2019 US Barista Championship Semi-Finals Recap

There were 25 competitors on Day One, with six moving on to join the other 12 who earned byes. Then there were 18 in the Semi-Final round. Now we are down to the final six. The penultimate day of the 2019 US Barista Championship in Kansas City, Missouri is officially in the books and we are soon to know the six coffee professionals who are one step closer to winning it all.

The Semi-Finals today had a bit of a Finals feel to it. Any of the 18 routines would be well-suited for final six status, and I’m honestly unsure how the judges were able to navigate the unenviable position of having to decide between them. But as polished as the performances were, only six can move on. But before turn out attention to the Finalists, let’s celebrate all the amazing work that culminated here in the Semi-Final round. Let’s take a look back at the day that was Day Two of the US Barista Championship.

SprudgeLive’s coverage of the 2019 US Coffee Champs is made possible by Joe Glo and Mahlkönig. All of SprudgeLive’s 2019 competition coverage is made possible by AcaiaBaratzaFaemaCafe Imports, and Wilbur Curtis.

Naida Lindberg, Verve Coffee, Santa Cruz, CA

. competes today with a fully washed Tavi variety coffee grown at 1750MASL on El Tesoro in Huila, Colombia by Victor Barrera.

“I tried this coffee blind, and I thought it was a Gesha” — says of her washed Tavi coffee.

Pulling her shots into frozen espresso glasses to change the bitterness in the coffee to something more akin to a malbec wine, Tavi has notes of cranberry, meyer lemon, and merlot tannic red wine with a cocoa finish

For her milk, is using a low-temp pasteurized milk from Alexandre Family Farms in Humboldt County, “home of the happiest cows in California.”

Added to espresso, high sugar high fat milk gives her cortado notes of creme bruless and burnt caramel.

Sig bev for includes chilled Tavi espresso, cranberry syrup, pomelo and grapefruit peel, and moonlit jasmine tea, all nitro charged and then finished off with an “aromatic fog” of dry ice and pearl jasmine tea.

Rodrigo Vargas, Rival Bros Coffee Roasters, Philadelphia, PA

Vargas is one of the many baristas who will be taking the stage today. There’s a lot of young and exciting talent coming from the Glitter Cat ranks.

“I believe we are entering a new beginning in coffee that can help change the world” — Rodrigo Vargas of

We’ve got our first Juan Peña mention of Day Two. Vargas is competing with a Typica variety coffee from Hacienda La Papaya in Ecuador. If you were following along yesterday, you probably heard that name a lot. Today will be no different.

Vargas is using a 2% milk for his 5oz capp course. We’ve seen as high as a 6% fat content milk thus far in the competition. 2% may be the leanest to date.

Sig bev for Vargas includes cascara cold brew, vanilla simple, orange blossom, and lime juice, over ice and with a CO2 charge.

Cole McBride, Ada’s Discovery Cafe, Seattle, WA

The order of ‘s routine is like no other. While he’s prepping his sig bev, which won’t be served as the first drink, McBride is giving flavor calls for his espressos and sig bev. He then moves on to prepping his milk course.

For his sig bev, brews an oolong infused sugar, sumo and bergamot citrus through a v60 that now chills in an ice bath. His Juan Peña espressos for the sig bev are currently in a dry ice bath.

At 7:00, ‘s first drinks are down. His milk course has notes of fresh strawberry, caramel ice cream, and milk chocolate.

Unlike the sig bev course, is using a blend for the milk beverage: a washed Ecuador roasted by , and a natural Bourbon from Kayanza, Burundi and a natural Yirgacheffe, both roasted by

This is the second time in as many days seeing ‘s routine and my head is still spinning from all the information he is giving the judges.

. reiterates those espresso notes given at the beginning of the routine: Bright nectarine, brown sugar, and toffee

Dylan Siemens, Onyx Coffee Lab, Springdale, AR

Siemens not only won the US Brewers Cup a few years back, he most recently took the top spot at the USBC Qualifying Event in Nashville.

