Brewing up a champion

Matt Foster, originally of Manistee, competed in the U.S. Coffee In Good Spirits Championship March 15-17 in Kansas City, Missouri. He won first place. (Isbell Creative/U.S. Coffee Championships/Courtesy photo)

Manistee alumnus wins U.S. Coffee In Good Spirits Championship

MANISTEE — Matt Foster has liked coffee since he was little, according to his mom, Vicki Foster, of Eastlake.

You could also say he has a competitive nature, having participated in soccer, track, Boy Scouts — obtaining rank of Eagle Scout — and band while attending Manistee Area Public Schools.

When the MHS graduate started working for Kaldi’s Coffee Roasting Co. in St. Louis, Missouri, eight years ago he discovered the U.S. Coffee Championships.

“I’ve always liked testing myself and the opportunity to go up against other people who are doing the same thing I am, just seeing where my skills might stack up against the others that are rightly considered the best in the country,” he said. “I wanted that opportunity just to be able to grow as a professional and as a person.”

Foster worked at the Salt City Café, which was located in the Briny Building, while attending West Shore Community College. When he transferred to Western Michigan University, he worked at Water Street Coffee Joint in Kalamazoo.

After graduating from Western, he spent three years in Korea teaching English and upon his return to the U.S., moved to St. Louis.

“The Coffee Championships, it’s a nation and worldwide tournament structure,” said Foster. “These competitions have been happening here in the States since (2002), they’ve been around a long time and they’re extremely competitive, for us at least.”

The U.S. Coffee Championships were held March 15 to 17 in Kansas City, and Foster competed in the

During one round in the U.S. Coffee In Good Spirits Championship in Kansas City, Matt Foster was tasked with making a cold cocktail and a hot cocktail. (Isbell Creative/U.S. Coffee Championships/Courtesy photo)

U.S. Coffee In Good Spirits Championship, winning first place.

“Whenever we try to talk about these competitions to our friends and family — it definitely is a very niche thing — the idea that there is a barista competition,” said Foster. “In our world, in our industry, these competitions are something of a pinnacle in our line of work because we have people coming from all over bringing some of the best coffees in the entire world.”

The U.S. Coffee Championships begins with prelims, usually from about August to October with six to eight events around the country. The events allow contestants to sign up and “get a taste for what coffee and what barista competitions are about,” said Foster.

The top three winners from those events are secured a spot in the regional or qualifying competitions, of which there are two in the country. This year, one was in Denver in December and one was in Nashville in January. Foster went to Nashville. Other than the winners of the prelims, these events are open registration.

“The top competitors, the top six or 12, then move on to the national competition,” said Foster. “Then the individual champions, like the United States Barista Champion they will then go on to compete against other national champions, like from Australia, Germany, England, China, Korea, everywhere really – there’s 65 different countries. They’ll go on and compete at the world championship, which this year is actually in Boston.”

For the Coffee In Good Spirits Championships, Foster had 10 minutes to serve two judges each a hot cocktail and a cold cocktail.

“I had to incorporate espresso into one, and I had to incorporate freshly brewed coffee into the other. They both had to use whiskey. The sponsoring spirit was Redemption Rye Whiskey, so I had to use that,” he said.

That was the first round; in the final round six contestants had to make a traditional Irish coffee.

Matt Foster works on his cocktails during the U.S. Coffee In Good Spirits Championship March 15-17 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Isbell Creative/U.S. Coffee Championships/Courtesy photo)

“Just coffee, sugar, any type of whiskey that we wanted, we did not have to use the Redemption Rye in the finals, and fresh whipped cream layered on top. No one would have won with Baileys, that’s not Irish coffee,” Foster said.

Foster’s parents, Larry and Vicki, were able to watch the competition streaming on the internet. Larry recalled the moment when the winner was announced.

“They brought out the six finalists and started with number six. They just kept not calling his name, so it was exciting to have it get down to the final two and then call the other guy’s name. Seeing him win that, was very moving,” he said. “We’re very proud of him and we’ve always known that he could accomplish whatever he sets his mind to.”

Foster said that normally the Coffee In Good Spirits Champion would move on to the World Coffee in Good Spirits Championship in Berlin, Germany, however, this is the first time this competition has been held in the United States.

“They announced before anyone even signed up for the competition this year, whoever won the championship this year would not be sent to the world stage, because they just didn’t feel that anyone would be ready for it,” said Foster.

This was not Foster’s first time competing at the U.S. Coffee Championships; he has competed in the U.S. Brewers Cup Championship three other times.

Competitors in the U.S. Coffee In Good Spirits Championship had 10 minutes to make a hot and cold cocktail in the first round. (Isbell Creative/U.S. Coffee Championships/Courtesy photo)

He said preparing for the U.S. Coffee Championships takes a lot of hard work.

“Putting together a routine is an insane amount of work because you have to source your own wares, your own ingredients,” Foster said. “We all work in coffee, so we’re still working our normal jobs.”

After spending a full day of work as the director of whole-sale training for Kaldi’s, he often would spend three to five hours practicing his routine, writing his speech and working on his recipe.

“For us at least, it is a really large thing. All of the past Barista Champions, the barista competition is definitely like the center stage competition, most of them have gone on to open their own coffee companies or coffee consulting companies – it’s pretty crazy,” he said.

“I was fortunate, since I’m a barista, that I just had a casual passion to learn all this. But I have several friends down here who are professional bartenders and mixologists so they were able to give me a lot of feedback and direction, so that was very fortunate.”

Matthew Foster (third from left), Kaldi’s Coffee Roasting Co., won first place in the U.S. Coffee In Good Spirits Championship in Kansas City. He is pictured with the other top finalists (in no particular order) Samuel Schroeder, Olympia Coffee; Brodie Lewis, Madcap Coffee Company; Nathaneal Mehrens, Stay Golden; Joel Cronenberg, Provision Coffee; and Dakota Graff, Onyx Coffee Lab. (Isbell Creative/U.S. Coffee Championships/Courtesy photo)


Posted by Michelle Graves

Michelle is the managing editor of the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach her at (231) 398-3106 or

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