Industry Insider: US Coffee Championship – Good Citizen

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Industry Insider: US Coffee Championship

With US Coffee Championships (USCC) back in full swing after a two year hiatus, we thought it was a perfect time to interview and recap not only the return to USCC in Boston at the Specialty Coffee Expo but also our team's experiences over the years. 

Before our team shares their experiences, we are going to break down USCC competition categories just in case there are some readers who didn't even know there was such a thing as coffee competitions! 

  • United States Barista Championship (USBC): In 15 minutes, competitors must prepare and serve espressos, cappuccinos, and a personally designed signature beverage for four sensory judges; all while being assessed on their preparation abilities by two technical judges.
  • United States Brewers Cup (USBRC): Competitors perform Compulsory and Open Service. This particular competition highlights and celebrates the art of manual brewing.
  • United States Coffee In Good Spirits Championship (USCIGS): Barista and Barkeeper Competitors must prepare and serve coffee cocktails for taste judges; all while being assessed on their preparation abilities by a technical/visual judge.
  • United States Cup Tasters Championship (USCTC): Competitors test their sensory skills by discerning taste differences in a “triangulation.” The competitor with the ability to taste, smell, concentrate, and recall, those with the most correct answers in the shortest amount of time wins.
  • United States Roasters Championship (USRC):  Competitors green grade a compulsory coffee, make a roast plan, and roast their compulsory coffee onsite.
  • United States Latte Art Competition (USLAC): New to the USCC and making its debut in Boston in 2022, competitors will present their original designs in a set of two identical lattes and two identical macchiatos. Pours will be judged by two visual judges and one technical judge. 

Below you will find some interview with our team members who have the pleasure of participating in and judging different categories of the USCC. We are so thankful they took the time to share their experiences with you!

Chelsea Kallman

United States Brewers Championship Chelsea Kallman


What is your name and a short description of your experience in the coffee industry/USCC?

Chelsea Kallman, working in the coffee industry since 2008, competed in 2019 US Barista Competition season, joined USBC Committee in 2022 and judged USBC in 2022.

How did you qualify for your position (whether judging, competing, etc.) at USCC?

I started out volunteering for competitions in 2017 and I loved it. I competed in a USBC Preliminary round in August 2019 and then a Regional round a few months later. I placed 2nd in my regional, so I secured myself a spot in the national round in February 2020.

What is your #1 category of the competition to watch and why?

Seeing a routine through all the way to the end is really rewarding. I love those last few minutes when the barista is summing up their entire theme. It’s inspiring and exciting.

Can you please give a short summary of how people qualify for USBC?

For USBC it can depend from year to year, for example, in the 2022 season they had a weighted lottery system. You applied to compete and the weights in the lottery were based off of race and gender identity, amongst a few other pieces. But, before that you had to compete at a regional to qualify for nationals.

How has judging and/or competing made you a better coffee professional?

100% Both have pushed me forward in new ways that you don’t get to experience outside of a competition setting. With competition I pushed myself towards innovation and keeping myself relevant even though my day to day position doesn’t work behind a bar. With judging I push myself to keep myself tasting new things and quickly identifying what I’m experiencing. The biggest takeaway I get from judging is being able to clearly communicate what I experienced while qualifying that with a score. You can’t just say, “I liked the espresso. It tasted good.” you score it based on taste balance, the flavor calls the barista shared and the tactile experience they told you you would have and then you give notes to support that experience. It’s fair and honest.

What’s your advice to someone wanting to compete at USBC?

You should do it. You should push yourself and put in the work. You will come out of it a stronger coffee professional than you started. Take time to learn the rules and dig into how each category is scored. Regardless of where you place in the rankings at the end of the season you will have just put yourself out there - mind and body - and participated in a competition with very high standards. What you learn from that experience will impact you and the team around you. I always say competitions push us to be the best versions of ourselves and it pushes the industry forward. We need that to keep specialty coffee healthy - so go out there and compete!


 Sean Stewart

Sean Stewart

What is your name and a short description of your experience in the coffee industry/USCC? Sean Stewart - I competed in 2012 & 2013 Roaster’s Choice Competition and place 2nd in the nation both years and competed in Brewer’s Cup 2013 and placed 3rd in the nation.

How did you qualify for your position (whether judging, competing, etc.) at USCC?

