2015 Big Eastern Barista Competition Day One Recap

SprudgeLive’s coverage of the 2015 Big Eastern Regional Barista Competition is made possible by direct support from the event’s hosts, Wilbur Curtis Company and Counter Culture Coffee, with additional support from our partners at BonaVita

All of SprudgeLive’s 2015 USBC and WBC 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 Eastern Barista Competition in Durham, North Carolina, happening November 21st-23rd, 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. Wade Reed, Joe Bean Coffee Roasters, Rochester, NY @joebeanroasters @wc_reed


“The first thing I’m going to do is pull you some shots, and ask you not to score them — all pleasure, no business.” — Wade Reed, Joe Bean Coffee Roasters.

Mr. Reed’s serving two distinct coffees here at Big Central: Uganda Bulaago for espresso, and Nicaragua Don Roger natural processed as a cappuccino. That espresso’s got “honey & graham cracker sweetness, complex wine-like acidity” and the cappuccino has “rich buttercream sweetness, dried raspberry & a warm citrus finish.”


Sig drink for Mr. Reed begins with cucumber, cinnamon, all-spice, ground walnut & honey infused together in a French press. He’ll add that infusion to each espresso, from Uganda and Nicaragua, producing different results in the two distinct coffees.

Wade Reed of calls time at 15:10.

2. Mark Hundley, Seven Stars Bakery, Providence, RI@7starsbakery @marcushundley


Mr. Hundley begins his routine with a few minutes of narrative about his recent trip to Guatemala with Providence, Rhode Island based New Harvest Coffee and our friends & partners at InterAmerican Coffee. That experience included a visit to the source of the coffee he’s using at Big Central — Guatemala El Naranjo Kikya, from the Acatenango region.

“Milk chocolate, almond, and a subtle vanilla sweetness” in Mr. Hundley’s capps, made using 2% milk to “bring that coffee forward a bit more.”


Sig drink for Mr. Hundley includes a hibiscus tea inspired by a drink he’d enjoyed in Guatemala called rosa de jamaica, along with whipped cream and espresso on top. That’s a cool shot glass full of rosa de jamaica to chase the whipped cream shot. Alright!

Marcus Hundley calls time at 15:01.

3. Andrew Ferguson, Torch Coffee Roasters, Raleigh, NC @torchcoffee @drewfergusson 


Mr. Ferguson is competing with a Costa Rican coffee — Villa Sarchi variety, a bourbon mutation native to Costa Rica. This routine features heaps of roast detail — convection, bean density, malleability and roast influence!

For his cappuccinos it’s a roast to create “denser coffee, acidic, and brighter” — for his espressos those beans are “less dense, sweeter, and more caramelly…”

As an espresso, Mr. Ferguson’s Villa Sarchi has a “white grape champagne aroma, light roasted chocolate flavors, and a winey sweetness.”


Sig drink: a combination of both roast profiles, paired with cascara tea, honey & gelatin aromatic foam, and coconut cream.

Andrew Ferguson has unfortunately gone over his 16 minute time limit, and becomes our first DQ of the day here at Big Eastern. Stay tuned, he won’t be the last!

4. Sam Lipnick, Slipstream, Washington, DC @slipstreamDC @samlipnick

Big Eastern Sam Lipnick Slipstream Washington DC 023

“Today I want to talk about coffee as an organism — any given bag is an assemblage. But where do we draw the line on what constitutes a single origin?”

Mr. Lipnick is competing with coffees from Nyeri, Kenya, both roasted by MadCap Coffee, from the Kirura and Kiaria factories.

“I want my cappuccinos to be rich, sweet, and luxurious” — don’t we all, Sam, don’t we all. His cappuccinos taste like “gingerbread cookies and milk chocolate.”

Big Eastern Sam Lipnick Slipstream Washington DC 003

There’s a little bit of a chemistry set vibe about Mr. Lipnick’s sig drink, which includes gultamate salt (“pure umami”, basically), lavender simple syrup, rosebud glycerine tincture, and cooled espresso

Sam Lipnick calls time at 14:58, with a routine your SprudgeLive coverage team felt was early highlight on the day.

