US Barista Champion Samantha Spillman: The Sprudge Interview

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Samantha Spillman of Dillanos Coffee Roasters is your 2019 United States Barista Champion. Spillman lives in Seattle, Washington and works as a barista trainer at Dillanos Coffee Roasters based out of Sumner. First competing in 2014 at the Big Western Barista Competition, Spillman represented Ladro Coffee Roasters, and had been trained by 2014 US Barista Champion Laila Ghambari. “Meeting Laila and being trained by her inspired and challenged me to dig deeper into coffee,” Spillman told us.

This was the fourth season Spillman returned the competition stage. At the Nashville Qualifiers in January, Spillman ranked second. Over the weekend, Spillman ranked first in the semi-finals round in Kansas City with a jaw-dropping 652 points. She is the only finals competitor to clear 600 points with a 618 final score.

We talked to Spillman to learn more about her competition coffee (the Sprudgie Award Honoree and Finalist La Palma Y El Tucan), her inspiration for the incredible orchid fog, and thoughts on competing on the world stage in April.

We spoke with Spillman digitally from Seattle, Washington.

You’ve been a trainer at Dillanos for a little over two years. Tell us about your coffee history.

My first barista job was at a little cafe in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho (Java on Sherman) when I was 17. I think what I loved most about coffee in the beginning was the community surrounding it; I liked be where other people were.

At 18 I moved to Seattle for college. I immediately sought a job in the coffee industry. I got a job (at Ladro Roasting) and my head trainer just happened to be Laila Ghambari.

Meeting Laila and being trained by her inspired and challenged me to dig deeper into coffee. When Laila accepted a position at Cherry Street Coffee House, she invited me over to help build a training program. At this time, Cherry Street was using Dillanos Coffee. It was here where we established a relationship starting with competition. Two years later I had graduated college and fallen in love with Dillanos’ ethos, they offered me a position as their lead education specialist. And two more years later, that brings us to today.

Spillman competing in 2014 at the Big Western Barista Competition (SprudgeLive file photo)

Tell us about the coffee you used!

I used a natural lactic Gesha from the La Palma y El Tucan estate… grown at 1700 meters in the Cundiamarca region of Colombia. I had the opportunity to visit the farm and cup a multitude of coffees that were truly extraordinary. The natural lactic Gesha was one that I kept going back to, and that’s when I realized this was the one that I wanted to share with the judges. On day of competition it was showcasing flavors of peaches, raspberries, and pomegranates, with a jasmine aroma.

Tell us about your signature drink.

My goal with my signature beverage was to not only recreate the experience I had in Colombia, but to showcase and highlight the flavors and aromas we experienced on the cupping table. In order to do that I used ingredients that consisted of a passionfruit sipping vinegar, which I created using a sous vide. I took passionfruit juice, sugar, coconut vinegar and put them in a sous vide at 148 degrees for six hours. This created cohesion between the ingredients. The second ingredient I used was a lychee-infused soda water. And lastly, I added an orchid aromatic fog to recreate the aroma of the coffee that gets lost when the beverage is chilled. The beverage tasted like green apple, watermelon, and grapefruit, with white blossom aromatics.

An orchid fog! How did you come up with this beautiful component?

Honestly, my husband Brian helped me come up with this idea. Reminiscing over the experience I had had in Colombia at La Palma y El Tucan, I kept going back to the aromas that I will never forget from that experience. We did a little research on how to create an orchid perfume, and the next day we transformed it into a fog, which ended up tying the whole drink together.

Did you know that 2019 was going to be your year?

I had no idea! Every year I go into competition with a winners mentality… I am one of the most competitive people you will meet. I can’t even play a “friendly” game of Scrabble. But I definitely did not expect it to become a reality, I hoped but definitely didn’t know, especially competing against such talented coffee professionals.

Many competitors have a team of support—did you have a person or team helping you this season?

Yes, and honestly, none of this would have been possible without them. First and foremost, my husband Brian. Sharing the same passion, he helped every step of the way. Phil Beattie who roasted my coffee exceptionally. My friend and coach Kyle Ramage, who has been a tremendous help in transforming my ideas into something that would score well. Lastly, everyone at Dillanos who watched run through after run through… after run through.

You have a few short weeks before Boston. How are you preparing?

Work harder, focus more, and elevate my routine to be ready for a world stage.

Do you have a song that gets you in the zone?

YES. Humble by Kendrick Lamar.

Any words of advice for 2020 competitors?

If I could give any advice to competitors, count on sleepless nights, a lot of failures, but by utilizing the community and resources that surround you, ANYTHING is possible.

Thanks so much, we’ll see you in Boston!!

Photos by Charlie Burt for Sprudge.

SprudgeLive’s coverage of the 2019 US Coffee Champs is made possible by Joe Glo and Mahlkönig. All of SprudgeLive’s 2019 competition coverage is made possible by Acaia, Baratza, Faema, Cafe Imports, and Wilbur Curtis.

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