2015 Big Western Barista Competition: Day Three Recap

Welcome to Sprudge’s daily recaps of the 2015 Big Western Barista Competition, happening in Palm Springs, California from October 8th-10th, 2014. Sprudge.com is an official media partner of the Specialty Coffee Association of America.

This coverage includes information taken from our all-day madcap LiveTweet channel @SprudgeLive, covering global barista competitions in a play-by-play format since 2012. This is the Day Three recap, covering events from Friday, October 10th 2014. Read Day One here. Read Day Two here. 

All photos are by Cookie Carlsen for SprudgeLive and may not be republished without express written permission.

33. Demart Denaro, Blue Bottle Coffee, Oakland @bluebottleroast 

Mr. Denaro competes using a cooperative coffee from Santa Yelena y Paz, Honduras — this is a catuai variety coffee grown at 1600 meters and source by Blue Bottle green buyer Stephen Vick.


As a cappuccino the Santa Yelena y Paz has “walnut and maple” notes. His espresso, pulled at 20 grams in and 40 grams out, yield flavors of “candied orange peel, bakers chocolate, and raspberry.”


Allspice focus for Mr. Denaro’s sig drinks – allspice, sparkling mineral water, espresso, orange oil, Sigur Ros


34. Tyler Hill, The Principal’s Office, Colorado Springs, CO @thuhTYLER @principalsdrink

Mr. Hill begins by introducing a trio of housemade sodas: grapefruit peel & lemon, cascara & blackberry, quassia bark. These sodas are informed by his work at The Principals Office, a classic cocktail bar in Colorado Springs.

This routine had a couple of notable quotes:

“There’s a lot that goes into pulling a great espresso shot…but the reality is, most people don’t know.”

“The definition of integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one’s looking.”


Mr. Hill competed at Big Western with a Kenyan cofee roasted by @SwtBlmcoffee in Colorado. — “”mild grapefruit acidity, but a brown sugar sweetness” as a cappuccino. He calls time at 15:49.


35. 11:23 Elle Taylor, Little Owl Coffee / Amethyst Coffee, Denver @elletay3


Last cycle Elle Taylor was the lone competitor from Colorado. This season she’s one of six!

Ms. Taylor competes with a washed Ethiopian Yirgacheffe here at Big Western with some lovely tasting notes: “Sweet meyer lemon acidity, syrup…rosewater on the palate, sweet herb.”

“When you can articulate yourself in a way that’s approachable to customers, you earn their trust.”

lingering rose notes in the back of the palate for Taylor’s capps, soundtracked to Paul Simon’s “Under African Skies” from the really still very good Paul Simon mid-80s pop ethnomusicology exercise, Graceland.


Sig drink blow torch pyrotechnics! We’re talking a pine smoke coated brandy snifter, honey, rosewater, watermelon juice… “You’ll get a little bit of a tang from the smoke,” she tells the judges, “but mostly it’s for ambience.”

“I just want to say thank you on behalf of myself and Denver” — Elle Taylor calls time at 14:49. Your dutiful and contractually neutral SprudgeLive staff does not play favorites but we did enjoy this routine very much.

36. Devin Chapman, Verve Coffee Roasters, Los Angeles @devchap @vervecoffee

This is Mr. Chapman’s first routine for Verve Coffee and his first SW appearance – he’s won the NW region twice previously for Coava Coffee. Mr. Chapman is also 3-time USBC semi-finalist, placing consecutively from 2011-2013.

Santa Clara Bourbon from Antigua Guatemala anchors this routine, as roasted up by Verve. Learn more here.


Signature drink: “flash-infused cacao” with nitrogen, strawberry syrup, aloe vera & lime spray, paired with that Santa Clara Bourbon espresso.

Cappuccinos feature a riff on Verve’s Sermon Blend and milk from St. Benoit in Sonoma County. They taste like “bittersweet chocolate, sweet cream, strawberries..reminiscent of Neopolitan ice cream.”

“With the right coffee and the right roast, there is space for milk in specialty coffee”


Espressos: Santa Clara Bourbon and Hunapu, both from Antigua, Guatemala, tasting like “fig, white grape, passionfruit…with a juicy body and sparkling finish.”

Mr. Chapman calls time at 14:50.

37. Brady Macdonald, Olympia Coffee Roasting Company, Olympia, Washington @braideee @olympiacoffee


Mr. Macdonald competes here at Big Western wit a Honduran coffee from producer Edgardo Orellana, grown at La Labor in Ocotepeque and roasted by Olympia Coffee Roasting Company. Get an overview of this coffee here.

As a cappuccino, Mr. Macdonald’s Honduran coffee has “Tootsie roll & hazlenut” notes. He’s using milk from the tiny Tunawerth Creamery in Tenino, Washington. You can find their stuff at the Olympia Farmers Market, one of the best little farmers markets in the country as far as we’re concerned.


