Counter Culture barista takes home honors at coffee championship
Posted November 25, 2014
This past weekend was a coffee lovers dream in Durham. For the second time in as many years, the Bull City played host to the “Big Eastern” Regional Coffee Championships. All weekend long, the convention center in downtown Durham was filled with talented baristas and coffee professionals who had traveled from all over the east coast. Months of hard work and practice were put to the test in front of panels of judges and a live audience filled with hundreds of fellow coffee professionals and fans alike.
The Big Eastern features two competitions: the Barista competition and the Brewers Cup, both platforms for baristas to exhibit their individual pursuits of excellent coffee. Over the course of three days there were a total of 46 contestants in the barista competition and 32 participants in the Brewer’s Cup. Winners in both competitions were selected for the northeast and southeast regions of the US. In addition to a slew of coffee swag, winners of this regional contest earn a seat at the national barista competition in Long Beach California this February.
Since the event is open to the public, hundreds of people crowded into the convention center showroom each day to watch the competition and cheer on their favorite baristas. Each competitor goes through months of preparation investing countless hours developing their own signature drinks, and presentation styles, taking great care in selecting their coffees, and perfecting their presentation techniques, all in hopes of impressing the judges and securing the regional title.
Day one of the event started with the compulsory round of the Brewers Cup competition, which features the art of manual coffee brewing. In the first round, all 32 competitors were judged by a panel of three judges. This is known as the blind tasting round with all competitors brewing the same coffee which they are only given the night before.
Of the original 32, only five of competitors in each region were chosen to move on to the second round on day two where they presented their own chosen coffee to the judges and are judged not only on the coffee but their presentation as well. It is during day two that the baristas really shine as their love for specialty coffee and their craft is expressed in their presentations to the judges.
In the end, Northeast Brewers Cup champion was Ronnie Hass of Ceremony Coffee out of Annapolis, Maryland. The Southeast Brewers Cup champion was Clark Le Compte of Toby’s Estate out of Washington D.C.
The Barista competition started mid-afternoon on day one and spanned the full three days of the event. Unlike the Brewers Cup, this event focused specifically on espresso based drinks. Each day 15 baristas gave a 15-minute presentations in which they prepared and served three courses of espresso based beverages to a panel of judges. The three courses include: serving four espressos, four cappuccinos and four innovative freestyle signature drinks that highlight the espresso skills and creativity of the individual barista. These signature drinks can be quite creative and elaborate combining unique flavors and ingredients to make top notch espresso drinks that complement and enhance the experience of the bean.
Watching the baristas go through their routines is both inspiring and stressful. The room is filled with hundreds of people watching them pull their shots and go through their well-rehearsed presentations to the judges. The entire room can see the large clock looming overhead counting the seconds to the 15 minute mark. Contestants loose points for every second they go over 15 minutes and are automatically disqualified if they go over 16 minutes. Every second counts in these carefully orchestrated routines and unfortunately there were 7 contestants disqualified for time on day two alone.
After a weekend of incredible performances by world class baristas the regional Barista competition winners were announced at the end of the day on Sunday. The coffee community is tight and as the event drew to a close it felt like a family affair with competitors cheering each other on as the winners are announced.
Sam Lewontin of Everyman Espresso out of NYC took the Barista Champ title for the Northeast region and Durham’s own Lemuel Butler of Counter Culture Coffee earned the title of Southeastern Barista Champ. This is Butler’s 5th career regional win. He will now join Northeastern Champ Sam Lewontin along with the regional Brewers Cup champions as they prepare to compete to compete in the national coffee championships to be held in Long Beach, California in February.
Get a full list of winners at the U.S. Coffee Championship website.
John Huisman covers coffee, restaurants, food trucks and more in his blog Triangle Explorer.