5. Peter Mike-Mayer, Soltane Breads and Spreads, Phoenixville, PA @soltanebreads

Big Eastern Peter Mike-Mayer Soltane Breads and Spreads Phoenixville PA 039

Peter Mike-Mayer’s a first-time competitor, and his routine treated the crowd to a rousing full-length version of Whitney Houston’s timeless version of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” — together with Mr. Mike-Mayer, we shared a moment.

Whitney aside, there were some script and execution issues with Mr. Mike-Mayer’s Big Eastern routine, which focused on a naturally processed Ethiopian coffee and a kombuch & keffir “living French soda” signature drink. He called time past his 16 minute limit, becoming the second DQ of the day at Big Eastern. But not the last…

6. Neal Marks, Swing’s Coffee Roasters, Alexandria, VA @swingscoffee @nealelliot 


“If we can bring more consumers involved into the market, it’ll increase money flows, from the beginning to the end” — Neal Marks.

“We reveal quality and complexity, but we don’t create — it’s a direct line from the cup to origin” — Neal Marks.

This coffee for ‘s routine is an Ethiopian washed coffee, sourced by for . As an espresso it’s got “orange acidity, tootsie roll aroma, and a gentle pepper finish.”


Sig drink for : chilled espresso, sparkling water, fresh OJ, clove syrup, half & half foam.

Neal Marks calls time at 14:58.

7. Jeremy Behne, Greenstreet Coffee Co., Philadelphia @greenstcoffee @jeremybehne


“Every barista will eventually find a coffee that truly changes the way they look at coffee” –Jeremy Behne.

Mr. Behne claims that by using “flavor profiling”, he & his team traced at Greenstreat and The Bushwick Seed Company were able to trace his competition coffee from Ethiopa through the ECX.

As a cappuccino that coffee’s got “blueberry” notes.


Signature drink for Mr. Behne is based on Tej, the traditional Ethiopian honey wine.

Behne becomes the third DQ of the day by going over his 16 minute time limit.

8. Micah Sherer, Tandem Creperie & Coffeeehouse, Travelers Rest, SC @tandem_cc


Mr. Sherer is one of several competitors this weekend competing with Counter Culture Coffee’s Ethiopia Olke Birre. But he’s the only competitor on the day using multiple other coffees from Counter Culture’s Ethiopia offerings, including the Aleme Wako natural and the Elias Benata.

“Neopolitan ice cream” notes in Mr. Sherer’s Ethiopian capps — I love that tasting note.


sig drink for Mr. Sherer is “a fake Belgian beer” — brewer’s malt syrup, figs & dates, pellegrino for “fizz & head”

Mr. Sherer calls time at 14:58.

9. Kyle Ramage, Mahlkonig USA, Durham, NC @kyle_rampage @mahlkonigUSA


As you might expect, the competitor from has multiple of the company’s grinders on stage at Big Eastern, including the EK43 and K30.

Mr. Ramage competes w/ an Ethiopia Yirgacheffe from the Aricha cooperative, roasted by Verve Coffee — as an espresso it tastes like jasmine, lemon lime, and honey, with a lemongrass finish and a light body.


There’s a lot of milk love in this routine. To wit:

“I’ll wager a bet that the majority of your first enjoyable coffee experiences involved coffee & milk” — Kyle Ramage.

“Coffee in milk is a beautiful thing.” — Kyle Ramage.


Mr. Ramage worked with Verve to develop roast profiles for his routine — he’s got some variation between espresso & capps. He’s using the EK43 for espresso drinks, the K30 for milk drinks, and a combination of both for his signature drink.

Speaking of that sig drink, it’s got jasmine tea, light Aricha extraction, honey simple syrup, citra hops, and tonic water.

Kyle Ramage calls time at 14:58.

10. Alec Burnett, Mudhouse, Charlottesville, VA @mudhousecoffee


Alec Burnett is competing with a coffee from the Huila district in SW Colombia — “maple and cherry” as espresso, “nougat and sugar wafer” as a cappuccino.

Sig drink for Alec Burnett: cherry juice extract with black pepper and coriander, whipped cream, and espresso.


