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U.S. Coffee Championships, Here We Come!

Posted by Lori Bailey on

Welcome to Specialty Coffee Week! This Friday through Sunday, April 21–23, the U.S. division of the Specialty Coffee Association is holding its annual Expo in Portland, Oregon. It's an incredible opportunity to spend precious time with old friends and new, to learn from others in our industry with knowledge and wisdom to share, and to push the limits of what coffee—and those who brew it—are capable of.

The latter is the arena of the U.S. Coffee Championships. And, at this high-profile level of competition, we are proud to be cheering on four fabulous folks from Olympia Coffee. Four! Here's who to watch for as the lights go up on USCC.

Reyna prepping for the U.S. Barista Competition

Reyna: U.S. Barista Championship

This is Reyna Callejo's third go at the Barista Competition, and our fearless Training & Innovation Director is taking everything she's learned thus far and channeling it into a no-holds-barred attempt on the national stage. Like a skilled wrangler, she's lassoed a high-spirited coffee in our Gatta Anaerobic and tamed it (if only just) to yield a zingy espresso with vibrant tropical-fruit acidity and sweetness. This she's serving three ways: straight-up, with milk, and in a complex crafted concoction that begs for a better word than "mocktail" to describe it.

Reyna's spent hours upon hours practicing and perfecting everything from her recipes to her run-throughs, tailoring and tuning every last detail to impress the persnickety judges of the USBC. And, even after hundreds of practice runs, she's still finding ways to push herself to improve. "I just need to suffer," she conceded. "If I don't suffer a little, I don't learn." A tongue-in-cheek statement, but not without truth. The good news: her trials are nearly over, and she'll have lots of non-competition-related fun to look forward to over the weekend.

Jake prepping for the Cup Tasters Championship at the Olympia Coffee Cupping Lab

Jake: Cup Tasters Championship

Whereas the U.S. Barista Championship goes big with multiple espresso interpretations over a sprawling 15 minutes, the Cup Tasters Championship is all about nuance—and speed. But for Jake, a roaster and green coffee buyer here at Olympia Coffee, the draw wasn't in the fast-paced, understated glory. "It seemed like something I'd have fun doing," he said, sampling the day's fresh roasts in our Cupping Lab in downtown Olympia. Over his years as a coffee professional, Jake's traveled the world and sampled thousands upon thousands of cups. So for him, prep looks pretty much like... doing his normal job. Which, granted, entails a deep knowledge of coffee's origins, varietals, roasting techniques, and flavor profiles. All of which he brings to the cupping table, both at work and in competition.

The Cup Tasters Qualifier had Jake tasting three different coffees in an intensified game of "one of these things is not like the other," using sensory perception to identify a cup that had been compromised in some way. Competitors are up against the clock to see who can achieve maximum accuracy in the minimum amount of time. Jake nabbed 4th in the qualifiers, getting all his cups correct within mere seconds of the other top scorers. For the championship, he'll face more rounds, more cups, and higher stakes. Yet, at the end of it all, he's there to have a good time doing what he loves—and seeing lots of old friends from across the industry while he's at it. "That's what I'm most excited about," he shared, cupping spoon in hand and a smile on his face.

Sam Schroeder practicing at the Olympia Coffee Training Lab

Sam: Coffee in Good Spirits Championship

As one might expect from a co-founder of Olympia Coffee, Sam Schroeder gets excited about intriguing, electrifying coffees. Less expected, but also awesome? He's a supreme mixologist. These two passions converge in Coffee in Good Spirits, a competition that combines coffee and cocktails into a buzzy, boozy fête of flavor.

For Sam, the U.S. Coffee in Good Spirits Championship is a continuation of the 2020 season. He won in the qualifying round; then, thanks to a little thing called COVID, the championship didn't happen. He deferred in 2022, so this year finally gets to witness him take the stage in a long-awaited finale.

"In 2020, I built a routine around a dynamic Kenyan Coffee: high acidity, pleasant bitterness and high sweetness," said Sam. All things that can characterize a great coffee—and, as it so happens, a knockout cocktail. So, going into this year's competition, he and fellow co-founder Oliver worked together to source a coffee with those specific characteristics. And, with the help of our friends at Royal Coffee, they landed a lot that delivered on all counts. "I couldn’t be happier with the Ichamama AA," said Sam. "It’s bright and citrus forward... it has some pleasant bitter notes like hops and grapefruit, with lots of caramel-like sweetness to balance it out."

He'll brew our Ichamama AA on espresso and pour over, crafting both a hot and a cold signature cocktail to persuade the judges' palates. And, if all goes to plan, he'll take home more than just closure after a long, extended competition season.

Honor judging our Industry Throwdown at Columbia City

Honor: Barista Competition Head Judge

Let's not forget: competing is but one part of what makes a competition (though a massive, brain-numbingly stressful, and wildly vulnerable part, to be fair). On the other side of every competitor is a sharp-sensed judge, clipboard in hand and every nerve ending on high alert to pick up even the subtlest details. It takes undivided focus, a punctilious palate, and unparalleled discernment. And Honor Forte, our Wholesale Director, is up to the task.

Honor has been a judge for the Barista Competition since 2014. In 2019 he became a Head Judge and USBC Committee member, roles he's inhabited ever since. Sounds impressive, if a little scary. But just consider that he's been a certified Olympia Coffee rock star for the past eleven years, and it begins to make sense how he's amassed so much experience and expertise. He is a beloved trainer for many of our wholesale partners, and every project and partnership he touches is better off for his honest, helpful feedback and constructive critique. All to say that we're honored (no pun intended) to have him on our team. And to any competitors who get him as a judge? Just know you're getting one of the best in the business.

Join us for SCA Week!

Whether you're here in the Pacific Northwest or following from afar, we're excited to have you with us for the ride! Follow along on social media (IG: @olympiacoffee / Tiktok: for more on our day-to-day schedule and updates from the Specialty Coffee Expo and U.S. Coffee Championships. Catch you in Portland!

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