Kelly’s Next Step: Coffee Competition

TULSA, OKLAHOMA

After more practice and an instructing stint at Barista Camp, I flew from Camp in Palm Springs directly to Tulsa. There I met our production roaster Camilla Yuan. She was set to assist me during the competition, someone to fetch my water and wash my dishes (thanks, Camilla!).

The well-known Topeca Coffee hosted both the Brewer’s Cup and Barista preliminary so it was FULL of baristas, including the reigning U.S. champs from Onyx Coffee Lab in Arkansas. I would be lying if I didn’t say we were a little star-struck.

The blind tasting, practice time, and my competition slot were scheduled in one day, just a few hours apart. Like in Portland there were three coffees to choose from, but the tasting was set up much differently. The coffees were batch-brewed and put into airpots for us to take from. Camilla and I tasted and took notes. We only had 30 minutes to choose a coffee. I chose the second coffee, which turned out to be from Congo. I’d never had a coffee from there before! My practice session was scheduled to be right after the tasting so I hustled to set up and wait for instructions. I had Camilla help me get water, wash dishes, and taste until we decided on a brew ratio for the mysterious Congo coffee. Once the time was up, we went to get some food (I was too nervous to eat), and then freshen up at the hotel before my competition time.

The set-up at Topeca Coffee was really interesting. They had a whole bar separated by curtains for four separate stages. Again, I had 7 minutes to set my stage, 7 to present, and 7 to clean. My time-keeper and I shared some stories about concerts before my set-up time began, which made me feel a lot more comfortable. I only tweaked my presentation slightly from the performance I gave in Portland, mostly just changing the details of my coffee and brew ratio. I definitely felt more at ease and comfortable talking to the judges than I did in Portland, but I didn’t walk away feeling as confident about my coffee.

We watched more people compete and chatted with other competitors and spectators. Everyone in Oklahoma is SO NICE. Seriously, we had the best time!

The next day we watched the last competitors present and then waited for announcements. I didn’t place in this competition and when I got my score sheet my heart dropped. I scored 7 points lower than I did in Portland, which is a pretty big difference. I talked to my judge and he gave me extremely helpful feedback about my presentation. I saw the rankings and immediately felt better. I got 6th place, which isn’t too bad at all! All of the competitors scored lower than the average in Portland. So, I consider Tulsa a win for me because I learned the most and I feel more knowledgeable going into the Qualifying event. Oh, and don’t worry; I had plenty of ice cream in Tulsa too.