The rubber meets the road today at the 2020 US Barista Championship here in Orange County, California, as 18 coffee professionals took the stage for the Semi-Final round. Seven competitors from Day One joined the 11 who earned their spots by placing in the two previous Qualifying Events, all of them fighting for one of the six Finalists spots tomorrow.

It didn’t seem possible at the time, but today’s competitors found a way to tighten up their performances and exceed the high bar set yesterday. Somehow, the judges must split all the hairs and decide which of the 18 will be moving onto Sunday. It’s an unenviable task but that’s why they make the big bucks. So while we wait for the announcements come down, let’s take a look back at the Semi-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

Gisel Alvarez, Monarch Coffee

Alvarez made it through Day One to be in the Semi-Finals here, the first of 7 today to do so

Alvarez is competing with a Gesha from Finca Monteblanco in Huila, Colombia, that as an espresso has notes of lime, cane sugar, raspberry, and a light florality

Using freeze distilled 2% milk, the milk course for Alvarez has notes of cheesecake, pecan crust, and apple compote.

Using some of the favorite fruits of Rodrigo Sanchez—the producer of her coffee—Alvarez’s sig bev contains grapefruit simple, passionfruit juice, and blackberry puree

Heather McCullough, Novo Coffee

“This drink reminds me of a strawberry milkshake,” McCullough says of her freeze distilled milk course, with notes of vanilla ice cream, honey, and strawberry sauce

I kinda want to steal one of McCullough’s metallic cappuccino cups.

No surprise here, Novo Coffee’s McCullough competes with a Ninety Plus cold fermented Gesha from the Vulcan region of Panama.

Tart cherry, grape jam, chocolate ganache, cacao nib, with a root beer finish in McCullough’s cold fermented Panama Gesha espresso

Sig bev for McCullough includes cherries and chocolate malt infused into cold water using nitrous, mango simple, and chilled espresso all getting another nitrous charge.

Anthony Ragler, Black and White Coffee Roasters

Ragler is back in full Killmonger garb from the Nashville Qualifying Event.

“We’ve got a lot to get to today” Ragler tells the judges, and if you’ve ever seen how much script he fits into a routine, you know it’s true.

Using 3:1 freeze distilled to whole milk, Ragler’s carbonic macerated Ethiopian milk course has notes of cream cheese frosting, soft raspberry, and buttery toffee

Blood orange, cranberry, 70% dark chocolate, and a red wine finish in Ragler’s Ethiopian espresso

Bergamot two ways, coffee flower simple, and spro all hyper chilled (with no drinking instructions) for Ragler’s sig bev.

Jenna Gotthelf, Counter Culture Coffee

Gotthelf is competing today with a Gesha from Finca Nuguo in Boquete, Panama, the same variety from the same farm (both roasted by Counter Culture) used by both Lem Butler and Kyle Ramage when they won USBC

“How do you get milk to concentrate?” Gotthelf got freeze distilled dad jokes

Salted caramel, chocolate pudding, and butter cream frosting in Gotthelf’s “tiny but mighty, just like [her]” milk course.

Gotthelf’s Finca Nuguo espresso course has a lime acidity with notes of jasmine green tea and dark chocolate

For her sig bev, Gotthelf blends kumquat marmalade, jasmine ice cubes, coconut water, and espresso, strained, then mixed with a lychee infused soda water, finished with expressed orange oil.

Chelsea Kallman, Stay Golden Coffee Co

“Hospitality is love for a stranger” – Chelsea Kallman

Kallman’s coffee today is Las Margaritas, a natural processed Gesha variety from Cafe Granja La Esperanza in Cauca, Colombia, produced by Rigoberto Herrera

Freeze distilled milk for Kallman’s milk course. We’re 5 for 5 on freeze distillation here in the Semi-Finals

Sugar in the raw, cherry, pomegranate, with a dry red wine and jasmine florality in the finish for Kallman’s Gesha espresso course.

Mushroom infused water, wild ginger honey, espresso, shaken over ice and strained, finished with a white tea aromatic fog for Kallman’s sig bev

Steph Caronna, North Carolina Museum of Art

One of the most tenured competitors at USBC this year, Caronna is using an anaerobic processed coffee from Finca Lord Baltimore in Huila, Colombia.

