2015 Big Central Barista Competition Day One Recap

SprudgeLive’s coverage of the 2015 Big Central Regional Barista Competition is made possible by direct support from the event’s hosts, Wilbur Curtis Company and Cafe Imports. All of SprudgeLive’s 2015 barista competition coverage is underwritten in partnership with Square

We’re proud to serve as official media partners of the Specialty Coffee Association of America.

This is a recap of Day One action at the 2015 Big Central Barista Competition in Minneapolis, Minnesota, happening November 7th-9th, 2014.

All photos are by Sprudge co-founder Zachary Carlsen for Sprudge.com. Want to use these photos? Please email us! 

Information is compiled from the @SprudgeLive livetweet feed, as called by Sprudge co-founder Jordan Michelman.

1. Brian EnsmingerGaslight Coffee Roasters, Chicago @ensmingerbrianm @gaslight_coffee

Big Central Brian Ensminger Gaslight Coffee Roasters Chicago 087

Mr. Ensminger started this routine off with a quote, credited to the author Arthur C. Clarke: “Magic is just science we don’t understand.” He then on-stage asked us to fact check the quote–a nice shout out, for sure–but it turns out that’s not exactly what Clarke said. The quote–“Magic is just science we don’t understand”–is actually from the 2011 movie Thor, where a character paraphrases one of Clarke’s three laws. The original Clarke quote is “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Mr. Ensminger competes using a coffee from the Adado cooperative in Yirgacheffee, Ethiopia. As an espresso he tells the judges it’ll have notes of “peaches…beautifully floral, like jasmine…dulce de leche, silky and soft.”

Quote of the day: “Like all good baristas I have a degree in English.”

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Signature drink for Mr. Ensminger was an involved, floral, aromatic affogato, featuring liquid nitrogen peach ice cream with jasmine snow and Adado espresso.

This was a memorable and fun routine, and part of a strong showing thus far from the Chicago competitors at Big Central. He called time at 14:55.

2. Alex SchusterDunn Brothers Coffee, Eden Prairie, MN @dunnbroscoffee

Big Central Alex Schuster Dunn Brothers Coffee Eden Prairie 004

Mr. Schuster competes with a blend of Brazil natural & Mexico washed coffees, to make “a versatile and good tasting espresso.”

Dunn Bros is a MPLS based chain with dozens of locations across the Dakotas, and as far south as Missouri and Tennessee. They even have a location in Bemidji, Minnesota, which was the setting for much of the recent (excellent) Fargo miniseries on FX.

Sig drink: yet another affogato, this time made with buttermilk ice cream and served with a biscotti.

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Alex Schuster works for a large company, but individual Dunn Brothers Coffee franchises are owned by independent small business owners. His cafe is actually owned by his mom. There’s something about that fact that transcends how big or small a parent company might be, and creates a kind of intimacy and immediacy.

A first-time competitor, Alex Schuster called time at 15:56.

3. Jonathan MillerMadCap Coffee Company, Grand Rapids @madcapcoffee

Big Central Jonathan Miller MadCap Coffee Company Grand Rapids 074

Mr. Miller started off with cappuccinos, and actually had to re-pull a set of his espresso shots. This can mean a lot of things–from major problems to a minor hiccup–but it goes to show you that the capp course is every bit as important as the other courses in this game, as the pros are well aware.

“Lavender, orange, and glazed donut” notes in Mr. Miller’s cappuccinos–some of the best descriptors of the day.

Mr. Miller is competing with a Kenyan coffee from the Kirura factory in the Karatina region. As espresso it tastes like “plum, hibiscus, and grapefruit”–learn much more about this coffee and take some home from MadCap here. 

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Sig drink: hibiscus, star anise, and rose tea, with honey, grapefruit rind, and Kenya Kirura espresso. Time is called at 14:55.

4. Sam BrownStone Creek Coffee, Milwaukee @thewaxaddict @stonecreekcoffe

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Sam Brown is one of several competitors here at Big Central to appear in last year’s USBC Semi-Finals. He competes here with coffee he personally roasted from Finca San Sebastian in Antigua, Guatemala.

