Originally published on April 22nd, 2013.
Your 2013 United States Barista Championship finalists, featuring original photography by Charlie Burt for Sprudge.com. For a complete look back at the 2013 United States Barista Championship cycle, including photos of every regional competitor, join us on The Road to Melbourne.
Charles Babinski, G&B Coffee, Los Angeles – 2nd Place Overall.
With his second consecutive second place finish on the national stage, it's tempting to trot out one of those old cliches about bridesmaids and brides, but that sorely misses the point of what Charles Babinski continues to accomplish with his competition routines. If you follow barista competitions, you know – and have known for some time – that Charles Babinski is one of the very best and most respected competitors in the world. It's the sincere hope of this publication that Mr. Babinski will some day earn the chance to prove this fact on the world stage. It just won't be this year.
Mr. Babinksi's began his routine by reciting for the judges a wrote, clinical definition of espresso, and then upending that definition by declaring that “to me, espresso is any wondrous thing that comes out of that machine over there.” He competed using 49th Parallel's Colombia El Descanso, a coffee that yielded espressos with notes of “blackberry acidity & sweetness, cane sugar, and honey.” In a unique twist, Charles pre-dosed and pre-ground his espresso during his 15 minutes of prep time, storing the grounds in little silver canisters on stage; this is similar to the style of espresso prep that folks can expect at the new incarnation of G&B Coffee. He made two distinct signature drinks: the first with an uber-luongo 70 grams out shot, paired with orange blossom honey and meant to express “espresso as a canvas” for a beverage's deliciousness; and the second, a more standard 30 grams out shot mixed with pomegranate juice and sparkling water.
Charles Babinski (LF) year-end stats for the 2013 season: 489 ABs, 119 runs (NL-1st), 159 hits, 33 2B, 4 3B, 21 HR, 65 SB, 97 BB (good eye), .439 OBP (NL-1st), .577 SLG, 1.016 OPS, 189 OPS+, 1st in National League MVP voting.
Trevor Corlett, MadCap Coffee Company, Washington DC – 3rd place overall
Since packing up their lives & families and shipping out for Washington DC in late 2011, the folks at MadCap Coffee DC – Trevor Corlett and Colin Whitcomb – have enjoyed pronounced competition success both regionally and nationally. Let's review, shall we? In 2012 Mr. Corlett made USBC Semi-Finals; in 2013, Mr. Whitcomb was edged out from winning the SERBC outright by just a half point (by Lem Butler), and both Corlett & Whitcomb made appearances at the Semi-Finals round in Boston. Mr. Corlett advanced on to finals, and wound up placing third nationally in an historically competitive field. Oh, and Trevor was featured by Good Morning America and the New Yorker.
What we're saying is, success at USBC is measured by a number of metrics, only one of which is points. We were captivated all three times by Mr. Corlett's finals routine for a variety of reasons, including its exploration of “past crop” and “fresh crop” terminology, his stunningly sparse and mannered stage setting (our Twitter feed called it “Midwestern minimalist”), and Trevor's ability to compete with a resting heart beat that never rises above a leisurely chat. His routine featured two distinct harvests of MadCap's Didier Reinoso Colombia, one from July 2012 and another from December of that year. Mr. Corlett's signature drink layered shots from both harvests with grapefruit, maple syrup & egg whites.
Sam Lewontin, Everyman Espresso, NYC – 4th Place Overall
Now in his third of competition, Sam Lewontin has emerged as one of the major talents on the US Barista Championship circuit. Winning the NERBC will do that for you, especially in this day and age, as New York City continues to establish itself as one of the world's specialty coffee capitals. But this reality has a quirk; as New York has became a major destination for coffee talent and high-level work, it has remained a real bastion of barista community and closeness within the ebb tide of that massive, anonymous city. Specialty coffee can make strange bedfellows – that's part of why we love it so much! – but it can also make dear friends, and watching Sam Lewontin carry the cheers and adulation of his peers on stage at USBC was living proof.