I placed with a Bourbon from El Salvador - Finca Suiza, a Geisha from Cerro Azul farm from Cafe Granja La Esperanza with the Roaster’s 2013 and placed with Las Margaritas Geisha from Cafe Granja La Esperanza in 2013 Brewer’s.

What is your #1 category of the competition to watch and why?

Taster’s Cup or Roaster’s Competition because it is a little more objective from a product development standpoint.


Evan Holder

Evan Holder

What is your name and a short description of your experience in the coffee industry/USCC?

Evan Holder -  I’ve judged Brewer’s Cup qualifying and national championships for the 2018, 2019, and 2022 competition seasons. 

How did you qualify for your position (whether judging, competing, etc.) at USCC?

Anyone with coffee knowledge and experience is capable of becoming a judge, though you must be certified. Judges are required to attend Calibration Workshops prior to participating in USCC events. Certification ensures that judges possess a thorough understanding of the rules and regulations of each competition while demonstrating an accurate set of sensory evaluation skills. 

What is your #1 category of the competition to watch and why?

Brewers Cup is the most exciting competition to be a part of as the event often reflects growing trends in the coffee industry. Competitors curate a variety of excellent coffees, highlighting the hard work of some of the best producers in the world. Inventive techniques are almost always demonstrated alongside new and cutting-edge brewing devices. As an additional challenge, competitors are required to brew a “compulsory coffee” of which the details are not made known to them. This challenge is an opportunity for competitors to showcase their brewing knowledge and skills to score additional points.

Can you please give a short summary of how people qualify for USCC?

The competition season is broken up into rounds. Seasoned competitors who have placed in previous competitions are given the opportunity to bypass preliminary rounds and advance to qualifying competitions. 

How has judging and/or competing made you a better coffee professional?

Participating in USCC events ensures that I have a vested interest in the current and future practice of coffee. I’m allowed to play a pivotal role in maintaining standards of excellence for the industry. 

What’s your advice to someone wanting to compete at USCC?

Thorough knowledge of the rules will guarantee easy points for competitors. A large part of the score sheet is dedicated to the evolution of the coffee experience as it's being evaluated. Judges want to be convinced of how well the competitor knows their coffee, from hot to cold. Effectively communicating the dynamics of the coffee's attributes is the easiest way to prove that you understand your coffee and the best way for judges to score it accordingly. 


Robbie Melton 

Robbie Felton

What is your name and a short description of your experience in the coffee industry/USCC?

Robbie Melton - I have been in the coffee industry since 2009. I competed in the US Barista Championship in 2017 and I also was a sensory judge at the US Barista Championships in 2019.

How did you qualify for your position (whether judging, competing, etc.) at USCC?
I competed in 2017 using Perla Negra, a naturally processed coffee from Finca Las Lajas in Costa Rica and created a signature drink revolving around the rich pineapple sweetness the coffee exhibited. As for judging, some of the others have answered extensively, but there was a process of training and calibration leading up to the competition, and then throughout the competition there were regular calibration sessions we were required to participate in. 

What is your #1 category of the competition to watch and why?
My favorite competitions are Taster’s Cup and Roaster’s Competition. I especially enjoy Taster’s Cup because cupping coffee is one of my favorite aspects of the industry and my job. It is easily the most objective of all the competitions because rather than receiving a score assigned to your coffee you are simply trying to find the one cup among three which is slightly different based on smell and taste alone. You’re either right or wrong. Period. I love the simplicity of it.

How has judging and/or competing made you a better coffee professional?
Even though my first time competing was in 2017 I was involved in helping others train for both Barista Comp and Brewer’s Cup before I ever competed. One of the things that competition has certainly helped me with is attention to detail. In competition every move and decision you make is scrutinized. You not only have to do things technically correct but you also have to have a reason behind every decision you make. Why did you choose to serve the drink in that vessel? Why did you include that ingredient in your signature drink? Why were certain roasting decisions made and how does it impact the final product? Having a focused time to prepare for competition allowed me to be able to translate some of the “why” to my time on bar as a barista. Now that I’m overseeing a roasting program I continue to think about the “why”. Every coffee we choose to bring into our program as a purpose and a reason for being here. Every blend and roast profiling decision has a reason. Part of my job is having the ability to answer the “why?”

What’s your advice to someone wanting to compete at USCC?
Why do you want to compete? If you can’t answer that question, don’t compete until you can. 


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