As espresso, La Labor has notes of “juicy pear, sweet milk chocolate & hazelnut spread.” For his sig drink Mr. Macdonald prepares reduced honey, espresso, spruce tip tea, and sea salt, telling the judges it’s “a little taste of where I live.”

38. Cole McBride, PublicUs, Las Vegas @colecoffee @publicusLV

This is Cole McBride’s first appearance in the SW region. Last season he placed in the top 6 in the NW region for Visions Espresso and advanced to nationals, where he earned his first US Barista Championship finals appearance.

As a barista competitor Mr. McBride has made bright colors something of a signature — this routine features hi-liter green napkins and a neon pink shirt.


Mr. McBride competes w/ a coffee from Finca Primavera in Huila, Colombia, roasted by his longtime roaster partner, Velton Ross of Velton’s Coffee in Seattle. It’s got “butterscotch and caramel” flavors as a cappuccino and “tart cherry acidity, ripe plume sweetness, and almond-like bitterness” as an espresso.

Signature drink: “watermelon honey” (reduced watermelon), juniper berry syrup, tonic water, and ice bathed espresso.


39. Sarah Posma, Alaska Coffee Roasting Company, Fairbanks @sarahposma

Here’s the only competitor this year from Alaska — Sarah Posma traveled 3,390 miles from Fairbanks to Palm Springs for this event. That’s farther than a flight from LAX to JFK. That’s more than twice the distance from Paris to Moscow!

Sarah Posma competing here at Big Western with a Colombian coffee from the Antioquia Department — caturra, typica, and Colombia varieties. It’s got “stone fruit, apricot acidity…creamy body…honey sweetness and floral notes” as an espresso shot.


Her signature drink is called “Toffee” — it’s a combination of tea and coffee, built to mimic a magnified espresso shot with ingredients that include white tea blended with lingonberry leaves, fireweed blossom, honey foam, and espresso.


Sarah Posma calls time at 15:30.

40. Ben Thomas, Boxcar Coffee, Denver @boxcarcoffee

Mr. Thomas is competing with a coffee from the Giakanja cooperative in Nyeri, Kenya — “a vibrant acidity and sparkling sweetness.” As a cappuccino it tastes like “”caramel and rapsberry.”


Signature drink for Ben Thomas: 10 grams of brown sugar, raspberry infusion, glycerine, grapefruit spray, and Kenya espresso. He calls time at 15:10.


41. Eden-Marie Abramowicz, Intelligentsia Coffee, Los Angeles @missedenmarie @intelligentsia

Ms. Abramowicz competes with Intelligentsia’ limited edition Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Reko. Reko is the name of the washing station in Ethiopia; Abramowicz tells the judges that producers bring their coffee cherries here from a variety of small plots, which she calls “gardens” — we usually hear that term in tea, but for small plot farmers in Ethiopia it’s appropriate.


As espresso, the Reko has a “generous, creamy viscosity” in the mouth, with “dried apricot notes, floral aromatics, and raspberries” in the cup. In cappuccino form this goes to a place of “orange marmalade and biscotti.”

Sig drink for Ms. Abramowicz includes wild flower honey, citric & tartaric acid dilution, hibiscus “air” and Ethiopia Reko espresso. Eden-Marie Abramowicz consistently brings an aesthetic and compositional element to her barista competition routines, and this year is no exception–just look at that pastel pink hibiscus air.


Abramowicz give props to her sourcing team throughout this routine, particularly storied Intelligentsia green buyer and co-owner Geoff Watts. She calls time at 15 minutes flat.

42. Jesse Gonzalez, Ritual Coffee Roasters, San Francisco @ritualcoffee @jsquid77

Jesse Gonzalez begins by telling the crowd: “At Ritual we take pride in building relationships with our customers, and with the city.”

Mr. Gonzalez competes using ‘s La Pinona Honduras Sebastian Benitez — “light in body, sweet, and very bright” — learn more.


This signature drink is absolutely derived from the cocktail world, as Jesse Gonzalez asks the crowd, “Who here in this room doesn’t enjoy a simple cocktail at the end of a cafe shift?” It takes rapidly cooled “frozen” espresso shots, rosemary sweetener, tonic water, and citrus aromatics together over ice. A riff on the old fashion.


Jesse Gonzalez calls time 15:42.

43. Matthew Sinclair, Blue Bottle Coffee, Oakland @bluebottleroast

A series of unfortunate tweets were made on the SprudgeLive feed to begin this routine, where we incorrectly surmised that Mr. Sinclair was Australian. He is in fact not, and hails instead from the great progressive coffee loving nation of New Zealand. A thousand apologies to Mr. Sinclair and incorrectly identified Kiwis everywhere.


