2015 Big Western Barista Competition: Day One Recap

Welcome to Sprudge’s daily recap of the 2015 Big Western Barista Competition, happening in Palm Springs, California from October 8th-10th. We’re proud to serve as Official Media Partners of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, the organization that produces these extraordinary events.

This coverage includes information taken from our all-day madcap LiveTweet channel, covering global barista competitions in a play-by-play format since 2012. Follow @SprudgeLive on Twitter for live coverage from Palm Springs.

All photos in this feature are by Zachary Carlsen for Sprudge. 

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1. Art Garcia, De Cafe Baristas, Alhambra, CA @decafebaristas

Mr. Garcia competes here at with a Panama Boquete region washed process coffee, solar bed dried, with flavor notes of “subtle spices and brown sugar, finishing off with an unsweetened chocolate.”

“Pumpkin spice, cinnamon, and a dash of baker chocolate…mixed with honey” in Art Garcia’s sig drink, creating “a harmonious experience.”

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Art Garcia is one of two baristas we’ll see here today from — Anthony Rivas will finish the afternoon at slot #12.

“Sugar and sweetened dark chocolate” in Art Garcia’s Panama Boquete capps.

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2. Justin Williams, Front, San Francisco @41fivestar @FrontSF

Justin WIlliams is competing here at with coffees from Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza, Brazil. He’s using honey from FAF as well as bourbon cascara from the farm for his signature drink.

“Malted milk chocolate, cherry acidity” in Mr. Williams’ cappuccinos–roasted with “extended mid-development.” There’s a lot of technical details in this routine, including multiple sig drink extractions, and using all the groups on the Nuova Simonelli Black Eagle espresso machine in the cappuccino course.

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“German chocolate cake” notes in ‘s signature drink, which includes bourbon cascara, honey, espresso & steamed coconut milk.

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3. Robert Uribe, Klatch Coffee, SoCal @klatchroasting

“I’ve been a barista for about 18 months. sometimes it feels like I’ve been a barista for 18 days” — Robert Uribe with one of the best quotes of the weekend so far.

Mr. Uribe competes here with a really classic specialty coffee rom Panama’s renowned Elida Estate, roasted by Klatch Coffee. He’s serving Elida’s natural process & honey processed coffees.

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Not heaps of script in this routine from Robert Uribe, but his sig drink breaks down both components of his espresso in an interesting way. For the honey processed coffee he adds white chocolate; for the natural processed coffee he adds cascara. Those ingredients are combined with half & half and agitated.

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4. Matthew Henderson, Lift Coffee Roasters, Riverside, CA @LiftCoffeeShop

Mr. Henderson competes using Kenyan SL-28 grown at 1600 meters — much more information on this coffee was handed out via written materials to his judges.

“Ripened tomato & citrus” aromatics and “sweet strawberry jam & pineapple-like acidity” in Mr. Henderson’s espressos. “Sweet, meringue-y-like texture” in his cappuccinos. Ace descriptors all around throughout this routine.

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For his cocktail-inspired sig drink, Mr. Henderson places orange rind & espresso at the bottom of a lowball, then macerates and adds spherified ice.

5. Justin Carleton, Outpost Coffee, Long Beach, CA @coffeeoutpost

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6. Selina Pena, Cognoscenti Coffee, Los Angeles @selinapena @cogcoffee 

Ms. Pena competes at with a Heart Coffee Guatemala Huehuetenango. There’s not a huge PDX presence at this event so it’s great to see one of the city’s best roasters represented.

Cappuccinos from Selina Pena are being served “close to body temperature…around 100 degrees”, with notes of milk chocolate & marzipan.

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Half tea, half espresso signature drink from — coconut cream, earl grey, & mint teas, paired w/ Guatemala espresso.
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7. Alfredo Del Castillo, Maillard Coffee Company, Monterey Park, CA

“If I serve you something with a great taste, what follows is a curiosity” — Mr. Castillo is serving up espresso from the Guji Zone of Ethiopia with black tea aromatics and sweet cane sugar / tart cherry notes.

“Creamy body with a strawberry finish” in Alfredo Del Castillo’s Guji capps. jasmine tea concentrate, raspberry simple syrup, microfoam & espresso in Alfredo Del Castillo’s signature drink.

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Alfredo Del Castillo calls time at 15:55 here at — narrowly avoiding becoming the first DQ of the 2015 USBC season.

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8. Matt Eaton, Augie’s Coffee Roasters, Redlands, CA @augiescoffee

Naturally processed coffee from Matt Eaton and – he’s serving up their Costa Rica Cafe Senora, Red Catuai. Learn more, take some home.

“Berry notes, when mixed with milk, produce an almost fruit-like creaminess” in Mr. Eaton’s cappuccinos. “It tastes like the last sips of cereal milk.”

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Matt Eaton calls time here at 16:35, which is unfortunately overtime — he becomes the first DQ at

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9. Layne Sheetz, Copa Vida, Pasadena, CA @copa_vida 

Layne Sheetz’s routine is all about transformation — in coffee, flavor, and life. There’s a strong narrative in this performance.

Sig drink from Mr. Sheetz includes espresso, cold brew Costa Rica Perla Negra, blood orange, bergamot, and a dash of lime / oregano bitters.

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The Perla Negra espresso in this routine comes from Costa Rica producer Don Oscar Chacon, from Finca Las Lajas. Learn more about this farm here in a feature by Cafe Imports.

“Coffee can transform and change the world, but by itself, it can do nothing. That’s where we come in.”

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10. Michelle Johnson, Cartel Coffee Lab, Tempe, AZ  @cartelcoffeelab 

Michelle Johnson is serving up Finca El Pilar by Cartel Coffee here at Big Western. It hails from Guatemala, from a farm well-known for bird conservation, but home to some highly tasty coffee.

Sig drink from Michelle Johnson: navel orange zest, agave, lavender water, and espresso, served up like a shot and knocked back like whiskey.

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This routine was like a running monologue of quotes, quips, jokes, and proclamations about the current state of the Phoenix coffee scene. “Our phoenix coffee community is alive, and it’s growing” she told the judges. Moments before calling time, she said (in sing-song) “I’m sorry if i wasted your time…but I know I didn’t!”

One of the biggest applause responses of the day for Michelle Johnson as she calls time.

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11.  Corey Autobee, Kuma Coffee / Milstead & Co., Seattle @kumacoffee @milsteadandco

Mr. Autobee competes at using a coffee from Finca La Esperanza in Huehuetenango, Guatemala, roasted by Kuma Coffee. It’s a blend of caturra and bourbon varieties with “a silky, slick body.”

After a repulled shot, Corey Autobee is making up time by incorporating more script into his drink preparation.

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“Cocoa and juicy cherry” in those Esperanza shots from Mr. Autobee. He tells the judges “this coffee is meticulously processed.”

Corey Autobee steaming each of his capps individually, a fairly uncommon move at barista competitions. “It takes a little longer but I think the coffee will shine through.”

Sig drink from Mr. Autobee: espresso con panna with cascara simple syrup. Yum dude!

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12. Anthony Rivas, De Cafe Baristas, Monterey Park, CA @decafebaristas

Mr. Rivas competing here at with a Guatemala Antigua. He gives the judges a classic set of flavor notes, including “medium acidity and bittersweet chocolate finish.”

The classic espresso notes keep on coming: “Sweet, raspberry-tartness…bittersweet finish, smooth chocolate aftertaste.”

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Raspberry, pineapple, & ginger in Anthony Rivas’ sig drinks here at , amplifying notes in his Guatemala Antigua espresso.