Intelligentsia Success at Big Central Regional

This past weekend, the first regional for the US Barista Championship and Brewers Cup took place. Titled the Big Central, the event took place in Minneapolis in a boxing gym called Uppercut Gym. The event represents the regional for a total of sixteen states, split into the North Central and South Central, mean a total of four champions were announced – two for Barista, and two for Brewers.

We had four competitors make the long drive north on the I-94 from Chicago to Minneapolis, Jesse Raub, Brenna Kail, George Burnett and Halle Miroglotta. Each of these qualified to compete by placing first and second respectively in our Chicago in-house competition back in September. The Barista competition requires each competitor to make four espresso, four cappuccino and four signature beverages, in fifteen minutes. They can choose their own music, service wares and coffee – however the competition organizers mandate the choice of grinder and espresso machine. Competitors must display a deep knowledge of specialty coffee, often best achieved by choosing a theme or premise for the routine.

The Brewers Cup is a relatively new competition, first launched in 2011. Where the barista competition focuses solely on espresso-based drinks, the Brewers Cup aims to promote the many methods of manual brewing, and highlight the many techniques and approaches used by baristas today. The first round of the competition is called the compulsory round, and requires each competitor to prepare three individual brews of an unidentified coffee. They can use whatever method they like, and do so away from the judges. There is no performance.

George used Kalita wave brewers and has only been working in coffee for four months at our new Old Town coffeebar in Chicago. As a finalist, George was able to use his own coffee and prepare the coffee in front of the judges, and guide them through the process. His coffee of choice was Kurimi, Ethiopia Limited Release. Each brew was prepared individually, using a very slow circular pouring method, and keeping his brew bed low. He described the coffee’s wild origins, but controlled flavors – pointing to toasted almond and fruitcake on the nose, a sencha like mouthfeel, lime curd acidity and confectionary sweetness throughout. He had ten minutes to perform and finished comfortably in time.

Manager of our Monadnock coffeebar, this was Brenna’s second year competing. Her routine focused on the impact of timing in coffee, using our Tres Santos from Colombia. By detailing the need for choosing the right time to harvest at origin, how long to roast the coffee, how long to steam her milk, and how long the espresso extractions took – Brenna illustrated the many aspects in which time and timing affects so much in coffee. Brenna placed second, half a point behind the winner and now qualifies for the semi-finals in the National competition in Seattle this April.

Also attending the event were Julie Housh and Jordan Barber, our wholesale educators from LA and New York respectively. Julie attended in her role as vice chair of the Barista Guild of America, helping run the BGA cafe and helping prepare our competitors. Jordan, a two-time winner of the North East Brewers Cup himself, was there to help judge the Barista competition. If you want to learn more about the competition - check out the US Coffee Championships website -

Photography courtesy Charlie Burt for