“Cherry, honey, and grapefruit” notes in Mr. Sinclair’s espressos, rounding into “cashew, bakers cocoa, graham cracker” as a cappuccino. He’s serving Blue Bottle’s Costa Rica Torres Family throughout this routine.

His signature drink is deceptively simple, pairing dried two 18 hour cold water infusions–one with figs, the other with bing cherry–alongside orange and espresso.

Matthew Sinclair times time at 14:58.


44. Matthew Barahura, James Coffee Company, San Diego @jamescoffeeco

Matthew Barahura is the lone representative from San Diego this year at the Big Westerns. James Coffee Company is new, quality-focused roasted located in San Diego’s Little Italy neighborhood.


This routine features yet-another Honduran coffee, this time marked as El Canal and comprised of the pacas variety. In capps it’s got notes of “lemon, butter cream, and black tea…reminiscent of a London Fog” and as an espresso judges are told to look for “sweet meyer lemon, creamy body, tangerine juiciness, and bergamot.”

Sig drink: English breakfast tea & honey ice swirled together in a Chemex, served on the rocks with espresso.


Unfortunately Mr. Barahura exceeded his 16 minute time limit, becoming the third and final DQ at Big Western.

45. Corey Critchfield, Either/Or, Portland

“Tactile sensation cannot be separated from taste,” Corey Critchfield tells the judges. He’s serving them a coffee from the Huehuetenango region of Guatemala–Finca La Esperanza, roasted by Roseline Coffee.


As espresso, Finca La Esperanza has “aromatics of honey and graham, creamy full body, notes of melon, and a chocolate graham cracker finish.”

In a fascinating bit of tactile incorporation, Mr. Critchfield serves his La Esperanza coffee as a cappuccino alongside a small piece of rabbit pelt. This is meant to anchor the tactile notes in his cappuccino description for the judges: “light and pillowy”, much like the rabbit fur.

Things we have neer seen at a barista competition before include: rabbit fur.

Signature drink for Corey Critchfield: chilled Esperanza shots, honey water, black tea concentrate, cantaloupe simple syrup, mint. To give an auditory anchor for how refreshing this drink should be, he opens up a carbonated can of water on stage. Snap!


Corey Critchfield calls time at 14:56.

46. Kevin Bohlin, Saint Frank Coffee, San Francisco @kgbohlin @stfrankcoffee

“Experiencing and measuring quality is absolutely essential for us to progress as an industry…but it’s the relational quality that drives forward the experience.” –Kevin Bohlin.

2015 Big Western Kevin Bohlin Saint Frank Coffee 059

Still more coffee from Honduras, an origin country that Mr. Bohlin has traveled in extensively. He’s serving up a coffee marked as Honduras Mariposa–100% washed cataui–from producer David Lopez & manager Benjamin Paz.

As espresso La Mariposa has “medium acidity, dried stone fruit & nectarine, and a thin to medium body.” His signature drink is a riff on “reconstructed espresso”, comprised of filtered espresso shots, honey, a set of unfiltered espresso shots, fresh passion fruit, and honey water.

2015 Big Western Kevin Bohlin Saint Frank Coffee 041

Kevin Bohlin calls time at 14:53.

47. Hailey Gift, B Sharp Coffee, Tacoma, WA @gailey_hift

The SprudgeLive Twitter feed blew up to begin this routine, such was our excitement at seeing the first competitor in recent memory to hail from the great, overlooked, aesthetically beautiful and culturally complex city of Tacoma, Washington. The people who started Sprudge grew up there, and at least one of them still has a 253 cell phone area code.

B Sharp Coffee = cool spot in Tacoma’s historic Opera Alley. The cafe itself is housed in a building that used to be home to Tacoma’s daily newspaper, The News Tribune.

2015 Big Western Hailey Gift B Sharp Coffee 031

Ms. Gift competes here at #bigwestern with a coffee from Burundi — “It’s a coffee love story,” she tells the judges. Marked as Burundi Nkuba, it’s been roasted by Tacoma’s own microroaster of note, Bluebeard Coffee, located in the heart of the history 6th Ave business district.

Nkuba has an “amaretto aroma…tart plum skin taste, walnut body, and sweet cacao finish” as espresso, moving into “”dark sweet chocolate…with a light blackberry flavor at the end” for cappuccinos.

Hailey Gift’s signature drink takes inspiration from Tacoma’s long and frankly sad history of beer brewing–the city (and the south Puget Sound as a region) used to be a brewery hub before undergoing a long economic decline. This sig drink includes her own “non-alcoholic sour ale” brewed with plums, walnuts, honey and yeast, paired with that espresso.

