We first heard of Sam at the Specialty Coffee Association's 2019 Expo in Boston. Prior to this international coffee tradeshow, Sam competed and was named the US Barista Champion at the national competition in Kansas City, Missouri! Each competitor must make it through local and regional preliminaries and qualifiers, and after two major rounds of those competitions, these 36 top contenders compete for the national title of US Barista Champion.
At SCA this year, each country's national barista champion — including Sam, who was representing the United States — competes for the title of World Barista Champion. As a coffee-obsessed company, we were awed at the presentation, technical details, intricacies, and sheer hard work that these baristas exuded. Needless to say, our appreciation for the craft, and those vying for this national title, skyrocketed.
In the days following SCA and after seeing her in action during the World Championship, we learned that she is a Seattle-local and our neighbor. Curious about her story, we asked if she would join us for a coffee. After a few moments of conversation, we learned that she had been a MiiR Flagship-goer and brand advocate for years. Sam went to college around the corner from our office and cafe, so the MiiR Flagship was a favorite spot for her.
As we were gearing up to launch the Pourigami™, we were eager to learn Sam's feedback and thought she would be the best possible person to test our flat-pack pour over dripper. Her immediate feedback was encouraging, and the Pourigami™ soon became her on-the-go pour over system.
Earlier this week, the MiiR team went down to Dillanos Roastery where Sam leads their training program (she, in the meantime, also trains for competitions out of Dillanos' space). After a tour of their remarkable facility, we sat down to quiz Sam on her pour over recipe (stay tuned!) and ask her some questions. Today, we invite you to learn more about Sam's journey from coffee shop busser to a national coffee champion. Enjoy!
MiiR | Tell us your story! How did you get into coffee?
Sam | My first coffee experience was when I was 12 years old. I remember my mom, grandma, sister, and myself drinking instant coffee: one part coffee, one part creamer. It was then I told my mom that I wanted to be a barista. My first paid position as a coffee professional was at a small, homie cafe in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. At the time, I didn't really know anything about coffee but fell in love with it because of its ability to bring people together and create community. Before I was of any use behind the bar, I helped the cafe bus tables and keep the space inviting. Before long, they decided to teach me a thing or two about the craft of specialty coffee; that's when I knew I had a serious interest and appreciation for coffee.
M | And then you moved to Seattle.
S | When moving here to attend Seattle Pacific University, my one goal was to find a coffee job... so that’s exactly what I did. I started working for a little roastery and met Laila Ghambari (who is the US Barista Champion 2014, and at the time, was the head trainer at this roastery). Meeting Laila and being trained by her changed my perspective on coffee and my trajectory as a coffee professional. It was then that my top goal was to become the US Barista Champion.
M | How does one become a National Barista Champion? What is the process, and what does the series of competitions look like?
S | What is the competition? That’s a big question. It’s sleepless nights, exhausted taste buds, and a level of nervousness that will make you sick. With that said, it is one of the most amazing experiences. As a barista competitor, you are expected to choose a coffee(s) and present it to seven judges. You have fifteen minutes to serve four espressos, four milk beverages, and four signature beverages (which are beverages that are synergistic with your coffee and what you communicate). The US Barista Championship showcases 36 competitors that competed and qualified at a qualifying competition.
M | What is your favorite coffee drink to make (if it's not a pour over)?
S | My favorite drink to make is an espresso. The reason I love making espressos is because I believe the variables are the hardest to control as a brew method. I love the challenge of brewing an espresso.
M | You've been playing around with the Pourigami™ for some time now — tell us more about your impression of the product.
S | The Pourigami™ is wonderful! Despite my complete nerdiness as a coffee professional, I look for practicality in devices. The Pourigami™ is absolutely practical. You can take it anywhere... and brew it anywhere!
M | What are your passions outside coffee?
S | Anything dealing with adrenaline. My husband, Brian, and I spend our summers mountain biking in the northwest.