GLRBC 2009

This past weekend Chicago and Coffee Masters played host to the Great Lakes Regional Barista Competition at CoffeeFest. I wanted to recap the event for the benefit of Bridgehead folks that aren’t familiar with the concept of barista competitions or the United States Barista Championship.

Liz Clayton of gave me permission to use some of her photos for this post, so I’m going to use as many as possible as they will really help to beautify and explain things!

Jesse Crouse’s espresso’s. Barista competitions are first and foremost about the espresso.

The Great Lakes Region, which includes Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin, is fiercely competitive given that there are some very serious players in the specialty industry residing within its boundaries. There are 10 regions in the United States Barista Championship, and to qualify for the national competition (2 weeks from now in Portland) one has to first compete in a regional event. The USBC itself is part of the World Barista Championship – the single greatest specialty coffee event of the year! The purpose of the USBC and its regional competitions is to crown a US Champion to represent the entire country at the WBC, so it was no surprise that the best of the best came out to position themselves well in advance of the USBC.

Some competitors will come from out-of-region to practice, like Justin Teisl who currently works for Four Barrel in San Francisco. Those who come from out of region can’t move on to the finals.

The GLRBC was a three day event, with 34 competitors in the first two days of Round 1 and the top six facing off once again in the finals on Sunday. For those that aren’t familiar with barista competitions, the idea is essentially to serve four sensory judges each an espresso, traditional cappuccino and signature drink within 15 minutes including presentation and cleanup. Competitors are scored based on the sensory qualities of the drinks, their presentation and their technical performance. It’s actually a fairly complex and challenging concept, and many people in coffee keep track of it like one would a favorite sport.

Sensory judges have to determine a score for the sensory qualities of drinks presented to them as well as the competitor’s performance and overall impression. They also have to drink A LOT OF COFFEE.

Technical judges assess the competitor’s consistency, precision, waste, workflow and cleanliness.

The first two days of the competition were a great opportunity for baristas from around the region to put their skills, knowledge and coffee to the test; to take risks, to make mistakes and to learn from it all. I’ve never attended a barista competition and not learned a great deal, and I can only imagine that the baristas actually competing learn much more. We had some memorable performances, both by incredible baristas contending to make the finals and first time competitors testing the waters.

Colin Whitcomb from Alterra had the unique honor of presenting his coffee while the farmer, Nelson Melo from Colombia, watched in the crowd. Colin was tons of fun, performing with energy, spontaneity, colour and great tunes.

In the final round we had 6 awesome baristas, each with unique style but sharing a professional love of coffee. They were…

Les Stoneham of LaTerza coffee in Cincinnati

Michael Phillips – defending champion from Intelligentsia in Chicago

Chris DeMarse representing Coffee Alliance in Muncie, IN.

In 3rd place: Trevor Corlett from MadCap Coffee in Grand Rapids, MI

In 2nd place: Jesse Crouse from Intelligentsia, Chicago

And in 1st place…

Scott Lucey of Alterra Coffee in Milwaukee, WI!

Scott delivered an impressive performance, achieving the highest score in the US so far this year. His sig drink, Liquid Swords, simply looked awesome (and the scores it got were insane!).

Huge congrats to Scott, who has been competing for a long time and was a deserving winner! I’m happy to say I’ve got some of the coffee he used (he also prepared Nelson Melo’s coffee as the farmer watched in the crowd) and I’ll be brewing it tomorrow morning for some lucky folks at 2nd Ave!

The top 3!

Thanks again to Liz Clayton for the photos I used in this post!!


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