“Peruvian cacao and tart Door County cherry” are flavor notes that anchor Mr. Brown’s espresso course, and reappear throughout the routine. His signature drink will directly incorporate these two notes, and this is a tactic used sometimes by experienced competitors: keep your notes succinct and re-suggest them several times throughout your three courses. If done right, this style can yield big sensory score points.

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This signature drink was a doozy: Door County tart cherry juice, espresso shots, carbonization, egg whites, cacao nibs, and bartender shakes. Gorgeous to photograph!

Sam Brown calls time at 15:02.

5. Greg Loring-AlbrightBow Truss Coffee Roasters, Chicago @gregisonthego @bowtruss 

Big Central Greg Loring-Albright Bow Truss Coffee Roasters Chicago 129

This routine opened with a lovingly personal introduction from Mr. Loring-Albright on the power of fandom and nerdery. He’d return to these themes throughout this routine.

Mr. Loring-Albright competes here at Big Central with a coffee from El Roble in Costa Rica, which you can learn more about and purchase here via Bow Truss.

“Our brains are hardwired to love sugars and fats,” he tells the judges, before delivering cappuccinos with notes of “buttercream icing, cashew butter, and tannic nut notes like the skin of an almond.” His capps include milk from Kalona SuperNatural in Iowa.

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Fandom means we involve ourselves in the source materials we love. Mr. Loring-Albright uses cosplay as an example–a phenomenon wherein fans of a TV show or movie dress up as their favorite characters, bring self-expression into their enthusiasm for the source material. So too does coffee invoke this fandom, though expressed in subtler ways. To make this point, Greg Loring-Albright has the judges compose his sig drink course themselves, combining grape reduction, non-alcoholic bitters, and espresso in a snifter.

Mr. Loring-Albright calls time at 14:50.

6. David Fasman, Kaldi’s Coffee, St. Louis @davidfasman @kaldis_coffee

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David Fasman is another returning US Nationals semi-finalist from the 2014 season. He’s the manager of Kayaks, an iconic St. Louis cafe that’s part of the Kaldi’s Coffee family.

Mr. Fasman competes using a Kenya Nyeri coffee from the Othaya Famers Cooperative, Chinga wet mill. As a cappuccino it tastes like “cheesecake, caramel, and milk chocolate”, in that order.

Espresso notes for the Chinga include “cherry aroma… pink lemonade, cane sugar, and cherry.”

Signature drink: Fuji & Braeburn apple simple syrup, Kenya Othaya as Toddy & espresso, carbonation, tiny bit of lime peel.

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In past years Mr. Fasman’s competitions routines have felt more personal or narrative. This year his focus was clearly on banging out points and advancing to nationals. This felt like a veteran, experienced routine from Mr. Fasman, and for experienced competition watchers it stood out as one the day’s best.

David Fasman calls time at 14:55.

7. 12:58 Ryan KimBlacksmith, Houston @bl4cksmith

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Ryan Kim competes using Greenway Coffee’s East African espresso blend, called “The Veldt” — learn more here. 

Mr. Kim’s sifting these espresso fines from a matte white Mahlkonig EK43 grinder while Queen’s “We Will Rock You” rocks on the loudspeakers.

“Malt, lemon zest and grapefruit” in Mr. Kim’s espressos — for a sig drink he’ll combine shots of The Veldt with jasmine tea and citrus, stirred in a glass pitcher and poured into a coup glass. Very cocktail inspired.

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Ryan Kim calls time at 15:07.

8. 1:17 T. Ben FisherStone Creek Coffee Roasters, Milwaukee @stonecreekcoffe

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The table setting for Mr. Fisher includes stop watches for the judges, used to control timing & temperature, along with informational booklets and notes.

This routine is anchored around the concept of how temperature transforms coffee drinks. Those stop watches? They’re to clock yourself through the steps of enjoying a cappuccino. Acidity comes through in a capp as it cools; the drink molecularly changes. T. Ben Fisher is your temperature spirit guide.

“Young nectarine, juicy peach, and a cacao finish” in Mr. Fisher’s espressos — judges will taste these drinks at different temps, too.

