Ryan Soeder, a retail educator for Intelligentsia Coffee in Chicago, has won the 2015 North Central Regional Barista Competition title. He’ll move on to compete (with a first-round bye) at the 2015 United States Barista Championship this coming February in Long Beach, California, and his win also earns him a place on the 2015 Cafe Imports origin trip to Colombia.

This is the first regional win for Ryan Soeder, a first-time USBC barista competitor originally from Louisville, Kentucky who has served previously as both a technical and sensory judge for barista competitions in the United States. Mr. Soeder’s lack of history as a barista competitor belies his deep knowledge of the game; a self-described “competition nerd,” Mr. Soeder has competed in many latte art competitions, and he told Sprudge that being an Intelligentsia barista competitor has “been a goal of mine for years.”

Big Central Ryan Soeder Intelligentsia Coffee Chicago 45

His is the first regional win of the season for our partners at Intelligentsia, a perennial competition powerhouse that boasts the most overall USBC wins (four) of any American coffee company. Mr. Soeder will be joined in the semi-finals at USBC by his colleague Eden-Marie Abramowicz, who placed second in the Western Regional competition a few weeks ago in Palm Springs.

Big Central Ryan Soeder Intelligentsia Coffee Chicago 007

This routine was structured around a gamble, in which Mr. Soeder spent exactly half of his 15 allotted minutes on stage building a deceptively simple signature drink comprised of honey, lemon, blackberry, and Ethiopian espresso. Soeder told Sprudge of his signature drink, “I wanted to highlight the flavors that I love about my coffee–not mirroring, but complementing them.” A quick infusion of a single blackberry, one twist of lemon, boiling water and around 25 grams of honey was placed in the bottom of a tall flute shot glass, to which Soeder added sparkling water and espresso. Judges were asked to take sips from the resulting foam, before incorporating the entire drink into a waiting tea bowl.

Big Central Ryan Soeder Intelligentsia Coffee Chicago 054

Mr. Soeder competed at this event with a coffee from the Homecho Waeno cooperative in Sidama, Ethiopia, marked as “Kurimi” in its listing via Intelligentsia’s webstore. As espresso this coffee had notes of “honey, lemon, blackberry,” Mr. Soeder told his judging panel, echoing the signature drink Mr. Soeder constructed to begin his routine. Those espresso shots came with a tactile sensation he described as “light, crisp, and puckering.”

“This has been what I am for the last few months,” Mr. Soeder told Sprudge the day after his victory. “Part of training to do this means learning to be the kind of person who has the stamina to go in after work and put in another 6 hours in the lab. I didn’t have that when I started, but that’s what so cool about my team at Intelligentsia–they didn’t burn me to the ground, but they wouldn’t let me sit on the couch.” Indeed throughout our interview with Mr. Soeder, he repeatedly emphasized his victory as a “team win” for Intelligentsia.

“People talk about this all the time, and I always thought it was BS, but I’m a different kind of person after having done this,” said Soeder. “I’ve never ticked off a box this big professionally. I feel like I have to look around and figure out some new goals, because I’m here–and it’s great–and obviously the next one is USBC.”

Big Central Ryan Soeder Intelligentsia Coffee Chicago 001

The 2015 United States Barista Championship begins February 9th, 2015 in Long Beach, California.

Sprudge’s coverage of the 2015 Big Central Barista Competition is sponsored by Square, Wilbur Curtis Company, and Cafe Imports. Much more from #BigCentral can be found over at SprudgeLive.com, our global coffee competition hub.

All photos by Zachary Carlsen for Sprudge.com.