The First Morning of the US Coffee Championships Provides Calm Before Getting Busy
When I found out last month that the US Coffee Championships were coming to Long Beach, I knew I had to try to go, despite knowing nothing about the event, nor what would be taking place. This weekend, the US Coffee Championships are finally here, taking place downtown at the Long Beach Arena, also a place to which I had never been.
Yesterday, the event, which is produced by the Specialty Coffee Association of America and the Barista Guild of America, began in an intimate way. Accompanied by my wife, who was also intrigued by this big coffee event underway in our city, we went yesterday morning to see what was transpiring. Instantly, we were underwhelmed: it was relatively empty in the seemingly cavernous Long Beach Arena, with competition stations set up ringing the circular arena space. However, despite the relative lack of people and quietness that seemed to fill the space, one couldn’t help but have a sense that things were going to ramp up and get going starting on the second day and beyond.
Not only was the energy in the air exciting about what was to transpire, it was soon noticeable that it was actually a special time to be at the US Coffee Championships, since not only was the atmosphere calm and fairly quiet, aside from the occasional competitions, it was also an intimate atmosphere of easily meeting and chatting with other people.
In the center of the Long Beach Arena was a constant focal point – the Barista Guild of America Café, which was a circular stand set up in the middle of the circular arena. With two baristas stationed at opposite “sides” of the circle with a three-head espresso machine and two espresso grinders – one for a decaf and one for a non-decaf – they were the people to see about always having coffee in-hand. Options were single-shot or double-shot espresso, single-shot or double-shot macchiato, or single-shot or double-shot cappuccino. With the intimate atmosphere, a naïf like me could easily chat with the barista to find out about the coffee and what the options were.
For someone who is not knowledgeable about coffee, I found it a great opportunity to speak with the baristas and learn a little about coffee. The Barista Guild of America Café was my first time having a single-shot espresso and, oh my, was it bitter! But I drank it. Then, I decided to try the macchiato, which is an espresso with milk. For some reason, it was just too much to drink, so I decided that, despite the intense bitterness of the espresso shots, they were more easily drinkable than the macchiato (and I certainly wasn’t going to try the cappuccinos). Oh, and as my wife pointed out, “It’s funny that there’s not a sweetener in sight,” so the coffee that was served was the way it was to be consumed.
In addition to decaf coffee, the Barista Guild of America Café offered two different coffees at any one given time, which was rotated out about every couple of hours. I started off with Kenya Kiandi AA of Augies (located in Redlands, Riverside & Claremont, CA), which I found to be nice and earthy and, of course, bitter (the tasting notes said “Cocoa//black cherry//balanced acidity”). Next up was Ethiopia Boke Natural from Temple Coffee Roasters (located in Sacramento, CA) – to my senses, I did not find it tremendously different than the first. The third single-shot espresso I tried at the Barista Guild of America Café was Finca El Recuerdo Nelly Hurtado producer’s line from Coffea Roasterie (located in Sioux Falls, ND), which I sensed had more of a cherry nose than the previous two and that it had more of a complex body than the first two and perhaps a bit more fruity (the tasting notes said “Mango. Papaya. Complex”). Finally, I had the Switchback Espresso from Coffeehound (located in Bloomington, IL), which I thought was lighter and fruitier than the earlier ones (the tasting notes said “Dark chocolate, berries, nougat”).
The coffee offered at the Barista Guild of America Café, however, was not the only coffee offered: at the US Brewers Cup competition, following the competitors’ descriptions of what they were brewing, the coffees were offered u[ for attendees to taste. Amongst them, I had two: Portland Roasting Granja La Esperanza (Colombia Pacamara Honey), which I found to be smooth, calm, and enjoyable; and Irving Farm El Jigual Colombia, which was also enjoyable, as well.
Also going on was a US Cup Tasters Championship, wherein different people competed to discern which coffees tasted similar or dissimilar to other similar coffees, which provided some further entertainment. Noticeably, the main stage where the US Barista Championship would be taking place for the following days of the event was being used to prepare the judges in the competition, and the judges for today’s US Latte Art Championship were also being prepared, further adding to the feeling of the potential for more activity taking place over the next few days.
I am excited to head back today to try more coffee, learn more about coffee, and to see how the US Barista Championship goes! The US Coffee Championships will be taking place at the Long Beach Arena today, tomorrow, and Sunday.