Welcome to a very special episode of The Coffee Sprudgecast, taped live on the floor (and outside in the sun!) at the 2017 US Coffee Championships in Seattle, Washington. Special Correspondent Liz Chai (@chaiamericano) taped a series of interviews with a judge, a competitor, a coach, and a volunteer at this year’s event. Everything from spilled beet juice to unconscious bias is covered in this week’s episode, featuring interviews with some fascinating members of the wider coffee competition community.
One of our favorite quotes from the episode comes from show host Liz Chai, talking about opportunity and achievement with Talya Strader. “I have learned in my own career to just ask if you want it,” she says. “Sometimes they’ll say yes, or no, or maybe, but just ask if you want it.”
Mallory Leicht, a head judge at the US Barista Competition, says she got involved in judging as a way to expand her horizons out of small town Missouri. Today she’s part of the team at Blue Bottle in San Francisco, and is among the US competition circuit’s most respected and accomplished judges, with 7 years of experience. “I learned so much the first few years,” she tells Chai, “but every year there’s something new to learn.”
Talya Strader of Equator Coffees, who placed third nationally in the US Barista Competition. Strader’s been competing on and off since 2007, and calls the experience transformational, with many props given to Equator Coffees CEO Helen Russell. Interviewing a competitor between routine and results is a rare opportunity—a charged, semi-mystical moment of expectation and anticipation—and this part of the show really feels electric.
Sara Frinak of Counter Culture Coffee in Atlanta, Georgia, a volunteer at the 2017 US Brewers Cup championship. Frinak volunteered throughout this season at regional events, and has been volunteering at coffee events across the American South for the last several years. “There’s a lot of different ways to be involved,” Frinak tells Chai, discussing how volunteering at events means much more than simply clearing cups. “I want to make sure the hard work people put into a routine is actualized on stage…it’s about doing what you came here to do.”
Matthew Jung-Quillen is busy. In addition to his work hosting popular pop-ups across Los Angeles, he’s the Master of Projects for Coffee Manufactory (launching soon in LA) and the dedicated barista competition coach for Devin Chapman. “Collaboration makes everyone stronger,” Jung-Quillen says. “You need to find someone you can stay calm with, and listens well.” Elsewhere Chai & Jung-Quillen discuss the intent behind Chapman’s design-oriented routine, as well as the role of a coach at coffee competitions, and how to look for a coach if you’re just starting out.
But will Matthew Jung-Quillen take the stage himself in future competition seasons? “I wouldn’t say no,” he tells Liz Chai. “This is inspiring for me.”
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Photos by Elizabeth Chai. Top photo by Ibi Yoo @AwesomeCandle.