactician with the script. It’s pretty clear to see why she has made back-to-back-to-back USBC Finals.

Combining 75% of a freeze-distilled whole milk that has been reduced down to 40% by volume with 25% coconut milk, Eckroth’s rich and decadent milk course has notes of melted dark chocolate ice cream, almond, fresh whipped cream, and coconut white cake.

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Turning her attention now to the signature beverage, Eckroth combines chilled Panama Gesha espresso with soy lecithin powder, orange and mango juice, lime juice, and a peach, bergamot, and jasmine infused maple syrup—designed around the tasting notes Kai Janson gave after tasting Eckroth’s coffee. The ingredients get nitrous emulsified and served amid a cascading orange blossom fog for flavors of cream soda, pink Starburst, orange sherbet, and milk chocolate. Morgan Eckroth calls time at 14:54.

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Jason Yeo (he/him) – Saint Frank Coffee – San Francisco, CA

“No pressure, no diamonds,” first-time Finalist Jason Yeo tells the judges. It’s the theme of his routine, and the slogan can be found emblazoned on the cream-colored shirts in his cheering section, which just so happens to include fellow Finalists Frank La and Meg Skop. “It takes hard work and commitment to produce something meaningful.”

Yeo continues the longstanding tradition of Saint Frank competitors by using coffee from esteemed producer Benjamin Paz in  El Cedral, Santa Barbara, Honduras. Yeo has selected La Salsa, a lactic fermented, wash processed Gesha variety grown at 1,700masl.

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As an espresso it has notes of apricot, cherry, blood orange, candied citrus, and cracked chocolate with a lingering finish. Lots of WDT tools and precision pressure tampers and frozen spheres at competition this year and Yeo has them all. Espressos have never been so pampered.

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Moving onto the milk course, Yeo uses a cryodesiccated lactose-free milk that he then rehydrates in A2 milk to combine with the Honduras Gesha in a cortado-sized beverage for flavors of milk chocolate and chewy caramel candy. For the final course, Yeo incorporates hyper-chilled La Salsa with lemon oleo saccharum, milk-washed cold pressed orange juice, and clarified orgeat get a nitro charge, presenting flavors of orange blossom, lime sugar, blood orange, grape candy, and cherry. Jason Yeo calls time at 14:30.

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Kay Cheon (he/him) – Dune Coffee – Santa Barbara, CA

Our penultimate competitor today is Kay Cheon of Dune Coffee. Cheon was the Runner-Up all the way back in 2020 and every year feels like a favorite to make a deep run. Will this be the year he finally breaks through?

Cheon competes this year with a natural processed Gesha variety coffee grown by the Lamastus family on the famed Elida Estates in Boquete, Panama. He is the only competitor to not use an anaerobic fermented coffee today at Finals. As an espresso, pulled at 20g in to 40g out over 27 seconds—WDT tooled and over frozen spheres—the Elida Gesha has flavors of cherry, tangerine, and dark chocolate, with a silky texture and a lingering finish.

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Ever the cool customer, Cheon feels in complete control of the stage. There is such ease to this incredibly polished routine. It’s pretty clear why he is making his third appearance in the Finals today.

Moving on to the milk course, Cheon is using a cryodesiccated and vacuum-sublimated custom blend of 70% lactose-free milk and 30% koji-fermented rice-and-oat milk. Combined in a 1:1 ratio with the Gesha, the beverage expresses flavors of caramel and chocolate ice cream. For the signature beverage, rapid- and hyperchilled espresso combine with strawberry, clarified milk, cold brewed aged Taiwanese oolong tea, and an instant Elida Gesha coffee, that all get incorporated together via a quick blend. To enhance the aromatic component of the drink, Cheon gave a rose, orange, and jasmine essential oil to the judges to rub on their hands that they will smell when bringing the sig bev to their mouth to drink. Notes for the drink include guava, watermelon, strawberry, and white peach.

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Kay Cheon calls time on his final routine at 15:08.

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Rafael Levy Diner (he/him) – Onyx Coffee Lab – Rogers, AR

Our final competitor here at the 2024 US Barista Championship is Rafael Levy Diner of Onyx Coffee Lab. This is Diner’s first year competing and he’s already made his first Finals. His theme today is about improvement through subtraction, not addition.

Diner is using a blend of two coffee today: A red honey processed Gesha from producer Pepe Arguello at Finca Santa Cruz in Chiapas, Mexico, and a black honey processed Wush Wush variety from Sebastian Ramirez at El Placer Estates in Quindio, Colombia, blended together at a 1:1 ratio. In keeping with the less is more theme, espressos are pulled 16g and 36g out for an overall extraction of 19.3%, giving the drink notes of raspberry, ripe ruby red grapefruit, rose water, and dark cocoa. It has a juicy, round, and soft tactile with a lingering finish.

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Moving to the milk course—and it is here that I would like to note that every competitor today went through the same progression: espresso, milk course, signature beverage—Diner is using a freeze-distilled lactose-free whole milk that, when combined with his espresso blend in a 1:3 ratio, has notes of Werthers caramel, salted toffy, milk chocolate, and brown butter, and melted French vanilla ice cream.

For the last beverage of the 2024 USBC season, Diner draws inspiration from his favorite Mexican meal: mole. Espresso, coffee blossom honey and cacao solution, ancho chile infused agave syrup, whey, extra virgin olive oil, heirloom red corn masa, and lime juice, are all steamed together and then finished with cherry wood and cinnamon smoke, creating flavors of warm mulled apple cider, spicy chocolate, torched marshmallow, and mole.

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“We’re on a never-ending chase for more, more, more,” Diner says, noting the glut of distribution tools and frozen spheres and espresso preening devices that we have seen on stage this year. It’s a very mature routine and them from the first-time competitor, which isn’t all that shocking considering the pedigree of the coffee company he is here representing. Rafael Levy Diner calls time at 14:58.

Thanks for tuning in all weekend! We’ll be back shortly with the winners of the 2024 US Coffee Championships!

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