I love coffee — the way it smells, the way it tastes and the way it faithfully delivers that oh-so-slight kick just when I need it in the morning. So when I found out that the Specialty Coffee Association of America and the Barista Guild of America were bringing the United States Barista Championship (USBC) to Portland for the first time, I was all abuzz with excitement. And coffee.
For the first time in USBC competition history, top-rated baristas from all over the country descended on the Oregon Convention Center in Portland to engage in competition that led to the crowning of the nation's best.
Traveling with the 24th Annual Specialty Coffee Exhibition, the USBC brought together the top baristas from around the United States, pitting their coffee knowledge and espresso-brewing expertise against the best the country had to offer. Over the course of three days, a field of 50 competitors engaged in a high-octane shot-fest where every action, movement, gesture and aroma were scrutinized to the fullest.
Of the 50 competitors, five were from Portland, including Northwest Regional winner Devin Chapman of Coava Coffee, Tyler Stevens (whose "barista art" was featured on Oregon Art Beat) and Brett Fletcher of BARISTA, and Ann Schnieder and Colin Schneider of Sterling Coffee Roasters.
According to the official rules, competitors had to serve one beverage from all three categories of drinks — espresso, cappuccino and a signature drink, which is something that the barista develops on their own. They then presented 12 drinks to each of the four sensory judges during a period of 15 minutes, all while keeping the regulation-layout espresso bar clean and tidy. Everything was evaluated, and the judges and referees rarely missed a beat. The competitors were scored using a point system that goes from 0-6 according to a range of criteria so vast that it requires explanation via a 24-page, 15-section handbook (PDF).
The intense four-day exhibition and three-day competition brought record crowds to the Oregon Convention Center. From Thursday to Sunday, the city was flooded with coffee entrepreneurs, professionals and appreciators from as far away as Kenya, Indonesia, Switzerland and Colombia. The Specialty Coffee Association of America reported that over 10,000 people visited the convention.
The competition space was arranged in a "kitchen stadium" type atmosphere where stage cameras broadcast a livestream of the competition to people around the world. One of the more popular elements of the competition hall was the "Brew Bar," where ticketed spectators were treated with the opportunity to sample the smorgasbord of specialty drinks from all of the contestants.
Though hometown favorite Devin Chapman of Coava Coffee made it to the barista finals, it was Katie Carguilo of Brooklyn, New York who took first place. Chapman finished fourth. By the close of the competition and exhibition on Sunday, event officials were already preparing for next year's competition which is scheduled to take place in Boston.