Siemens is going for the Coffee EGOT.

Siemens begins his routine talking about his journey from being a “barista who could make coffee” to a coffee professional and what exactly that means. “Is it time to change the name of the specialty coffee barista?”

Siemens competes with “the coffee that took [him] out of the country for the first time,” one that he has used in 6 competitions: a lactic processed Gesha from in Colombia.

Pink grapefruit, rose, cacao nib, and a “long lasting finish with a breathy sweetness” for Siemens’ La Palma espresso course.

Mango juice, raspberry clarified milk punch, and panela sugar all get a nitrogen infusion before being poured into teku glasses for Siemens’ sig bev.

Dylan Siemens of ends his routine soundtrack with the new Earl Sweatshirt, calling time at 14:57.

Reef Bessette, The Coffee Movement, San Francisco, CA

Bessette competes today with La Laguneta, a Parainema variety coffee grown by Benjamin Paz in Santa Barbara, Honduras.

After stirring each espresso individually, Bessette’s Laguneta has notes of Honey, raw cashew, yellow apple, and an elder flower finish

Bessette hand-sorted his coffee, separating the Caturra from the Parainema. The Caturra just came out of the sample roaster on stage, ground, and then degassed in a nitro charger.

Bessette pulls one shot of the super fresh Caturra and a shot of the Parainema, combining them together for his sig bev, which includes a light molasses, tartaric acid, and juniper berry tea reduction, all nitro charged

For the milk course, Bessette is using the Caturra variety from Laguneta—roasted by —with notes of tart cherry, milk chocolate, with a graham cracker crust finish

Jenna Gotthelf, Counter Culture Coffee, New York, NY

Gotthelf is a seasoned competitor in both Brewers Cup and Barista. She’s one of the most fun routines to watch each and every year.

describes the Bourbon variety coffee she is using today as a crowd-pleaser, a “peanut butter and jelly variety, and how doesn’t love peanut butter and jelly?”

Lemon zest, fresh green apple, and a raw cane sugar sweetness in ‘s Colombia Bourbon espresso course.

“I’d love to chatty cathy while making your milk drinks, but i gotta make a deposit at the focus bank.” American treasure , everyone.

Notes of lemon pastry and vanilla ice cream in ‘s milk course.

For her sig bev, takes centrifuged espresso poured through a portafilter over frozen grapes, then combines with a kasha simple.

Austin Amento, Augie’s Coffee, Redlands, CA

Amento competes today with an anaerobic fermented Colombia and Castillo variety coffee grown on Finca El Paraiso in Cauca, Colombia.

Strawberry jam, red grapefruit, and plum with a honey finish in Amento’s espresso course today at .

For his milk course, Amento’s cappuccinos have notes of dark chocolate and biscotti on the first sip that transform into vanilla ice cream and banana bread on the second.

Amento’s sig bev consists of citric acid and water, cocoa nib syrup, and anaerobically fermented strawberry puree, all poured over star anise and one ice cube, served with a side of aguardiente liquor to be poured over dry ice by the judges (NOT TO DRINK)

Samantha Spillman, Dillanos Coffee Roasters, Seattle, WA

“Whether they know it or not, a customer’s experience begins at the farm.” — Sam Spillman of

Spillman included “proper preparation” multiple times in her script, which has to be the hardest phrase to say, especially under pressure. Proper preparation pressure. Respect for this very bold choice.

Spillman competes with a Natural processed lactic acid fermented Gesha from , grown at 1700MASL in Colombia.

Peach, vanilla, and malt chocolate in Spillman’s freeze distilled milk based cortados. She also has some milk freeze distilling on stage for the judge’s to see the process.

For the sig bev, Spillman hyperchills passionfruit sipping vinegar, lychee infused soda water, and La Palma spro, then finishes the drink of with a floral aromatic mist.

Cassie Ash, Small Planes Coffee, Washington, DC

“Hi I’m a Cassie and I’m a doctor, but not that kind of doctor,” says Ash, who has an actual PhD

We’re only two minutes in and Ash has made a ton of theatre references. This is a Performance with a capital P.

