Kaldi’s Coffee’s best put talents to test

Former MU student Steve Schuh took second place at barista competition.
Stephen Schuh brews a cup of Latte on Thursday, May 26, at Kaldis Coffee. Schuh won second place in the South Central Regional Barista Championship this year.

For many people, coffee is just part of a morning routine and being a barista is just another job. However, that is not the case for Steve Schuh, who took his passion for coffee to a different level.

Schuh, a former MU student and head barista of the Kaldi’s Coffee branch in Columbia, competed in the South Central Regional Barista Competition and finished in second place. Afterward, he took his talents to the United States Barista Championship, all in his inaugural year of competition. Schuh said his interest in competing started when he volunteered at the championships last year.

”Kaldi’s picked a few people to represent (the company), and I was fortunate enough to be one of those people,” he said. “I kind of asked if I could give it a shot and it happened.”

Such a competition takes on a very unique set of criteria for the baristas. Contestants have to serve 12 drinks in 15 minutes while providing commentary about each drink. The main element that judges look for in each set of drinks is synergy.

Schuh said the taste is only half the battle in competition. The flavor of the coffee must also be used to bring out a unique beverage.

“The coffee that I used (came) from Brazil and had a creamy, caramel and chocolate nuttiness,” Schuh said. “I used coconut milk because it is delicate and creamy just like my coffee, but there is no coconut flavor in my coffee.”

The preparation for picking the coffee and making the drinks was a long process. Nicole Call, general manager of the original Kaldi’s Coffee in Clayton and fellow competitor, said there were a lot of choices in terms of coffee.

“We got together and tasted coffees and figured out which ones we wanted to use,” she said. “There were three of us competing from Kaldi’s for the last four to six months and we were helping each other out with practices, run-throughs, tasting each other’s coffee and giving pointers.”

Joseph Marrocco, the third and final competitor for Kaldi’s, is the veteran of the group. He has competed for three years and won the South Central Regional Barista Competition this year. Despite the tremendous amount of experience, Marrocco said there are still obstacles to overcome in competition.

“Only one person can win, so that one person has overcome the most challenges and that’s why they are on top,” Marrocco said in an email.

Marrocco also said there is value to the challenges themselves.

“Every year, there are several stories of overcoming challenges and challenges that kept someone from overcoming, and this happened to be a year that I was still not a strong enough to competitor to overcome the obstacles,” he said. “The challenges are what keep it fun and interesting.”

The trio joins a handful of fellow baristas who see coffee as more than just a drink. For them, coffee is a passion.

”A lot of people don’t see coffee the way we do, and it’s good to promote coffee to where it should be in the culinary world,” Schuh said.

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