The nation's top baristas competed in the 2008 United States Barista Championship (USBC), which was held at the Specialty Coffee Association of America's (SCAA) 20th Annual Conference during May 2-5 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This is a heated and highly competitive event. It's the coffee industy's premier contest for coffeehouse professionals. The USBC encourages and recognizes achievement in the art and skill of espresso-drink preparation and service.
Over the course of the competition, the nation's top baristas created some of the world's very finest espresso concoctions. Each contestant must prepare three rounds of beverages for a panel of four Sensory Judges. The three rounds are: a pure espresso round, a cappuccino round, and an original "signature" drink round. This requires preparing 12 drinks in total. All three rounds must be completed and served within a 15-minute timeframe.
The judging panel comprises seven USBC-certified judges: a Head Judge, two Technical Judges, and four Sensory Judges. Competition takes place on a 3-group La Marzocca espresso machine. The Technical Judges evaluate technical execution and cleanliness, and the Sensory Judges evaluate the quality of the drinks themselves. All contestants are scored on station cleanliness, beverage presentation and taste, technical barista skills, and total overall impression created by the barista as an ambassador for the industry.
This year's competition was won by Kyle Glansville of Intelligensia Coffee & Tea, Los Angeles, California. The final six and their placings were:
1st: Kyle Glanville, Intelligentsia Coffee, Los Angeles, Calif.
2nd: Pete Licata, PT's Coffee Roasting Company, Overland Park, Kan.
3rd: Heather Perry, Coffee Klatch, San Dimas, Calif.
4th: Chris Baca, Ritual Coffee Roasters, San Francisco, Calif.
5th: Nick Griffith, Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea, Los Angeles, Calif.
6th: Drew Cattlin, Ritual Coffee Roasters, San Francisco, Calif.
Note that in the finishing lineup, runner-up Pete Licata was the 2006 USBC champion, and second runner-up Heather Perry was the 2007 USBC champion. This was a tough lineup! Kyle Glansville took 5th place in the 2007 USBC event, and about a month prior to this year's championship, he was the runner up of the the Western Regional Barista Competition, held on March 28-30. This year was only his second year of competition.
As the 2008 United States Barista Champion, which is the highest national honor for a barista, Kyle Glansville received the USBC trophy, $1,000 in cash, and an all-expenses paid trip to the 2008 World Barista Championship in Copenhagen, Denmark, June 19 – 22, 2008, where he will represent the United States. That event is hosted by the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe and held at its "Wonderful Coffee" event.
Kyle Glanville works as Manager of Espresso R&D at Intelligentsia's Roasting Works in Los Angeles. Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea also has a Roasting Works and three stores in Chicago, where the company was founded in 1995. Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea is renowned for the creation of its Direct Trade, a buying process ensuring economic and environmental sustainability for coffee farmers.
Kyle is a former theater major, and has a polished stage presence and an actor's understanding of the technical aspects of performance - which is a clear asset for the USBC competition. This year, Kyle completed the final round competition in just under 14 minutes, with over a minute to spare of the 15-minute limit. It was a masterful performance.
First, Kyle put on his music, which was an instrumental disco / hip-hop mix that created bounce and energy. Kyle poured fresh water for the judges, and explained the characteristics of the espresso that he would be using. He explained that the espresso that he would use in all of his drinks prepared for this competition was a single-origin espresso from El Salvador. It comes from the Finca Matalapa farm, which is at 1200 meters elevation. While 1200 meters is fairly high for El Salvadorian coffee farms, he noted that it is not that high for ultra premium coffees.
Now called "Black Cat" by Intelligensia Coffee & Tea, this coffee features a highly tempered acidity, and is very well rounded. Kyle said that when he first sampled it at a cupping table, he was "blown away" by how well balanced it was.
Kyle then started setting up his signature drink. In front of each judge, he had set up a miniature burner with a small stainless steel pot. He lit the burners, and into each pot he added whole cracked cardamon pods, salted macadamia nuts, and some dark Muscovado sugar. He explained that the roasting cardamon pods and macadamia nuts would create a beautiful and heady aroma that would melt into the Muscovado sugar.
