On the latest episode of the Coffee Sprudgecast, guest host and photo journalist Elizabeth Chai reports live from the 2023 United States Barista Championship! Chai had an opportunity to interview competitors Frank La (he/him) of Be Bright Coffee in Los Angeles, California and Gray Kauffman (they/them) of Caffe Vita in Seattle, Washington. Each competitor brought their own unique set of skills to the stage and Chai finds out how they brought it, what they brewed with, and what makes them tick. It’s a fabulous episode and we’re thrilled to finally share it with the world!

This episode of the Coffee Sprudgecast is sponsored by MoccamasterPacific Barista Series, and Ghirardelli.

In case you missed it, check out the routines of Gray Kauffman and Frank La as reported by Zac Cadwalader, with photos by Liz Chai:

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Gray Kaufmann (Photo by Liz Chai for Sprudge)

“What if we could freeze the moments from when coffee inspired us?” Kauffman starts of their routine. “Stop and smell the terroir.” The vibe of this routine is relaxed and inviting, pulling the listener in even closer. This is thanks in part to the soundtrack, composed by Kate Van Petten, using sounds from the farm the coffee was grown on and created specifically for this routine. We are in a happy place.

Starting off with the espresso course, Kauffman’s anaerobically fermented, natural processed Sidra variety from Nariño, Colombia has flavor notes of cocoa nib, blackberry, and red grape, with a creamy body. Roasted on an air roaster, their coffee was frozen ten days off roast, where Kauffman states is when it is at peak flavor.

We love a good milk blend, and that’s what Kauffman has for us today. A 50% fractionally frozen milk combined in a 1:1 ratio with four-day aged milk for flavors of milk chocolate, yellow cake batter, and vanilla. Stirred five times in a circular motion. Precise stirring instruction for the milk course is most definitely a thing now.

Chilled Sidra espresso, blood orange juice, herbal honey syrup made of Pu’er tea (grown at the same MASL as the Sidra) sous vide alongside honey and egg white, all get nitro-flushed and poured into stemware that has been spritzed with hibiscus water for Kauffman’s signature beverage, giving their drink flavors of concord grape, ripe strawberry, and grapefruit.


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Frank La (Photo by Liz Chai for Sprudge)

Frank La tells the judges the last time he competed was in 2014! We’ve seen quite a few competitors return to the stage after taking some time off, but La wins the award for longest time away.

The coffee La is using today he roasted himself. A Gesha variety, the anaerobic fermented coffee was produced 2050MASL on Finca Juan Martin in Cauca, Colombia, and as an espresso, it has notes of blood orange, tart cherry, orange blossom, and cacao nibs. Mixed with freeze-distilled and evaporated milk, the flavors of the Finca Juan Martin Gesha transform into cashew milk, cardamom, cheesecake, and strawberry pocky.

La’s soundtrack has been very Radiohead forward, but no Everything In Its Right Place, which, y’know, seems appropriate for a comp.*

Turning now to the signature beverage, La combines hyper chilled espresso, a five-day lacto-fermented strawberry juice, toasted coconut simple syrup, and clarified Gesha floral milk punch, finished off with an oleo saccharum spritz for flavors of lemon lime soda and peach yogurt.

* Everything In Its Right Place was added to La’s finals performance on April 23, 2023.

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