I am delighted to announce the USBC Origins Project, an initiative to identify and celebrate the growers behind the coffees that will be featured in the 2016 US Barista Championships in Atlanta in April.
Like many of you, I suspect, I closely followed the Sprudge Live coverage of the U.S. Barista Championship Qualifying Event in Kansas City earlier this month, toggling back and forth between the live stream of the event and the Twitter stream from celebrity coffee scribe Jordan Michelman.
What did I like about the coverage? What wasn’t to like? In addition to carefully covering the narrative arc of each of the routines, nailing the flavor notes and making arch judgments about the musical tastes of the competitors, Jordan somehow managed to work Christopher Walken, Star Wars and Matt Damon’s Will Hunting into the coverage. He gave some love to two mainstays of my childhood: REM and Golden Grahams. He poked fun at Riverside, CA, Eden Prairie, MN and Greek yogurt. He used lots of cute cow emojis. He even invented a new country, Rwandi! What more could a guy want, right?
Well, if I am being totally honest, I guess I found myself occasionally wanting a bit more about the origins of the coffees themselves and the people who grew them.
It’s not Jordan’s fault, of course. One guy covering one hundred 10-minute routines by himself can only do so much, right? He was relentless and managed to consistently inform and entertain over four long days of competition coverage, and he often managed to include lots of info on growers and coffees. In one Tweet, he dropped the name of the grower’s family, the process, the variety and the country of origin in less than 90 characters. That was pretty amazing—the Twitter equivalent of Jeremy Sterner calling time on a winning routine in just 8:32.
More to the point, detailed coffee bios for all the competition coffees are not always readily available. Which is a shame, because it is a big deal for growers to have their coffees selected for competitions. A really big deal. One of the growers we work with in Nariño contributed his coffee to a community lot that was used in last year’s regionals. When we brought him together with others in his community to watch the live stream of the routine, he said it felt like the first validation he had in more than 40 years growing coffee. That’s powerful. And no small source of encouragement and motivation.
Besides, baristas are very intentional about the coffees they choose for competitions. I have been impressed by how carefully baristas select their competition coffees and how thoughtfully they develop the routines through which they present those coffees. Baristas always talk about the coffee they are serving, which means the story of the coffee and the people behind it are important to the routines. But there isn’t always additional information available for folks like me who want it. Which is why I am committing to the USBC Origins Project.
Between now and April, I will work to assemble detailed information on the competition coffees selected by each of the competitors (hopefully with the generous support and collaboration of the baristas themselves and others who had a hand in creating the extraordinary coffees they will serve: roasters, importers, exporters and, of course, the growers themselves). For every day of the competition, I will publish here a little dossier on each of the competition coffees in the order in which the baristas will present them, so that the growers who worked so hard to produce them will get the visibility and recognition they deserve. So that viewers like me who want more information can find it easily. And so that Jordan doesn’t have to work so hard to find coffee bios while he is trying to cover all the other aspects of the baristas’ routines.