Palace Coffee Shares What it Takes to be America’s Best Coffeehouse

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Recent controversy around the cancelations of regional barista competitions by the SCAA has led to lively online discussion concerning the future of coffee competitions. Many voices are calling for a competition that features teamwork, audience interaction, and realtime judging. In many ways, coffee professionals want a competition more like America’s Best Coffeehouse, a competition put on by one of our sponsors, CoffeeFest. In addition to having one of the largest prize packages in competitive coffee sports, we think this competition has the highest correlation to a barista’s actual job: serving real people coffee in a café setting. We recently had the opportunity to interview Patrick Burns, owner and founder of a previous winner of the competition, Palace Coffee in Amarillo and Canyon, Texas. 

Whether it’s USBC or latte art, you and your staff are seasoned competitors. What inspired you to compete in the ABC competition? What’s unique about this competition?
ABC offers something that you don’t get in most barista competitions, teamwork. As a barista you rely on your fellow coffee professionals to create an environment for your customers and to make it a memorable experience. We wanted to put our style of service and coffee against other great shops to see how we stack up.
There are many unique aspects to ABC. The most noticeable is being behind an active bar. This makes it as realistic as a competition can be. You are getting to serve true coffee people and are wanting to win them over with your quality, ability, and hospitality. It’s great because you can be true to who you are as a shop compared to just trying to rack up points on a judges score sheet. There is that aspect as well but it is more true to what will help you improve as a shop.

What did you learn? Did it change anything at Palace Coffee or confirm what you were already doing?
Personally I learned that it is better to trust your team and step aside sometimes.
The feedback we got from the judges is great. We did change up some and put in better practices when it comes to efficiency and closing down.

Photo from http://www.coffeelovershq.com/

Photo by http://www.coffeeloversmag.com

ABC is unique with its three-person team format. What was the experience like for your team?
The team format is great. We work most barshifts with a team mindset and not just a position concept. We were able to help each other with our areas while we were taking care of the customers coming through the line. Our crew loved it.

What was the biggest challenge? Why do you think your team was able to win?
Understanding the scoresheets and focusing on the what would be most beneficial was a challenge. Also the set up and tear down is unbelievably stressful.
 
At Palace we want coffee to be approachable, light, and fun. We took that concept in with us to ABC and together that with some killer coffee we where able to pull it off.

Whether it’s the material cost or the long hours of preparation, competing can be a big sacrifice. Was it worth it?

Going to competitions is one of the most important expenses we invest in as a company. It helps you become a better barista, team, and all around coffee professional. The camaraderie with your team and honestly the other shops and judges is what makes it well worth it.

What advice do you have for other teams considering doing this competition?

I need to be careful here because let’s be honest, we want to repeat as ABC Champs. Know who you are going into the comp and be the best version of yourself. Study the scoresheets and work busy shifts with your team to get ready. Have a gameplan and execute.

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