Kyle then prepared his espresso. When he served the espresso to the judges, he told them: "The first thing that's really going to strike you about this espresso is the citrus. It has a stunning green citrus acidity up front, accompanied by floral aromatics, and a nice dark brown sugar flavor."
As the judges sampled the espresso, Kyle brought over individual vials of heavy cream, which he added to the miniature stainless roasting pots for his signature drink. He explained that the function of the cream was to bring body to the drink he would eventually serve. He was adding the cream at this point so that it would have a few minutes to become infused with the flavors of cardamon and macadamia, and to blend with the melted (and partially carmelizing) dark Muscovado sugar.
Kyle then went back to the espresso machine to make his cappuccinos. He extracted a fresh batch of espresso, using two groupheads: one for each pair of cappuccinos. Of course, the extraction was done into cappuccino cups. He frothed two pitchers of milk: one for each pair of cappuccinos. For each pitcher, Kyle frothed for about 30 seconds, and ended the froth with a single downward tap on the table to dislodge the surface bubbles.
Kyle Glanville Pouring Off Excess Foam
In each case, Kyle first poured off the top layer of coarse foam into a waste pitcher, so that the microfoam applied to each cappuccino would be extremely smooth and regular. As he poured the foam into each cappuccino cup, he shook his hand slightly, and joked: "I'm not shaking because I'm nervous; I'm doing this on purpose." Kyle did a stylistic pour of an undulated (because of the shaking) heart design on the surface of each cappuccino.
As he served the cappuccinos, he explained to the judges: "Cappuccino should not be about the milk or about the coffee. It should be about the marriage between the two. You will notice that the milk transforms the dark brown sugar flavor of the coffee into a sweet butterscotch flavor. And the stunning green citrus transforms into a mellon flavor, like cantaloupe."
Kyle Glanville Finishing Off His Cappuccinos
Kyle extinguished the flames of the burners used for his signature drinks, explaining that the infusion was complete, and that the sugar had blended with the cream sufficiently well.
Then Kyle returned to the espresso machine to make the final round of espressos to complete his signature drinks. This time, he extracted his espressos into tiny white pitchers. He brought the pitchers back to the judge's table, and poured a pitcher of espresso into each of the miniature stainless roasting pots to blend it together with the cream, cardamon, macadamia nuts, and melted dark Muscovado sugar.
He explained to the judges that he viewed the barista arts as being about the marriages of flavors. He told them what they should notice about the signature drink: that the Muscovado sugar would accentuate the dark brown sugar flavor of the coffee, and that the cardamon would pair exceptionally well with the green citrus acidity, creating a nice aromatic bouquet. He said that the heavy cream adds body to the drink, and also adds a "serious sweetness."
But he was quick to emphasize that in his opinion, the most interesting element of his drink was the salt from the macadamia nuts. "Salt is often used in other culinary contexts, but is rarely seen in beverages - especially not in coffee. In this case, the macadamia salt plays off the sweetness of the rest of the drink wonderfully."
Kyle Glanville Straining His Signature Drink
Kyle strained the mixture from each of the four miniature roasting pots into each of four martini glasses using four individual strainers, so as to leave the solids behind. He then finished each of the drinks with a surprising touch: he brought out a pitcher of cold, but melted vanilla ice cream, and he poured a little bit of the melted ice cream into each drink.
He told the judges that the drink was very well balanced, and that it exemplified the contrasts that demonstrated the balances in it. He pointed out that it featured contrasts on three levels: flavors, textures, and temperatures. He told the judges to first sip the drink as it was to note the contrast between the warm coffee and cream mixture, and the cold melted vanilla ice cream. Only after that, he advised the judges to swirl the two together to marry them.
Bravo Kyle, and Congratulations!
Kyle Finishing Off His Signature Drink With Melted Vanilla Icecream
Congratulation from your friends at
The Coffee Brewers