First Weekend of CoffeeChamps Wraps in Knoxville


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CoffeeChamps, Knoxville, barista competition

Photo: courtesy of Summit Coffee Co.

[T]he 2017 US CoffeeChamps kicked off this past weekend in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Everyman Espresso stood out among a hyper-competitive field. The New York City–based operation, which has two cafes in Manhattan, won both the Barista Championship and Brewers Cup Championship.

The Knoxville regional is one of two qualifiers for the US CoffeeChamps, the finals of which will be held in Seattle, Washington, this April in conjunction with the Global Specialty Coffee Expo. It’s a new format, again, for the Specialty Coffee Association competition circuit. Last year, all competitors made their way to Kansas City, Missouri, to compete in either the East or West region. This year, there was no geographic separation—competitors could choose to participate either in Knoxville or in Austin, Texas. The Austin qualifier will be held in February.

Lewontin Takes Barista Championship

In the highly acclaimed Barista Championship, longtime competitor Samuel Lewontin took home first place with his performance featuring Counter Culture Coffee‘s Idido, a washed coffee from the Yirgacheffe region that’s long been a staple of the CCC catalog. Lewontin’s espresso extraction had notes of clementine, nectarine, and praline—and he let those sit to the side before serving the judges because he wanted to ensure the drinks were being consumed at the ideal temperature.

For his signature beverage, Lewontin added to his Idido espresso some macerated lime peel, nectarines, and mango with white vinegar and apple cider vinegar. The regional competition no longer has a milk beverage course.

Lewontin scored 287.5 points with a clean and powerful performance, and he knew the moment he called “time” that he nailed it, pumping his fist to the crowd. Cole McBride, another veteran competitor from Las Vegas, finished in second place, followed by Kyle Ramage (Mahlkonig USA), Bethany Hargrove (Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters) and Matthew Barahura (Intelligentsia Coffee). It was a tough field, with fifteen competitors having previously participated in nationals. At least three qualifiers from the 2016 US Barista Championship failed to make it out of the Knoxville regional.

Everyman’s Gotthelf Wins Brewers Cup

In the Brewers Cup Championship, Everyman’s Jenna Gotthelf took first place using Counter Culture Coffee’s Buziraguhindwa, a naturally processed coffee from Burundi. Gotthelf, who finished fourth in the Eastern Regional competition in Kansas City last year, performed remarkably in the Open Service round to take home the top prize. Wade Preston, of Prevail Coffee Roasters, took second in the Brewers Cup, followed by Jessica Rodriguez (Klatch Coffee), Greg Loring-Albright (Little Amps Coffee Roasters) and Alex Meece (Steadfast Coffee).

In the other competitions over the weekend, Samuel Demisse of Keffa Coffee won the Cup Tasters as the only person to correctly defeat all six triangles. Demisse is a legend of sorts in Cup Tasters, having finished in the top five in the US three times, but has yet to take home first place nationally. Steve Cuevas of Black Oak Coffee Roasters finished in second place, while Steven Latham gave Everyman Espresso some more hardware with his third place finish.

Looking toward Seattle

Lastly, in the newly structured Roaster Championship, thirty competitors all tackled the same compulsory coffee from Kenya, and Cameron Heath of Revelator Coffee took home the top prize. Given a blend of SL-28 and SL-34 varieties, Heath hand sorted them before roasting only SL-28 beans and running away from the field. Eric Stone of Mudhouse Coffee Roasters and Hugh Morretta of La Colombe rounded out the top three.

The newly structured format brought the best out of veteran competitors, saw the emergence of first-time participants, and helped set the field for the national competition this April. The second regional in Austin this February will see who joins these Knoxville qualifiers—as well as some former US champions—at the US Coffee Championships in Seattle.

Brian Helfrich is a regular contributor and co-owner of Summit Coffee in Davidson, North Carolina. 

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