Ash is chilling espressos in one of those syrup vessels like you see at . If there’s an IHOP in KCMO missing some syrup, I think i found it.

Espresso course for Ash has notes of lemon oil, fresh plum, tonic water, candied walnuts, and birch syrup.

Ash’s milk course has notes of cow’s tail candy and golden grahams, yet another reminder that the milk course has the best flavor calls of the entire competition.

Ash’s sig bev is an adaptation of a gin and tonic, “a gin and tonic of contradictions.” It has bubbles “but not carbonation” and gin aromatics “with no alcohol”

Sam Neely, Switchback Coffee Roasters, Colorado Springs, CO

“It is stories and context that connect our guests to the coffees we serve them,” Sam says, before detailing the exact order of their three courses, then moves into farm details.

Notes of rum raisin, chocolate malt, and cherry pie filling in Sam’s milk drinks, using a slightly more concentrated espresso shot.

Lemongrass simple syrup, separated milk, and blackberry concentrate, blended for texture and served in a tall white glass with a jasmine fog in Sam’s signature drink.

Sam serves the espresso course, and argues for the importance of storytelling in the coffee experience before delivering tasting notes and ending their routine with ample space for the judges to enjoy the espresso.

T. Ben Fischer, Elixr Coffee Roasters, Philadelphia, PA

“Achieving greatness is impossible without a strong supportive community,” begins T. Ben, and moves straight into shot prep. T. Ben competes with coffee from La Palma y el Tucan, an espresso with notes of raspberry, apricot, semi-sweet chocolate.

T. Ben explains the idiosyncrasies of Colombian coffee production, its challenges, while he prepares his milk course with notes of chocolate mousse and dried cherry, made using a condensed milk.

Signature beverage course uses whey, pineapple juice, espresso, jasmine simple syrup, stirred with ice, in a snifter, and topped with a jasmine flower vapor.

We needed to innovate, to challenge the current system. …. To ensure the long term viability of coffee production, and throughout the world. T.Ben exhorts the judges and audience to work collaboratively for the future of coffee in the final moments of his routine.

Sam Schaefer, Mockingbird Coffee, Ann Arbor, MI

Notes of strawberry yogurt, browned butter, and a dutch cocoa in Sam’s first course, 3oz milk drinks. During milk steaming Sam talks about the first time he interacted with a coffee producer, then later serving that same producer his own coffees for the first time.

“It is my responsibility as a new business owner to be an ambassador of specialty coffee and an advocate of coffee producers,” says Sam. Espresso course has notes of red cherry, orange peel, milk chocolate, and amaretto.

A natural-processed catuai from Brazil, Sam’s coffee fermented in tanks before being dried on raised-bed, bringing complexity and sweetness, then he brings out the ice luge!

Raisin reduction, maple syrup, espresso, poured across a frozen luge of a lemon and star anise solution for Sam’s signature drink.

Hugo Cano, Independent, Santa Ana, CA

Hugo Cano of Independent in Santa Ana, CA takes the stage. “Only love has the power to overcome anger and hate.” One of several powerful statements in Hugo’s opening.

Hugo’s coffee is a Gesha varietal grown by 90 Plus in Panama. He explains how terrior, picking and processing (a hot fermentation before natural-processing) affects the coffee flavor, a very berry-forward and floral coffee.

Milk course, cappuccinos for Hugo, has flavors of soft mint, blood orange, and a soft cacao aftertaste. “When we love who we serve as much as what we serve…that is how we bring people together,” continues Hugo.

Final course, a multi-layered drink, honey-condensed milk on the bottom, unsweetened blackberry syrup, with chilled espresso, served in a cordial glass, and topped with lavender-scented coffee bubbles.

Kay Cheon, Dune Coffee Roasters, Santa Barbara, CA

Cheon starts his soundtrack off strong with a little Shania. No, YOU win my love, Kay.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the coffee today for Cheon is a natural processed Typica from Hacienda La Papaya in Ecuador.

