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Former Rindge resident wins U.S. Barista Championships

  • Katie Carguilo used what she described as the champagne of coffee to win the 2012 United States barista championship in Portland, Ore., in April. Carguilo, a native of Rindge, works for Counter Culture Coffee in New York City and placed 17th in the world competition in June.

    Katie Carguilo used what she described as the champagne of coffee to win the 2012 United States barista championship in Portland, Ore., in April. Carguilo, a native of Rindge, works for Counter Culture Coffee in New York City and placed 17th in the world competition in June.

  • Katie Carguilo used what she described as the champagne of coffee to win the 2012 United States barista championship in Portland, OR in April. Carguilo, a native of Rindge, works for Counter Culture Coffee in New York City and placed 17th in the world competition in June.

    Katie Carguilo used what she described as the champagne of coffee to win the 2012 United States barista championship in Portland, OR in April. Carguilo, a native of Rindge, works for Counter Culture Coffee in New York City and placed 17th in the world competition in June.

  • Katie Carguilo used what she described as the champagne of coffee to win the 2012 United States barista championship in Portland, Ore., in April. Carguilo, a native of Rindge, works for Counter Culture Coffee in New York City and placed 17th in the world competition in June.
  • Katie Carguilo used what she described as the champagne of coffee to win the 2012 United States barista championship in Portland, OR in April. Carguilo, a native of Rindge, works for Counter Culture Coffee in New York City and placed 17th in the world competition in June.

When Katie Carguilo was in college, she did something that most students do: She got a part-time job.

She was really interested in coffee so Carguilo found a small coffee shop while going to George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

It was a great way to make some money while studying anthropology, but she never knew her time at Murky Coffee would lead her to a career as a barista.

“You need a part-time job and you want to be in a field you like,” said Carguilo. “The idea of learning how to make coffee really interested me.”

Fast forward 11 years and Carguilo, a 29-year-old former Rindge resident whose parents still live in the area, is considered the top barista in the U.S.

The journey to becoming the best of the best began in February for Carguilo. She competed in the Northeast regional in New York City and came away with the top prize and an all expenses paid trip to Portland, Ore., for the United States Barista Championships.

Carguilo, who has spent the last five and a half years in New York working as a trainer and account manager for Counter Culture Coffee, had competed at the national event six years before, but had grown so much as a barista in that time. In 2006, she finished in the middle of the pack and knew she had a long way to go before she could contend for the title of top barista.

“My competition at that point was vastly inferior to what my competition is now,” said Carguilo. “I didn’t want to go unless I had a real shot at winning.”

When Carguilo arrived in Oregon for the U.S. Championships in April as one of the six regional champions, she had spent the previous two months perfecting her routine. Each competitor is charged with making three different drinks: an espresso, cappuccino and a signature beverage-in 15 minutes, while also making a presentation to the four judges.

“It’s not just about going into a room and making a good cup of coffee,” she said.

The signature drink must contain espresso and can have no alcohol. The rest is up to the discretion of the barista.

“It’s like an Iron Chef challenge when you have an ingredient and you can do whatever you want with it,” said Carguilo.

So Carguilo began with coffee beans from Ethiopia. It is the only place in the world that coffee grows indigenously, and with a mixture of fruit flavors, sugar, green tea, sparkling water and a few other ingredients, Carguilo created what she calls the ‘champagne of coffee.’

And she wasn’t the only one who thought of it that way. Carguilo’s presentation of the three drinks and taste was enough to wow the judges who named her the U.S. champion.

“It was crazy and surreal,” said Carguilo.

Two months later, Carguilo traveled to Vienna, Austria, for the World Championships. In the opening round, where all 54 national champions compete, Carguilo finished 17th. Only the top 12 advance to the semifinals round with the top six facing off for the title of best in the world, which was won by Guatemala’s Raul Rodas this year.

“It’s sort of like the Olympics for coffee,” said Carguilo. “It was definitely a neat experience. Everyone in that room is a champion.”

The World Barista Championships began in 2000 with 12 countries competing. Carguilo first competed in a U.S. regional competition in 2005, taking second in the Southeast. The following year, she went to the nationals and then competed in a few regional competitions over the years before finally returning to the U.S. Championships in April.

“The thing that really changed it for me was my participation in my first barista competition,” she said. “It became for me something I wanted to do as a career. Ever since then I’ve been on this path.”

After graduating from George Washington University, she stayed at Murky Coffee for a year. But then the job opportunity at Counter Culture Coffee, which distributes coffee, came up and gave her the career move she needed.

Since moving to New York City, Carguilo has done just about everything within the coffee industry. She has between 60 and 70 accounts in neighborhoods all over the city. She trains coffee shop owners and managers on the best way to pour a cup of coffee and also teaches classes at the Counter Culture New York training center, one of nine on the East Coast.

“We want to work with people that want to be experts in making coffee,” said Carguilo.

And even though her life revolves around coffee, Carguilo doesn’t over consume. She never drinks it past 5 p.m. and much like a wine taster, Carguilo won’t drink it during her training sessions.

“I drink less coffee than you’d think,” said Carguilo. “One of my least favorite feelings is being over-caffeinated.”

When Carguilo was in college, she figured by now she would have finished grad school and be a published author. But she much prefers her life right now. Carguilo loves what she does and judging by her results in the top barista challenges in the world, she is not the only one.

Tim Goodwin can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 243 or tgoodwin@ledgertranscript.com. He’s on Twitter at @TimGoodwinMLT.

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