For weeks now, one could peek through the windows of our Columbia City Training Lab and likely find Sam Schroeder bent intently over some coffee cocktail concoction. Usually, the Olympia Coffee co-founder—and winner of this year's U.S. Coffee in Good Spirits Competition—would be joined by his coach and teammate Reyna Callejo. A fellow U.S. Coffee Champs competitor, flavor master, and dauntless perfectionist, Reyna is the ideal co-conspirator. Especially when the challenge is that of winning the World Coffee in Good Spirits Championship.
Together, Sam and Reyna have spent these past weeks working through round after round of practice runs. They've spent hours in the pursuit of precision: tweaking recipes, dialing in the Ethiopia Keramo Anaerobic Natural that anchors two of his cocktails, and fighting to keep Sam's routine within the exceptionally tight 10-minute time frame. Sometimes others would gather at the Training Lab table, friends of Olympia Coffee and fellow staff standing in as judges. This band of friends and colleagues have helped shape Sam's coffee cocktail creations, offering careful feedback along with hugs and high-fives. And, in just a few short days, this team effort will culminate in one of the most significant achievements of Sam's career: representing the United States the world stage in Taiwan.
No pressure, really.
A kettle of dry ice and Sam's waffle cone fog batter. As one does.
The road to competition
For Sam, coffee competitions are nothing new. And neither is doing really, really well at them. Having emerged in 2015 as the Northwest Barista Champion, he placed 3rd and 6th respectively in the the 2015 and 2016 U.S. Barista Competitions. In 2019, he qualified for the U.S. Coffee in Good Spirits Championship, then had to defer competing during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. When he finally got to re-take the national stage this year, he blew the competition away, presenting beautifully balanced and impeccably-brewed coffee cocktails finished off with impossibly impressive garnishes (um, hello, an aromatic fog bubble?!). Being crowned the best coffee mixologist in the United States is a momentous accomplishment, and Sam could have stopped there. But no, he's off to Worlds. And his goal is to win.
What to expect at Worlds
In Taiwan, Sam and Reyna will have just a little time to visit some notable distillers, super-fine-tune Sam's recipes, and get some practice in. Then, from Saturday the 18th through Sunday the 20th, it's competition time. Starting with the preliminary round, consisting of two portions: "Spirit Bar" and the Stage Presentation.
For Spirit Bar, Sam will be offered a surprise selection of spirits from which he'll need to craft two impromptu coffee cocktails, Chopped-style. His Stage Presentation will be somewhat more predictable, where he'll craft the menu of coffee creations he's worked so hard to perfect. The rules stipulate that he needs to present four designer coffee cocktails—two hot, two cold—over two tight, 10-minute rounds. He'll also need to master his new environment in a frighteningly short amount of time, dialing in familiar coffees on unfamiliar equipment. On entirely the other side of the world, to boot.
Cheer on Sam with us!
Over the course of the week, Sam and Reyna will be posting updates from Taiwan on our social media. So stay tuned for posts and live feeds from Worlds, and be sure to leave a comment showing Sam your support.
And, if you want to brew along with Sam, grab a bag of our Keramo Anaerobic Natural from star producer Kenean Dukamo in Ethiopia! It's a coffee so good, it's already won the hearts of all our staff. And hey—it might just help win a competition.