Starting off with the sig bev, Cheon combines fermented honey, Chinese oolong tea infusion, and La Papaya espresso, all nitrous infused, expressing notes of orange creamsicle, salted caramel, and cranberry finish

Cheon freeze distills his 2% milk to combine with his La Papaya espresso for notes of chocolate ice cream, strawberry shortcake, and poached pear

22g in, 56g out, Cheon’s natural processed Typica espresso has flavors of raspberry, tangerine, and 60% dark chocolate.

Cheon actually analyzed his espressos using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. I have no idea what that means, but it sounds very technical.

Isaiah Sheese, Archetype Coffee, Omaha, NE

In Sheese’s apron is a cupping spoon right next to a pin/clip that is of a much smaller cupping spoon.

Sheese has the judges put on monochromatic red glasses before uncovering his setups to skew their perceptions.

Sheese competes today with a naturally processed Eugenides, an ancestor of Arabica, from Finca Inmaculada in Colombia.

Not to be outdone by my “lightly toasted marshmallow” call, Sheese’s espresso course has notes of papaya, sticky rice, cereal milk, vanilla tapioca, and tangy cream cheese frosting.

These flavor calls from Sheese may sound pretty bizarre, but one you have his coffee, they make all the sense in the world.


Sheese’s sig bevs has a fruity pebbles based sig bev. His serving glasses are basically cereal bowls. The drink includes whole milk, heavy cream, rose water, sugar in the raw simple, orange oil, and sticky rice pu’erh tea, natural sugar, and vanilla boba balls.

Anthony Ragler, Counter Culture Coffee, Brooklyn, NY

“My coffee journey began in a house in Queens, New York where my grandparents would drink exclusively Taster’s Choice” — Anthony Ragler of

If you want to know how strong of a competitor Ragler is, yesterday he went over time by 30+ seconds and STILL make it to Semis. If he cleans that up this round, he could very easily be the first into the Finals

Ragler competes today with a honey processed Burundi, with tasting notes of pink grapefruit, blackcurrant, and fresh blackberry

Sweet cream texture of the Horizon brand milk creates flavors of caramel, vanilla, and sweet orange when combined with Ragler’s honeyed Burundi.

“Growing up in Brooklyn, cafes were the first warning shot of gentrification” — Anthony Ragler

Cinnamon, star anise, and vanilla steeped and charged with CO2 and Burundi espresso sweetened with agave get combined in swingtop bottles for Ragler’s Dr. Pepper-inspired sig bev

Emily Orendorff, Boxcar Coffee Roasters, Boulder, CO

I’d like to personally thank for the SZA in the soundtrack.

. competes today with an anaerobic processed natural Java variety from Finca Limoncillo in Matagalpa, Nicaragua.

Clementine, 75% dark chocolate, and sweet tobacco in ‘s Java espresso course.

Milk chocolate and butterscotch notes in ‘s cappuccino course here at the

Chilled Java, fermented blackberry juice, and date syrup all get blended together, served in bergamot rimmed stemware for

Andrea Allen, Onyx Coffee Lab, Springdale, AR

“Raising the ceiling raises the floor” — Andrea Allen discusses what she hoped would be true in coffee pricing, but as she notes, it doesn’t seem to be the case.

Allen competes with two coffees from Cafe Granja La Esperanza in Colombia. The first is a Gesha variety for the espresso course.

Notes of tart cherry, pink grapefruit, and rose in Allen’s Gesha espresso course.

For the milk course, Allen is using a different Gesha from , this one from the Cerra Azul farm, having notes of chocolate malt, almond milk flavor, and a rocky road ice cream finish.

Diced champagne mangos, haas avocados, cherries, and coffee cherries all get combined with CO2, then cold pressed in the giant lime green machine on the stage as part of Allen’s sig bev.

That cold press gets mixed with kefir, mandarin chocolate truffle, and a blackberry compote for Allen’s sig bev.

Thanks for tuning in today. We’ll be back tomorrow with coverage of the Finals for the 2019 US Barista Championship.