Alec Brunett has unfortunately gone over time, and becomes our fourth (!) DQ of the day at Big Eastern Day 1. There would be more.

11. Jordan Barber, Intelligentsia Coffee, NYC @intelligentsia @barber_jordan


“Coffee is bitter. Coffee is acidic. But if it’s really good, coffee is sweet.” — Jordan Barber.

Mr. Barber is competing here at Big Eastern with Intelligentsia’s Ngaita Kenya— as a cappuccino, it’s got notes of “malt, fruit qualities, and plums, a bright Kenyan with balance.”


Signature drink for Mr. Barber has dehydrated blueberry & strawberry, skimmed Ngaita espresso, and spring water, creating flavors of “candied raspberry, plum, sweet tomato paste quality, strawberry & blueberry sweetness.”

“Hot chocolate” tactile notes in Mr. Barber’s espressos, “candied raspberry” flavors.

Jordan Barber calls time at 15 flat.

12. 3:14 Brian Lam, Elixr Coffee, Philadelphia @elixrcoffee


At this point in the afternoon, some combination of fatigue and fandom set in, and we proceeded to tweet a number of comments about Mr. Lam’s competition soundtrack, which was comprised entirely of Notorious B.I.G. songs.

Mr. Lam competes using ‘s Costa Rica Caffetin Terrazu caturra–learn more here.


Sig drink for Brian Lam: local Philly honey, caradmom, coconut cream & powdered sugar mix, Cafetin espresso

Brian Lam calls time at 14 flat.

13. 3:33 Dale Kim, Caffe Aficionado, Arlington, VA @caffeaficionado

Big Eastern Dale Kim Caffe Aficionado Arlington VA 077

“I used to work the corporate life, & I hated it, but coffee was the one thing that got me through.” — Dale Kim.
Mr. Kim of is competing at with coffees from Oakland, CA based roasters Supersonic Coffee.
Big Eastern Dale Kim Caffe Aficionado Arlington VA 124

“milk chocolate, smooth & silky texture, cherry aftertaste” in Dale Kim’s espressos. Is that a…is that a Felix Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” electronic megamix in Dale Kim’s soundtrack?

Mr. Kim is an official Q Grader! “It was the hardest course I ever took – college has nothing on this!”

GORGEOUS signature drinks from Mr. Kim — a beautiful riff on the con panna, served in stemmed cordial glasses.

This routine was a lot of fun to watch, but unfortunately Dale Kim has gone over his 16 minute time limit.

14. 3:52 Luis Colon, Fuego Coffee Roasters, Rochester, NY @fuegoroasters

Big Eastern Luis Colon Fuego Coffee Roasters Rochester NY 087

Capp notes for Mr. Colon: “like a Three Muskateers bar… milk chocolate, nougat, a slight graham cracker finish.” His paired this with a Devin Chapman-esque amount of emo and pop punk.

Mr. Colon’s sig drink is a “coffee old fashioned” — cascara simple syrup, orange peel, espresso, shaken over ice. His is somehow the first bartender shake of the competition, but not the last!

Big Eastern Luis Colon Fuego Coffee Roasters Rochester NY 122

Luis Colon calls time at 14:50.

15. 4:11 Nathan Nerswick, Empire State South, Atlanta @nateners @ESSouth

Big Eastern Nathan Nerswick Empire State South Atlanta  148

Mr. Nerswick’s competing on behalf of Empire State South, part of James Beard Foundation award winner Hugh Acheson’s starting lineup of restaurants in the American south. If you go, order extensively, and for the record–Beard-winning restaurants with big deal coffee programs and competition level baristas are A-OK in our book.

Mr. Nerswick’s another competitor using the Counter Culture Okie Birre — as a cappuccino this coffee’s got “buttery sweetness, almond, and a malted milk dry finish.” As an espresso the coffee’s got “pastry sweetness, and notes of sun dried cherry.”

Big Eastern Nathan Nerswick Empire State South Atlanta  172

Mr. Nerswick’s signature drink: espresso, lemon oligosaccharide, ice, stirred — cocktail influenced, CO2 charged.

