Welcome welcome welcome to Sprudge’s live coverage of the Semi-Final round of the 2023 United States Barista Championship. For those of you that have followed along with our competition coverage over the years, things might look a little bit different this go around. No need to log into Twitter to keep track of our by-the-minute coverage of every Barista routine taking place today. Instead, we’ll be compiling, collating, and regularly updating this very article you are currently reading with competitor photos, zippy flavor notes, sig bevs, milk drinks, soundtracks, themes, you name it. If it happens on that stage, it’ll be tracked here for you reading pleasure.
We’ve got 18 of the best competitions baristas getting their 15 minutes to make their best arguments for why they should get one of the six Finals spots. Today is the day the rubber meets the road, so buckle up and stay tuned as we are live-blogging every competitor for the 2023 US Barista Championship!
Hugo Cano (he/him), Amberson Coffee, Indianapolis, IN
And we’re off! The first competitor today is longtime competitor Hugo Cano. This is Cano’s first run at the event this weekend, having earned a bye by placing 3rd in the Baltimore Qualifying Event. The theme today for Cano is balance. “Balance is essential to how we experience coffee,” he tells the judges to open his routine.
The first course for Cano today is the espresso, and he is using a carbonic macerated, anaerobic fermented Gesha grown by renowned producer Jameson Savage of Finca Deborah in Volcan, Panama. Pulled through a chilled portafilter in a ratio of 18g in and 46g out, the high-elevation espresso presents with a medium body, silky and creamy, with a high acidity, and flavor notes of grapefruit, nectarine, single origin dark chocolate, and passionfruit.
Cano is his usual cool and collected self on stage today. He’s moving with purpose but doesn’t appear to be at all rushed.
For his signature beverage, Cano combines lactic acid, a Gesha cascara maceration from Finca Deborah, dried coffee blossom, cacao bean extract, and coffee oil, all homogenized together, giving the drink notes of peach, strawberry yogurt, tootsie roll, and green pear. Finally, Cano finishes up his routine with the milk course, a 4oz cortado-style drink featuring the Finca Deborah Gesha with a milk blend of unpasteurized and 25% lactose-free freeze distilled milk with flavors of chocolate soft serve, almond, and strawberry ice cream. (I think we’re going to see a lot of lactose-free and freeze-distilled milk today).
Elisabeth Johnson (she/her), Dayglow, Los Angeles, CA
Next up is Elisabeth Johnson, the Runner Up from the Baltimore Qualifiers as well as a Finalist from the 2022 USBC. “Resilience requires consistency and perseverance,” Johnson tells the judges, drawing the parallel between working in the coffee industry and being a young mother.
Like Cano before her, Johnson is competing today with a Gesha variety coffee grown by Jameson Savage of Finca Deborah in Panama. Johnson’s ultra-small parcel coffee—she only had to chances to roast a batch of this coffee for the competition—underwent a process Savage calls “Nirvana”, an anaerobic fermented, natural process. As an espresso, it has notes of raspberry, white peach, passionfruit, mandarin, light to medium body, silk tactile, and a black tea finish.
Johnson has pretty specific drinking instructions for her judges. Using a laser thermometer for drinking temperature, she has the judges take two drinks of the espresso, at 53 deg C and then again at 50 deg C.
For the second course, the milk course, Johnson combines a 50% freeze distilled milk with a longer shot of espresso “for better balance,” giving the beverage flavors of sweet cream and milk. chocolate. Finally, Johnson creates a signature beverage containing soursop juice, guava juice, champagne vinegar, coconut palm sugar simple syrup, and Finca Deborah Gesha, all finished with cherry wood smoke for a touch of dramatic flair.
Addison Mathis (they/them), PERC Coffee, Decatur, GA
Addition Mathis of PERC Coffee is the next competitor here at the Semi-Finals round. Mathis took fifth in Baltimore, earning their direct bye into this round of competition. For the opening milk course, hey are straying from the Finca Deborah coffees of the previous two competitors and instead going with an anaerobic fermented, natural processed coffee from West Java that is deeply sweet. Combined with freeze-distilled milk, the drink has notes of rum raisin ice cream, malted chocolate, and PayDay bar.
This is a strong soundtrack from Mathis, starting off with a little Sheryl Crow before dropping Dolly Parton’s Jolene on us. And then some Steely Dan! If the notes of Mathis’s routine seem light, it’s because I was in a music-induced trance.
For the next two courses, Mathis is switching up coffees, opting instead for a wash processed coffee from the Guji Zone in Ethiopia. “It reminds me of Florida, where I’m from, and Georgia, where I currently live.” As an espresso, it has notes of pluot, naval orange, and palm sugar.
When you fall, I will catch you, I’ll be waiting. Time after time.
The signature beverage draws further on Mathis’s Florida and Georgia roots. With a peach reduction added to espresso while still warm, Mathis combines meyer lemon juice, meyer lemon oleo saccharum, and an egg white, all emulsified and finished off with a wildflower spritz, giving the drink flavor notes of apricot jam and milk chocolate.
Anthony Ragler (he/him), Black & White Coffee, Zebulon, NC
Are y’all ready to see something special? Because Anthony Ragler is taking the stage. “Origin stories aren’t only limited to the coffees we serve. We too are a products of everything it took to get us here,” Ragler says. “Allow me to let you into my origin story.”
A music drop causes a technical timeout and Ragler to restart his routine. Has it fazed him? Not in the slightest. Ragler is as much a technician as he is a storyteller.
We’re going to see two different coffees from Colombia today for Ragler, our first competitor coming out of the Denver Qualifying Event, where he took third place. First up is an 84-hour anaerobic fermented, natural Gesha—known as Gesha Clouds—produced by Humberto and Maria Lopez in Tolima. In a ratio of 20g in and 46g out, Ragler’s Gesha espresso has notes of raspberry, mango, and clementine, with a light-medium body and silky mouthfeel.
For the second course, the milk course, Ragler switches up to a Pink Bourbon variety that has been fermented with dehydrated strawberries, upping the strawberry aromatics in the espresso. Combined with a cryodesiccated milk, which is like freeze-distilled on steroids, the small cappuccino-type drink has flavors of strawberry yogurt, peaches and cream, caramel, and milk chocolate.
Ragler is telling a deeply personal origin story, recounting familial tragedies shaping the person he is today.
For his sig bev, Ragler is using both coffees from the prior courses, the Gesha Clouds and the Pink Bourbon, and combining them with an oleo saccharum, and meyer lemon juice, finished off with a homemade seltzer to open up the drink and allow the rasperberry sorbet, peach tea, sparkling white wine, and lavender flavor notes a chance to breathe.