Meet the U.S. Regional Champs: SW Barista Competition—Charles Babinski

1496329_10151851693613016_1009694369_o

In the days leading up to the United States Barista Championship and the U.S. Brewer’s Cup, we at Barista Magazine are proud to share with you exclusive interviews with the six regional champions in each competition. We will feature the Southwestern Barista and Brewer’s Cup Champions; the Northwestern Barista and Brewers Cup Champions; the Southeast Barista and Brewers Cup Champions; the Northeastern Barista and Brewer’s Cup Champions; the South Central Barista and Brewers Cup Champions; and the North Central Regional Barista and Brewer’s Cup Champions on Tuesday. And stay tuned right here on Barista Magazine’s blog all next week for more of our preview coverage of all the exciting events and parties happening in Seattle in conjunction with the SCAA, and reports and photos of all the action every day through the end of this epic week in coffee.

Charles Babinski
Cofounder
G&B Coffee and Go Get Em Tiger
Los Angeles, California

When did you first get into coffee?

I started working in coffee shops in 2004. I worked at a coffee shop on the Upper East Side of New York.

Charles is no stranger to the finals round of the United States Barista Championship. This photo was taken at the 2010 USBC finals announcement, when Charles' close friend and roommate, Michael Phillips, was named the winner.

Charles is no stranger to the finals round of the United States Barista Championship. This photo was taken at the 2010 USBC finals announcement, when Charles’ close friend and roommate, Michael Phillips, was named the winner.

What was your first amazing experience with coffee?

It is hard to pin down one experience, since it was more of a natural progression. It is not as if there was a revelatory moment when I was exposed to the true gospel of specialty coffee (“This coffee tastes like blueberries!”). It was more a realization over time of how much value and how many lovely experiences I’ve gleaned from time in coffee. The amazing experiences came later. They are the ones that I would never have been able to have without the knowledge, experience, and perspective that the years working in coffee have given me.

Charles is one of several prominent L.A. baristas featured in the upcoming coffee documentary, Drip.

Charles is one of several prominent L.A. baristas featured in the upcoming coffee documentary, Drip.

Barista competition history?

2008 Great Lakes Regional Barista Competition. I’ve also competed in 2010, 2012, 2013 at regional and national levels.

Last year you made history by competing in EVERY U.S. competition at the SCAA! Why do you feel that competitions are good educational opportunities for baristas?

I just enjoy competition and last year it was a great opportunity to try new things and just keep myself busy. Those convention centers are terrible places to be trapped inside one’s nerve-wracked brain. Staying busy is good. Overall, these barista competitions’ main value is in teaching people skills, giving perspective and the like. That’s certainly the most transferable to the actual work of serving customers in actual coffee shops. A “pro” competition vibe is a natural offshoot of these things, but it’s important to keep perspective on helping people make better coffee and understand coffee service better. Hopefully someone who competes in the barista competition for the first time learns things about baseline industry expectations of espresso quality and service. Same thing for the Brewer’s Cup. Not just “this is how I score more points” but “this is how I can make my shop better.”

Charles helps his friend, Norwegian Barista Champ Rasmus, stay calm before Rasmus takes the stage at the 2012 World Barista Championship in Vienna.

Charles helps his friend, Norwegian Barista Champ Rasmus, stay calm before Rasmus takes the stage at the 2012 World Barista Championship in Vienna.

What do you think of the fact that the SCAA now offers an official Latte Art Championship?

I think it is rad. Hopefully, it will help us expand our aesthetics from beyond the heart/tulip/rosetta stuff that abounds. I think of what someone like Nicely [Christopher Nicely Abel Alameda] is doing and that’s next level. Latte art is certainly overvalued by folks just starting out, but it gets short shrift from veterans sometimes, too.

The top three at this year's Southwest Regional Barista Competition, from left to right: Frank, Charles, and Eden.

The top three at this year’s Southwest Regional Barista Competition, from left to right: Frank, Charles, and Eden.

In last year’s Southwest Regional, you placed second and Eden won; and this year it was reversed—I know you guys are great friends. Can you tell me about your mutual respect?

Eden is the best! It is inspiring to be around people who are driven and focused and still incredibly nice people. It was great working with her at Intelli and it is great to compete alongside her.

How’s G&B going?

Both G&B and Go Get Em Tiger have been great! Business is brisk and getting brisker but the best thing has been working with the amazing crew of folks here. The level of dedication and professionalism is beyond anything that I have ever been a part of.  We are always working in new ideas or aspects of service. This week at Go Get Em Tiger we launched a great food menu. All of this is new stresses and new challenges but that is a large part of the joy of having a business. I’ve long since given up on waiting for things to settle down.

The company that Charles and friend Kyle Glanville own, G&B Coffee (they also own Go Get Em Tiger) have made waves in foodie circles across the country. They've been written up in almost every prominent food magazine in the country.

The company that Charles and friend Kyle Glanville own, G&B Coffee (they also own Go Get Em Tiger) have made waves in foodie circles across the country. They’ve been written up in almost every prominent food magazine in the country.

What can people expect from your USBC performance? Same coffee? Lots of dancing?

We shall see. You never know until the final week or so exactly what it will look like, but I am starting off by tweaking the regionals performance and going from there. Realistically, with two shops and an upcoming residency for Kyle and I at the Paramount Coffee Project in Sydney, there is not going to be a whole lot of time for practice. I do my best to make the barista comp routines extensions of real coffee service, so hopefully that will help.

Tell me how you feel about winning the Ecuador trip from Cafe Imports — it’s such a super special prize.

I can’t wait. I’ve heard amazing things and I know this will be a very cool experience.

 

About the Author

Sarah

Sarah Allen is co-founder and editor of Barista Magazine, the international trade magazine for coffee professionals. A passionate advocate for baristas, quality, and the coffee community, Sarah has traveled widely to research stories, interact with readers, and present on a variety of topics affecting specialty coffee. She also loves animals, swimming, ice cream, and living in Portland, Oregon.