Nathan Nerswick calls time at 15 minutes flat. This was a top routine on the day from where we’re sitting.

16. 4:30 Brian Maiers, Joe Van Gogh, Durham, NC @brianmaiers @joevangogh

Big Eastern Brian Maiers Joe Van Gogh Durham NC 015

Mr. Maiers of Joe Van Gogh competes with the roaster’s Colombia El Socorro — learn more here.

As an espresso this coffee’s got the aroma of “baking spices, ginger bread, star anise, and even cinnamon”, with flavor notes of “stone fruit and dried apricot.”

Big Eastern Brian Maiers Joe Van Gogh Durham NC 116

Sig drink: infused orange rind, palm sugar, star anise, liquified fruit jam, sparkling mineral water, and espresso — two kinds of aromatic & sweet syrups, “like a coffee soda.”

Mr. Maiers calls time at 14:50.

17. 4:49 Jenna Gotthelf, Northampton Coffee, Northhampton, MA @nohocoffee

Big Eastern Jenna Gotthelf Northampton Coffee Northampton MA 087

She brought water from Northampton! And milk from Northampton! And decaffeinated coffee from Barrington Coffee Roasters. This, friends, was not your average barista competition routine.

Gotthelf’s script was a thing of hilarious beauty, with scripted laugh lines that got laughs and a wealth of information about her coffee, her cows, and her cafe. On the milk for her cappuccino, she said “These cows are happy because they lead a Fantastic Bovine Lifestyle. What is a Fantastic Bovine Lifestyle? I will answer that.”

“These cows have a better landlord than I do, and they pay their rent in milk.” — Jenna Gotthelf

Big Eastern Jenna Gotthelf Northampton Coffee Northampton MA 114

“Dark chocolate, cardamom, and an astringency like the first bite of a golden delicious apple” in Jenna Gotthelf’s decaf espressos. Her signature drink pairs decaf espresso with juniper and tonic water.

“There are more than ONE BILLION factors that can effect a coffee beverage!” — Jenna Gotthelf.

“I will shake it up but not like Taylor Swift because I’m not Taylor Swift” — Jenna Gotthelf.

This routine elicited worldwide enthusiasm and emoticon praise from the SprudgeLive audience. Jenna Gotthelf called time at 15:07.

18. 5:08 Justin Enis, Bolt Coffee Co, Providence, RI @jeniscoffee @boltcoffeeco

Big Eastern Justin Enis Bolt Coffee Co Providence RI 006

Mr. Enis competes at with ‘s Finca Filadelphia — learn more about this coffee here! As a cappuccino this coffee’s got “rich and velvety texture, flavors of sweetened malt and cream” — “grapefruit acidity, rose hip, and a warming clove-like flavor” as espresso.

Big Eastern Justin Enis Bolt Coffee Co Providence RI 124

Mr. Enis’ signature drink includes a clove / rosehip / honey tea, which sounds just delicious.

Justin Enis calls time at 15:02.

19. Erika Vonie, Everyman Espresso, NYC  @everymanNY

Big Eastern Erika Vonie Everyman Espresso NYC 017

“Climate change has an undeniable impact on the future of our industry.” — Erika Vonie.

Erika Vonie’s competing with a coffee from Santa Ana, El Salvador, grown by at Finca Kilimanjaro — learn more about this coffee here.

As an espresso, Finca Kilimanjaro has “tamarind, black cherry, & toasted walnut notes…with a velvety body.”

Erikia Vonie shifts to a Papua New Guinea coffee for her Big Eastern cappuccinos, using Counter Culture’s Taroira. As a kind of side note, PNG is a really fascinating and wild place, and WikiTravel’s guide has a lot of interesting information about that.

Big Eastern Erika Vonie Everyman Espresso NYC 140

Sig drink includes tamarind concentrate, cooled espresso(s), and ice, shaken together & decanted. She’s using both the PNG and Ethiopian espressos here. That mixture’s finished with a carbonated rosemary “fill” to help unite the flavors, with all drinks down by 14 flat.

Erika Vonie calls time at 15 minutes on the dot.