There are always a lot of takeaways in the aftermath of the US Coffee Championships. Still, one of the most exciting developments from the 2023 Barista Championship stage was the inclusion of a robusta coffee. C. Canephora, Arabica’s high-caffeine sibling species, was used as a barista competition routine focal point for the first time in the competition’s history. To commemorate this groundbreaking occurrence, Nguyen Coffee Supply, the Brooklyn-based robusta-focused coffee roaster behind the competition coffee, has teamed up once again with Maya Crowley, the coffee professional who brought the coffee to the national stage, for a pair of videos focusing on the routine as well as Crowley’s Vietnam-inspired signature beverage.
It speaks to a larger narrative about the shifting perspective of robusta in the specialty coffee industry, due at least in part to renewed quality efforts amongst some robusta farmers to reach specialty grade. Robusta is no longer fodder for cheap blending components and instant coffees.
Shared exclusively with Sprudge, the two videos feature Crowley—a 2023 Sprudge Twenty class member—along with the anaerobic fermented robusta she used in competition. (Click here to read our previous interview with Crowley about her coffee.) In the first video, Crowley discusses the history of robusta and how the specialty coffee industry first developed a bias against the coffee species, going back to the 1970s with a divided Germany.
For the second video, Crowley walks through the construction of her signature beverage. Using ingredients traditionally associated with Asia, Crowley’s sig bev is an homage to Vietnamese baristas and includes coconut cream, Hojicha powder, palm sugar, buddha’s hand, and spent coffee pucks oleo saccharum, Vietnamese cinnamon broth, and finished with a lemongrass smoke.
For Nguyen Coffee Supply’s Sahra Nguyen, having a robusta at the USBC is a sort of proof of concept for the coffee’s viability in specialty circles. “[It’s] an absolute dream. It affirms our work to reimagine the paradigm and bring forth this collective excitement about the possibilities ahead for our industry. Being able to work with Maya Crowley to present our 100% anaerobic robusta was extra special,” Nguyen tells Sprudge. “As a company, we’re proud to do our part in pushing the industry forward, however, it truly is a collective effort beyond any one company.”
Using a robusta, for Crowley, had extra meaning. “For me personally, this was about a lot more than just the reasons it was significant to the industry. I think something I have historically struggled with a lot is my personal identity as a mixed person (and I think this is a really relatable struggle),” Crowley states, “what I didn’t expect to get out of this experience was the connection to my heritage, culture, and to other Vietnamese coffee people. I have never felt more proud of myself than I did after they called my name at the awards in Baltimore. I felt proud of how I represented Vietnamese robusta.”
Will Maya Crowley compete again in 2024? Considerations are being made as Crowley builds new relationships with Vietnamese coffee farmers and hopes to be more hands-on in coffee sourcing for future robusta-forward competition routines. Meanwhile, Nguyen Coffee Supply is already seeking out new experimental robusta coffees. Sahra Nguyen tells Sprudge that the company’s producer partners in Vietnam are already experimenting with red, white, and black honey-processed coffees, made possible in part by the success of Crowley’s USBC routine.
In the meantime, Crowley’s anaerobic fermented robusta competition coffee is available for purchase via the Nguyen Coffee Supply website. We’ve had it, and it is legitimately perception-shattering; whatever you thought about robusta in the past will feel utterly irrelevant after trying this coffee. Just be careful not to switch it out in equal measure for your daily Arabica, though, unless you want first-hand information on exactly why caffeine is considered a drug.