2015 Big Western Hailey Gift B Sharp Coffee 005

“I hope you taste home in this beverage,” she tells the judges. “Like my home, it’s simple but confusing.” Hailey Gift called time at 15 flat. The entire thing gave us feels.

48. Jonathan Paul Doerr, Portola Coffee Lab, Costa Mesa, CA @jonpauldoerr @portolacoffee

2015 Big Western Jonathan Paul Doerr Portola Coffee Lab 037

Gedeo Zone washed Ethiopian coffee today from Jon Paul Doerr, an heirloom variety coffee that’s been broken down by screen size and flavor note. Details came fast and furious in this routine–typically brainy stuff from the team at Portola.

Gedeo Zone espresso notes: “Apple cider body, lemon lime acidity, pineapple juice, fresh hopped belgian triple”

Gedeo Zone cappuccino notes: “Milk chocolate, sweet malt, and butter pie crust.”

Sig drink: Cashew coconut milk, espresso infused with pears, and a grapefruit peel garnish.

2015 Big Western Jonathan Paul Doerr Portola Coffee Lab 006

JPD calls time at 14:20, and in retrospect really kind of put on a clinic here at Big Western. Think they must put some kind of brain tonic in the water out there in Costa Mesa…

49. Jeff Clinard, Bear Coast Coffee, San Clemente, CA @bearcoastcoffee @clinardcoffee

Mr. Clinard competes with a Kenya Kirinyaga Sl-28 Sl-34 coffee roasted by Ritual, and comprised entirely of fruit grown on the Ngemwa Estate. This coffee is currently part of Ritual’s Oberon seasonal espresso.

2015 Big Western Jeff Clinard Bear Coast Coffee 043

As an espresso that Kenya Ngewmwa Estate has a “juicy & syrupy texture,” with flavors of “tart stone fruit, red currant acidity, honey sweetness, and juicy raspberry.”

At this point in the day we had watched 49 competitors in around 48 hours and were understandably going through some mental fatigue. What followed was a frank discussion of the ending of the American television show “The Sopranos”, spurred by Mr. Clinard’s use of “Don’t Stop Believing” in his barista competition routine. This song features heavily in the final moments of that seminal series.

2015 Big Western Jeff Clinard Bear Coast Coffee 011

“Brown butter and sweet cream” cappuccino notes from Mr. Clinard, and a signature drink featuring brown butter and honey ice cream with red molasses, served alongside espresso.

Jeff Clinard calls time at 15:30.

50. Rob Tran, The French Press, Santa Barbara @lefrenchpress

Mr. Tran competes here at Big Western using Costa Rican coffee from Finca Las Lajas, a farm known for their experimental processing efforts.

2015 Big Western Rob Tran The French Press 057

Mr. Tran’s pulling 21 grams in, 43 grams out espresso shots, and making capps that taste “malty with a graham cracker finish.”

Mr. Tran is the first competitor of the week to mention the crippling drought currently plaguing California. For him and his customers at The French Press, this ongoing natural resource crunch is at least an avenue to talk about processing methods–natural processing makes a lot of sense right when the entire state is trying to conserve water.

Signature drink for Rob Tran: caramelized pineapple & grape, cascara, Las Lajas Perla Negra espresso sourced by Cafe Imports.

2015 Big Western Rob Tran The French Press 031

Rob Tran calls time at 15:30.

51. Sam Brandvein, Cherry Street Coffeehouse, Seattle @sambrandvein @cherrystreet

Ms. Brandvein competes here at Big Western with Dillanos’ Mt. Elgon Kenya washed process peaberry, giving big flavors of “ruby red grapefruit, meyer lemon, and green grape” as espresso.

2015 Big Western Sam Brandvein Cherry Street Coffeehouse 058

During her cappuccino service, Ms. Brandvein asks the judges to close their eyes and take in “sweet buttery pastry and soft chewy caramel” flavors. This moment of serenity is anchored by Ms. Brandvein’s table setting, featuring flickering candlelight.

Signature drink for Sam Brandvein was kind of a curveball, featuring grapefruit, grape, meyer lemon, and a hibiscus & rose hip infusion. Judges try the mixture, noting it’s tart flavors, but then…the addition of “miracle berries”, as they’re popularly known, or Synsepalum dulcificum as they’re known by botany dorks.

In layman’s terms, the miracle berry scrambles the human palate receptors, transforming tart flavor notes into sweet ones. This is a mindfreak of an ingredient to include in a signature drink, and not something you see everyday at a barista competition.

Sam Brandvein calls time at 15:09.

2015 Big Western Sam Brandvein Cherry Street Coffeehouse 009

All photos are by Cookie Carlsen for SprudgeLive and may not be reused or republished without express written permission.