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My First Experience Competing at CoffeeChamps

February 21, 2017

| By Savannah Phillips |

I’ve been trying to compete at CoffeeChamps ever since I became a Level II Certified Barista. For those of you who know me, working in the coffee industry is one of my biggest passions in life, so being able to compete to not only represent Cafe Virtuoso and what we stand for by procuring only certified organic coffees, as well as being a woman in the industry, makes me extremely proud. One thing or another has kept me from competing the last few years, from not having the time to prepare, to missing the registration deadline. This year, however, I was able to make it to the competition and was extremely excited that I did!


For those of you not familiar with CoffeeChamps, it’s a series of qualifying events that lead to the national championship. There are various competitions including the Brewers Cup Championship, Roaster Championship, Cup Tasters Championship, Latte Art Throwdown and the Barista Championship, the competition in which I competed.

Since my time in the competition is now finished, I thought it would be cathartic for me to write about my experience and to share with all of you out there who are curious about the process and how this type of competition actually works.

There are two qualifier events for the barista competition (this year was in Austin, TX and Knoxville, TN) to compete for a spot in the national competition. I ended up participating in the Austin, TX qualifier that took place last week.

Each competitor is given 10 minutes to make a single shot of espresso as well as an espresso-dominant signature drink for each of the four judges sitting directly in front of them. It is important to note that the judges go through peer calibration several times before the event to ensure consistency. Meanwhile, there are two other technical judges watching every move the competitors make, from workflow to tamp level, and every other aspect of their preparation methods. The only criteria for this signature beverage is that you cannot use alcohol and competitors must employ “synergy” when creating the beverage. Very vague if you ask me.


Competitors must be able to explain clearly the flavor components in their espresso, using accurate flavor descriptors. Additionally, competitors must give an explanation of why he/she chose the specific ingredients for the signature beverage, the amount of each ingredient used, why they chose that method of preparation, and why they are serving it at that specific temperature. All of this must be strung together in an order that is cohesive and that contains an underlying story/theme. The more competitors know about the coffee and producer the better.

When it was my turn, I started out pretty well, but where I made a fatal error was not timing my practice set-up. I ended up spending way too much time on that and when it came time to make my espresso shots, I didn’t give myself enough time to dial them in so they were not extracted properly. Also, I was nicked for my workflow when I set down a tray and ultimately moved it back because it had equipment I needed on it to finish my signature drink.


After that first experience competing, I know now what to do next time. Despite my mistakes, I still managed to place 22nd out of 60. The top 18 make it to nationals, so I was pretty close. Next year I plan to compete again and hopefully will be moving on to nationals as well. If you’re curious to see the full video of me competing, you can check it out below.



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Savannah Phillips

Quality Control
A Level-Two Certified Barista, native Northwesterner turned So-Cal girl, Savannah is also addicted to yoga, hiking, meditation and long drives up Coast Highway 101. She doesn’t remember ever not loving coffee. Even as a child, when most other kids typically hate the taste, it was something she craved, which looking back, was unquestionably an early prediction of a career devoted to specialty coffee.

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