Grapefruit rind, 70% dark chocolate, and toasted sugar in Caronna’s espresso course.

50/50 freeze distilled to whole milk, Caronna’s cortados have notes of lemon curd, milk chocolate, and a pastry sweetness.

Caronna’s sig bev include a mango, passionfruit, and orange shrub, honey powder, and espresso, with a honey spritz, finished with honey pop rocks that the judges add to the drink themselves

At 13:15 all drinks are down for Caronna. Lots of extra time to tie up any loose ends.

Elisabeth Johnson, Hagen Coffee Roasters

Johnson starts off her routine by hyper chilling shots for the sig bev to be served at the end of the routine.

Johnson competes today with a natural carbonically macerated Gesha variety coffee from Colombia, having flavor notes of ruby red grapefruit, raspberry, and a cacao nib and riesling-like finish

1:4 espresso to freeze distilled milk, Johnson’s milk course has notes of candied pecan, milk chocolate, and black cherry sweet cream

Strawberry juice, passionfruit puree, coconut palm sugar simple, and chilled espresso, all nitro incorporated in Johnson’s sig bev today at the USBC Semi-Finals

Johnson finishes off the sig bevs with an aromatic vapor.

Avery Leith, Huckleberry Roasters

“Progress in coffee starts when we invest in each other”

Leith in one of three competitors in the Semi-Finals today hailing from Denver. Lots to be excited about in Denver coffee right now, I’m telling y’all

Espresso today for Leith is a washed Gesha from Tolima, Colombia

Leith’s 1:3 freeze distilled milk course expresses notes of lemon meringue, caramel, and malt

Key lime, raspberry, and brown sugar in Leith’s washed Gesha espresso course, stirred 10 times

Rosehip infused pomegranate juice, cinnamon almond orgeat, and espresso shaken over ice and finished with expressed lemon for Leith’s sig bevs.

Austin Amento, Augie’s Coffee

Amento starts off his set with The Office theme song…

Amento has the judges wearing headphones right now.

We’re a little light on information for Amento’s routine. That’s because he has basically no script by design. The judges are listening to something on the headphones while he works.

Soooooo… how’s everyone doing out there in the Twitterverse? Amento’s routine is chuggin right along. There are some sig bevs going down now, it presumably has ingredients though we cannot confirm that fact

Meg Skop

Skop competes today with a wash processed peaberry field blend of SL28, SL34, and Ruiru 11 varieties from Nyeri, Kenya

Lemon, lime, brown sugar sweetness, with a “pleasantly drying finish” for Skop’s Kenya espresso course

Buttercream frosting, vanilla sponge cake, and a light lemon finish in Skop’s Kenya cortados

In Skop’s sig bev, a grapefruit shrub, cane sugar simple, earl grey tea concentrate, and Kenyan espresso, all chilled and mixed with a sparkling water.

Gotta love the orange Fanta flavor call in Skop’s sig bev. Want a sig bev, doncha wanna?

Kay Cheon, Dune Coffee Roasters

For his milk course, Cheon is using a whole cherry carbonic macerated Sidra variety grown on Hacienda La Papaya in Ecudaor by Juan Peña.

1:3 espresso to freeze distilled milk for Cheon’s Sidra milk course, with notes of strawberry wafer, raspberry truffle, and chocolate ice cream

Cheon is using the same Sidra variety from Hacienda La Papaya but processed in a slightly different way for his espresso, having notes of plum, pineapple, and brandied cherry.

Switching to a natural processed La Papaya coffee, Cheon incorporates Chinese white tea, macerated raspberry, and citric acid, all blended together for his sig bev

Sam Neely, Amethyst Coffee Company

This is Neely’s third year competing, making it to Finals in the previous two. Will they go 3 for 3?

Neely is somehow the first competitor to use La Palma y El Tucan here at the 2020 USBC. We’ve seen tons of Gesha and lots of different processing methods, but no La Palma until now

Slight raspberry, mandarin orange, and apricot in Neely’s La Palma espresso course

Vanilla custard and a hint of raspberry jam in Neely’s milk course

“You’ll never guess what I did. I freeze distilled my milk.”