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“Learning the taste science behind coffee makes it more exciting for me.” — T. Ben Fisher.

T. Ben Fisher calls time at 13:50.

9. 1:36 Leeann Wacker, Colectivo Coffee, Milwaukee @colectivocoffee 

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Leeann Wacker of competes here at w/ an Ethiopian Konga Cooperative coffee, a noted coop in the Yirgacheffe region. As espresso it’s got “lemon zest, fresh orange, and stone fruit” notes.

We absolutely love this quote from Leeann Wacker’s cappuccino course: “Think of the espresso as the spice that brings this cappuccino to life.”

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Signature drink for Ms. Wacker: whipped cream, orange oil, freshly grated sea salt, and espresso with blackberry. She calls time at 15:32.

10. 1:55 VedyaPassion House Coffee Roasters, Chicago @passionhousecr

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This was the single most inspired, challenging, avant garde barista competition routine in recent memory. Vedya–just Vedya, mononymous, like Madonna or Cher or a Brazilian soccer star–led the panel of judges through a fifteen minute meditation and breathing exercise. At various points judges were instructed to place their score sheets beneath their chairs, close their eyes, and get into a rhythmic breathing pattern following her lead.

“Close your eyes,” Vedya told the judges. “Picture your heart. Inhale through your chest and exhale back out through your spine.” No specific flavor notes were given, nor did Vedya discuss the coffee she’d be serving–judges were instead asked to look for primary notes like “bitter, sweet, and balanced” as they drank their cappuccinos and espressos.

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There was no soundtrack. Scores were clearly the furthest thing from Vedya’s mind, and at one point addressing the judges, they were told “If you remember scores at the end, that’s fine. If not, that’s fine too.”

“This is my choice. This is my fifteen minutes. I want to change the way you saw or experienced coffee…this was just about having an experience, because that’s what I’m about, and that’s what coffee is about.” –Vedya.

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It’s the opinion of this publication that if every barista competition had one or two experimental / performance art / avant garde performances like this one from Vedya, the art and culture of competitive coffee would be better for it.

11. 2:33 Andrea AllenOnyx Coffee Lab, Springdale, AR @andreaarkansas @onyxcoffeelab

Big Central Andrea Allen Onyx Coffee Lab Springdale AR_002

Back down to earth now following Vedya, but this was no less personal of a routine from Andrea Allen, whose Onyx Coffee Lab is drawing lots of attention to the burgeoning coffee scene in Arkansas.

Ms. Allen competes with a natural Gesha coffee from Acatenango, Guatemala roasted by her husband Jon Allen, and personally purchased by him from an auction in Guatemala.

“Strawberry jam, lime acidity, Swiss chocolate, juicy mouthfeel, and a milk-like body” in Andrea Allen’s espressos.

Big Central Andrea Allen Onyx Coffee Lab Springdale AR 026

One of our favorite quotes of the day: “Anytime our customers start to ask questions, it’s nothing but good for our industry.” — Andrea Allen.

Cappuccinos taste like “toffee, dates, and lime rind acidity” — sig drink is called “The White Guatemalan”, and features rum barrel aged cold brew, espresso, cream, and muscovado sugar.

Andrea Allen calls time at 14:56.

12. 2:52 Jonathan MaurerGreyhouse Coffee And Supply Co., Bargersville, Indiana @greyhousecoffee

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“Coffee is an agricultural product that has the ability to expand cultures & change lives” -Jonathan Maurer.

Mr. Maurer competes with a Colombian coffee, grown at 1900 meters by Jose Alejandro Aguilar Posada and made up of the caturra variety. As espresso this Colombian coffee tastes like “stone fruit marmalade, sugar cane, red wine, and a velvety mouthfeel.”

Learn more about the producer of Mr. Maurer’s coffee, “Padre Joe“, a longtime partner of PT’s Coffee.

Just one single, simple note in the capps for his judges: “sugar cane.”

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Sig drink for Mr. Maurer is a riff on Vietnamese coffee –cinnamon & cardamom rim, chilled espresso, cherry juice, homemade sweetened condensed milk.

