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Blue Bottle Goes to the U.S. Coffee Championships

Two Blue Bottlers on a journey to coffee greatness

In my last post on competitions, I described the basic lay of the land for the event. We were in the midst of holding our internal events to decide who would represent us at the regional events. Since then, many shots were pulled, pitchers steamed, and miles traveled by our intrepid baristas to represent us at the national pre-qualifier event. The results have us downright giddy, as our QC Specialist Kelly Sanchez has moved on in the Barista Championship and our Lead Barista from our Arts District cafe in Los Angeles has moved on in the Brewers Cup competition.

So what does this mean?

Blue Bottle team members and 2016 U.S. Barista Championship competitor Kelly Sanchez

Aside from demonstrating that these two have what it takes to beat out a large number of other highly talented coffee professionals from around the country, it also means that they’ve had to double their efforts to prepare for the big show that is happening as I write this: the United States Coffee Championships.

This event—comprised of the Barista Championship, Brewers Cup, Tasters Championship, and Brewers Championship—has evolved over several years to become the industry showcase for new coffee producers, new ideas around espresso and coffee preparation, and a platform to discuss what’s current and relevant in specialty coffee.

A very important part of competing is selecting the coffee you are going to use. You will see roasters working to find really exclusive lots with very unique flavor profiles just for these events. It just so happens that both of our Blue Bottle Coffee competitors are going to be using the same coffee, although different roast profiles of it. That coffee is the Rwanda Nyamasheke Mwasa and, as indicated by their selection of it, it’s unique and delicious.

The Brewers Cup

For Kaelen, competing in the Brewers Cup competition, it’s all about manually making a fantastically delicious cup of coffee, and the Mwasa does so easily. She played around with the recipe, selecting just the right brewing device (a Clever Dripper) to create a cup that would have plenty of character, but also comes across as balanced and approachable.

Kaelen at the 2016 U.S. Coffee Championships qualifying event

The Barista Championship

For Kelly, competing in the Barista Championship, he had to invent a signature drink to serve alongside the straight espresso and the milk drink. For inspiration for his signature drink, Kelly looked to the advanced processing techniques used at the washing station where the Rwanda Nyamasheke is processed. He correlates elements of the processing method, such as when the green beans are soaked in cold water to help enhance their acidity, with elements like citrus-infused ice cubes that chill the beverage while also amping up its citric side.

Photo by Nick Wolf Photography
Kelly Sanchez practices for the U.S. Coffee Championships in the Blue Bottle training room (Photo by Nick Wolf Photography)

The events are taking place this week in Atlanta, and you can watch the whole thing live online. If they both do well (check here for ongoing updates about results), Kaelen and Kelly will move on to compete in the semi-finals and then to the finals that happen on Sunday to see who will represent the U.S. in the world competition happening this summer.

It is hard to accurately describe what it's like for our friends up there on that stage. They have an audience full of their friends and peers watching them, and only 15 minutes to make all of their drinks for the judging panel. Once they start the timer for their routine, no one can talk to them or help them. If anything goes wrong in the moment, they have to be quick to fix it without missing a beat. Every move they make will be closely scrutinized by seven talented judges.

It is not just technically difficult, but stressful as well. Having watched them practice, however, I am sure they are well prepared. We could not be more proud of how hard our team has worked and we are incredibly excited to see them exhibit their talents on our behalf.

May fortune ever be in your favor!

Interested in joining our hardworking team of coffee devotees? Visit our Careers page, and let us know.


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By Michael Phillips

Published Apr. 14, 2016

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