For their sig bev, Neely combines La Palma espresso infused with tea, distilled pineapple juice, and a cacao sipping vinegar, all hyper chilled and blended together, served over an ice sphere.

Reyna Callejo, Olympia Coffee

Using a natural processed Yirgacheffe, Callejo’s freeze distilled milk course has flavors of creamy peanut butter, chocolate hazelnut spread, sweet tart strawberry, and a butter caramel

After the judges inspect the crema, Callejo incorporates the milk beverages for her judges, serving them in new glassware

For the next course, Callejo switches to a champagne yeast fermented Yellow Bourbon variety grown in Oahu, Hawaii.

As an espresso, Callejo’s Oahu Yellow Bourbon has notes of passionfruit, pineapple acidity, and a white wine finish

Oahu spro, pineapple, pink peppercorn, sea salt, and a touch of sparkling water in Callejo’s sig bev, finished off with a nitrogenated coconut milk foam

Andrea Allen, Onyx Coffee Lab

“Our influence is and should be focused on the end of the coffee supply chain… not backpacking through Colombia or lecturing 60 year old producers about processing methods”

Using a Eugenioides variety coffee grown on Finca Inmaculada in Colombia, Allen’s freeze distilled milk course has notes of salted caramel, white mocha, and banana pudding

For the espresso course, Allen tops the Finca Inmaculada Eugenioides with a layer Cerro Azul Gesha grown by Rigoberto Herrera in Colombia.

Allen’s combo spro expresses notes of rose, papaya, cara cara orange, and panella

For her sig bev, Allen switches to 100% Cerro Azul Gesha, adding in clotted cream, passionfruit nectar, and maple syrup, all blended and chilled.

Jason Yeo, Saint Frank Coffee

Yeo is competing today with the Las Nubes, produced by Alexi Moreno in Santa Bárbara, Honduras, the first semi-aerobic processed crop for Moreno.

Apricot, red cherry, and a dark chocolate finish in Yeo’s Las Nubes espressos, stirred with a frozen spoon.

Muscovado sugar syrup, dried mango juice, clarified lime juice, and aged balsamic vinegar in Yeo’s sig bev playing on the Pacas variety in his Las Nubes espresso

Caramel, mascarpone, and wafer cookie flavor calls in Yeo’s milk course today at USBC Semi-Finals

Rodrigo Vargas, Elixr Coffee Roasters

Vargas competes today with a “non-experimental processed” Gesha variety grown at 2200MASL in Nariño, Colombia

Strawberry cream, yellow cake, and milk chocolate in Vargas’ 3:1 milk course.

Have you ever kept saying a word until it just becomes a collection of sounds and loses all meaning. That’s me with “freeze distilled” right now.

Ruby red grapefruit, apricot, and 70% dark chocolate in Vargas’ Gesha espresso course

Notes of fresh raspberry, sparkling rose, and a chocolate finish in Vargas’ sig bev course.

Sam Spillman, Dillanos Coffee Roasters

Spillman is competing with a natural lactic processed Gesha, grown at 1,900 MASL at La Palma y El Tucan in Colombia

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

Malt, ice cream, and chocolate reminiscent of a malted chocolate milk shake in Spillman’s milk beverage. Using freeze distilled milk of course.

Fresh pineapple and passionfruit, both fermented using cultures found on charcoal at the farm in Colombia, and an agave solution mix with chilled La Palma espresso for Spillman’s sig bev

Spillman’s sig bevs are being served under a glass, that holds in an orange zest vapor finishing off the drink.

Isaiah Sheese, Archetype Coffee

Using the same Eugenioides he competed with last year, Sheese has created a blend along with a carbonic macerated natural Gesha from Finca Deborah in Panama.

With 75% freeze distilled milk, Sheese’s milk bev has notes of chocolate buttercream icing, berries and cream, and neopolitan ice cream

For espresso, Sheese is using 100% of the Finca Deborah Gesha, with a candy-like sweetness and notes of fresh raspberry, barlet pear, florality, and 65% dark chocolate

To chilled espresso, Sheese adds fructose, malic acid, tartaric acid, and a “natural flavor magnifier” before aerating and serving his sig bev to the judges.

Thanks for tuning in today! See you tomorrow for the 2020 US Barista Championship Finals!