2020 US Barista Championship Finals Recap

And that’s it! After 48 routines over the course of three days—a sum total 12 hours of performances—the competitors have all made their cases and now it is up to the judges to decide who will be crowned the 2020 US Barista Champion.

The six competitors that put in one last routine today are no strangers to the Finals stage. Four of the competitors have been here before, Andrea Allen and Sam Neely multiple times. It only took Sam Spillman one Finals appearance to win it all and she’s back again, looking to be the first back-to-back USBC champion since Michael Phillips did it in 2009 and 2010. Or will it be local-ish competitor Kay Cheon, doing it for the home crowd? And don’t count out first-time Finalists Isaiah Sheese—a longtime competitor and frequenter of the Semi-Final round—and Anthony Ragler, an absolute force on that stage.

The routines today were so crisp, so precise, it’s truly anyone’s game right now. I don’t envy those having to decide the fates of these competitors. But while we are waiting for the judges to figure it all out, let’s look back at the Finals of the 2020 US Barista Championship.

Sprudge Media Network’s coverage of the 2020 US Coffee Championships is presented by Cafe ImportsAcaiaIKAWAPacific Barista SeriesBellwether, and Baratza.

Kay Cheon, Dune Coffee Roasters

Maybe it’s because it’s the Finals or maybe it’s because Dune Coffee is about 1.5 hours away, but there’s already a strong cheering contingent for Cheon

Cheon is competing today with three different coffees, one for each course, all grown by Juan Peña at the famed Hacienda La Papaya in Ecuador.

First up is the milk course. Using freeze distilled Straus Family Creamery milk and whole cherry carbonic macerated Sidra, Cheon’s milk bevs have notes of strawberry wafer, raspberry truffle, and chocolate ice cream

For the espresso course, Cheon is using the same Sidra variety from La Papaya, but undergoing a 48 hour anaerobic processing.

Pulling into chilled cups, Cheon’s Sidra espressos have notes of plum, pineapple, and brandied cherry, stirred five times

Switching now to a natural processed coffee, Cheon’s sig bev includes white tea, CO2 macerated raspberries, and clarified milk, all given a quick blend and served in stemmed glassware.

Isaiah Sheese, Archetype Coffee

Sheese’s routine this year is a continuation of last year’s, incorporating the same Eugenioides variety from 2019, but using it as a blend component

The other coffee in Sheese’s blend is a carbonic macerated Gesha from Finca Deborah in Panama.

Using a 3:1 Gesha to Eugenioides, Sheese’s freeze distilled milk course expresses notes of chocolate buttercream frosting and melted neapolitan ice cream

“This blend is reuniting an ancestor with its offspring,” Sheese says of the Eugenioides and Gesha varieties he is competing with today.

Using only the Finca Deborah Gesha, Sheese’s espressos have a sparkling lime acidity, candy-like sweetness, with notes of fresh raspberry, barlet pear, 65% dark chocolate, and floral notes

Sheese’s sig bev incorporates chilled Gesha espresso, fructose, malic acid, tartaric acid, and “natural flavor magnifier” sodium, all whipped together with a frother, with tasting notes of sweet tart candy, passionfruit, honeycrisp apple, & white grape

Sam Spillman, Dillanos Coffee Roasters

“If we want a better future for coffee, we need to progress what is right in front of us” – Sam Spillman

That delicious smelling coffee Spillman competes with today is a 120-hour fermented natural lactic processed Gesha from La Palma y El Tucan in Colombia.

Freezing her coffee to -20 deg C before grinding, Spillman’s La Palma Gesha espresso has notes of peach, raspberry, and grape candy, stirred 10 times.

“The best experiences are made amazing by the people we share them with” – Sam Spillman

Malt, ice cream, and chocolate, reminiscent of a malted chocolate milk shake in Spillman’s freeze distilled milk course here today at the USBC Finals.

Along with chilled La Palma Gesha spro, Spillman’s sig bev includes fermented pineapple and passionfruit juices and an agave solution, finished off with an orange zest vapor.

Andrea Allen, Onyx Coffee Lab

Allen is grinding all the coffee for her performance up front, instructing the judges to use the scoresheets she has provided for them

It’s unclear if Allen pre-populated those scoresheets with all 6’s. That’s what I would do anyway.

Using a Eugenioides variety coffee from Finca Inmaculada in Colombia, Allen’s freeze distilled milk course has notes of yellow cake batter, salted caramel, and banana pudding

For her espresso course, Allen layers 11g of Eugenioides in the portafilter with 11g of a Cerro Azul Gesha, expressing flavors of papaya, cara cara orange, and panella

Before serving her sig bevs, Allen hands the judges rose aromatic towels, a nod to one of her previous routines where she washed the judges hands herself.

For her sig bev, Allen is using only the Cerro Azul but uses the Eugenioides as inspiration for the other components, which include clotted cream, papaya, passionfruit nectar, maple syrup, & egg white, blended & shaken over ice.

Sam Neely, Amethyst Coffee Company

With their appearance in the Finals, Neely is now three years competing and three years making it to the last 6.

Neely competes today with a lactic acid processed Gesha from the famed La Palma y El Tucan in Colombia, exhibiting notes of tart raspberry, apricot, grapefruit, and tangerine

For the milk course, Neely combined La Palma Gesha with freeze distilled milk to achieve flavors of vanilla custard, white chocolate, and caramel

Someone should tell Neely this isn’t a practice run, this is the Finals because they are just way too cool up there right now

For their sig bev, Neely hyperchills La Palma espresso, tea, distilled pineapple juice, & cacao nib sipping vinegar, all blended together for notes of lemongrass, guava, and hazelnut

Neely makes a sig bev for themself to enjoy with the judges because “the best coffee experiences can be made even better when we share them”

Anthony Ragler, Black and White Coffee Roasters

The entire room is breathless right now waiting for Ragler to start his run

If there’s such thing as “must see TV” at the USBC, it’s Ragler. There’s so much tension building while he quietly grinds his coffee

Kicking things off with the milk course, Ragler’s freeze distilled milk beverage has notes of cheesecake, raspberry, and caramel

Ragler competes today with a natural carbonic processed coffee produced by Steve Holt at Unravel Coffee in Ethiopia, and as a espresso has notes of raspberry, ruby red grapefruit, semi-sweet chocolate, and an orange peel finish, stirred ten times

“As black coffee professionals, we are pigeonholed into one of two ends of the supply chain” – Anthony Ragler

Hyperchilled espresso, bergamot pith infusion, fresh squeezed bergamot juice, and a coffee flower simple for Ragler’s sig bev.