Jonathan Maurer unfortunately exceeded his 16 minute time limit here at Big Central, becoming the first DQ of the weekend.

13. 3:11 Matthew CraddockTopeca Coffee Roasters, Tulsa, OK @matfrid @topecacoffee

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This routine was sort of a history lesson through brew methods, incorporating Turkish coffee, percolator brewing, and espresso. The script for his routine emphasized history throughout.

“A good coffee possesses us. A good coffee consumes us…but it should also reshape us.”– Matthew Craddock.

Mr. Craddock competes here at Big Central using Topeca Coffee’s Finca El Manzano, from producer Emilio Lopez-Diaz. This is the same producer who partnered with Dillanos and Laila Ghambari in her 2014 season USBC win.

Big Central Matthew Craddock Topeca Coffee Roasters Tulsa OK 079

As an espresso, El Manzano has “milk chocolate, butter toffee, and roasted almond notes” — for a sig drink, Mr. Craddock combines strawberry shrub, orgeat, cardamom foam, and a combo of Turkish and percolator coffees.

Matthew Craddock calls time at 15:35.

14. 3:30 Andrew IwersenQuay Coffee, Kansas City @moustaching @quaycoffee

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Mr. Iwerson uses coffee from Costa Rica producer Don Carlos Barrantes – honey processed Villa Sarchi, a rare Bourbon dwarf variety found in the West Valley of Costa Rica and roasted by Oddly Correct in Kansas City.

As a cappuccino, this Villa Sarchi has notes of “apple, caramel apple, and honey.” As an espresso the apple & honey notes remain, but caramel apple becomes “dark raisins.”

You can, and frankly should, consider checking out Mr. Iwersen’s coffee as roasted by Oddly Correct here.

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KCMO competitors can be called upon to deliver cocktail-influenced signature drinks year in and out–in fact, KCMO native Pete Licata won the World Barista Championship with one in 2013. Mr. Iwersen is no exception: his sig drink includes a citrus shrub, cinnamon, Turkish honey, and Cortland apples.

Andrew Iwersen calls time at 15:03.

15. 3:49 Kathie HilbergSpyhouse Coffee Roasters, Minneapolis @kathhilby @spyhousecoffee

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Spyhouse Coffee is like 3 blocks away from where Big Central is being held! That’s pretty cool for Kathie HIlberg, who is a coffee educator and barista for the MPLS company.

Garnica, caturra, typica and caturra varieties in ‘s espressos — “dates, tamarind, citrus acidity.”

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Sig drink: hazelnut milk horchata, tamarind brown sugar sauce, and Mexican espresso. How good does that sound? Hazelnut milk horchata, seriously.

Kathie Hilbert calls time at 15:35.

16. 4:08 Helena ShanksRiver Rock Coffee, St. Peter, MN @helenashanks @riverrockcoffee

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St. Peter is located in south central MN. population of just 11,000 or so folks. Big town, small town, it doesn’t really matter anymore–all kinds of cities in America have access these days to the world’s best green coffee. Geography ain’t nothin’ but a map.

These are Ethiopian espressos from the Hama Cooperative in Yirgacheffe for Ms. Shanks: “lime acidity, plum, amber caramelization, brown butter…well-rounded body, dry.”

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Cappuccinos have notes of “Madeleine cookies and orange blossom honey” — those notes get expanded out in Helena Shanks’ sig drinks, which combined Madeleine cookie batter (!) with espresso.

Helena Shanks calls time at 15:17.

Later in the afternoon Helana Shanks personally hooked us up with some of her homemade Madeleine cookies, and they were delicious.

17. 4:27 Radames RoldanBlueprint Coffee, St. Louis @radprojection @blueprintcoffee


Mr. Roldan competes at with Blueprint Coffee’s Ethiopia Chiri — learn more, take some home.

Mr. Roldan’s cappuccinos are made with Ozark Mountain Creamery milk.

Sig drink for Mr. Roldan includes “espresso, blackberry syrup, jasmine tea rinse, and lemon aromatics.”


Radames Roldan calls time at 14:57 — another solid run from the competition specialists at Blueprint in St. Louis, although you’d never know Mr. Roldan was a first-time competitor.