Sam Lewontin competed at USBC using Counter Culture Coffee's Burundi Mpemba – click that link for featured tasting notes written by Mr. Lewontin himself. Sam's routine included the second appearance of his “choose your own adventure” signature drink, in which his sensory judges were asked to choose flavor notes they might expect from a washed Burundi. These notes were used to tailor a sig drink with more than a dozen possible variations – you can read more about this aspect of Mr. Lewontin's routine here.
At times a stream of consciousness mumble, or baseball statistics in-joke, or mad reporter dash, every once in a while we get something right in our live barista competition Twitter feed. Of Sam's finals routine, we wrote, “You are watching just one shining moment in a coffee career so bright, it requires shades.” If you don't mind us saying so, that's about exactly right.
Charlie Habegger, Intelligentsia Coffee, Chicago – 6th Place Overall
There's something in the water at Intelligentsia – perhaps added in directly via their filtration systems, who knows – that creates top-flight barista competitors year after year, in regions all across the country. This year was no different, as Chicago's Charlie Habegger took his automatic Semi-Finals bid from North Centrals all the way to his first-ever appearance on Finals Sunday.
Mr. Habegger's stage setting was perhaps the most visually striking of any competitor: each judge sat down to gracefully arranged white ceramic fruit bowls, full of vanilla, white chocolate, blackberries, basil, and other flavors found in Mr. Habegger's coffee, a little number from Huila, Colombia marked by Intelligentsia as Tres Los Santos. His signature drink focused on the “lot building” practice common at origin, where different flavor characteristics are pulled coffees grown in a geographically contiguous set of farms. Charlie pulled different pieces of fruit from his judges' table setting – a piece of vanilla here, some blackberries there – to visually anchor the flavors and ingredients they'd find in his signature drink, which included espresso shots pulled directly on top of blackberry and basil jam.
Educator at Intelli Broadway, green buyer in charge of Intelligentsia's purchases in Peru, and now a USBC finalist… Charlie Habegger may well take over the world out from under us all.
Nick Purvis, The French Press, Santa Barbara – 5th Place Overall
Every Finals Sunday has its dark horse, a Cinderella story, a competitor who's name may not have made the early predictions of competition watchers and bracketologists. This year it was Nick Purvis, representing a two-shop cafe brand in Santa Barbara called The French Press. Prior to USBC 2013, Nick had never advanced in a barista competition, having bowed out in the first round at two consecutive Southwest Regionals. His Semi-Finals appearance was a first, and there was much joy from the Verve Coffee Roasters delegation at USBC when his name was called for Finals Sunday.
Much joy, sure, but not an ounce of shock. We were lucky enough to watch all three of Mr. Purvis's USBC runs, and he shone brightly all three times with a service that felt educational, comfortable, and tirelessly classy. Like spending a half an hour with your favorite bartender before the room opens, or enjoying a private dinner at the best table in your favorite restaurant, Nick Purvis was able to make his coffee (Verve's Colombia Los Naranjos) come alive in a routine that focused on customer service itself, and the power baristas wield as public educators. Nick's signature drink was drool-inducing, a combination of caramelized tangerine juice, red apple juice reduction, and a liquified coffee cheesecake made with cold brew and marscapone. On paper at least, it was probably the tastiest sounding sig drink of USBC finals, because honestly who doesn't want liquified coffee cheesecake? Let's be real here.
The thing about dark horses is, next year they come back as 1 seeds. Should he continue pursuing competition – and we sure hope so – Nick Purvis is one to watch in 2014, and his 2013 USBC run is one we'll remember for a long time to come.
Pete Licata, Parisi Coffee, Kansas City, Missouri – 1st Place Overall
A huge congratulations to Pete Licata, your 2013 United States Barista Champion! A full accounting of his exploits is available in our exhaustive Pete-focused feature here. Learn more about the coffee Pete used to win it all right here!