Coffee Fest Atlanta 2015: Best Coffee Shop Competition

Gratuitous espresso shots.

Gratuitous espresso shots.

Last month, I had the pleasure of covering the 2015 Southeastern Regional Coffee Fest, which took place in Atlanta. The Coffee Fest is a trade show and coffee education opportunity held in four different regions each year—upcoming ones for 2015 will be held in Tokyo, Chicago, and Portland.

I’m writing a post on my favorite products from the Coffee Fest soon, but there’s no question that the flashiest part of the Fest is the barista competitions.


I am no stranger to latte art and best espresso competitions, and I’ll be writing posts about those particular match-ups in the coming weeks here at the Gourmez. But I wanted to start out my Coffee Fest Atlanta coverage with the newest barista contest, one that only got its start in 2012: America’s Best Coffeehouse.


Judging the drinks.

Judging the drinks.

What takes place at the regional coffee fests are only the last stage in a multi-pronged competition that begins with an application to compete and moves on to fan voting on the Best Coffeehouse website and secret shopper reports from the actual coffeehouse locations. From those scores, six semi-finalists are chosen to compete at the event itself.

The winners of the America's Best Coffeehouse Competition.

The winners of the America’s Best Coffeehouse Competition.

They all share the same basic set-up behind the counter, but other than that, the teams bring in their own materials. They get an hour total of prep, customer service time, and clean-up. Each semi-finalist team is comprised of three employees who have worked at the shop for at least 120 days. Each coffeehouse must offer standard espresso drinks, two coffee varieties, a flavored latte, and a specialty drink during their competition round.

Peregrine Espresso's pourover set-up.

Peregrine Espresso’s pourover set-up.

Semi-finalists are judged on their expertise on coffee, their skill at drink making, their customer service, and their teamwork by at least 30 judges who mingle in with the Coffee Fest attendees during the café’s 30-minute period of serving drinks.

Ready to judge!

Ready to judge!

A pair of judges also watches from behind the scenes and rates the competitors on an impressively detailed checklist. You can peruse that here.

The top three teams do it all again during the final round on the last day of the festival.

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Sipping Stones, TOPO Eight Oak Carolina Whiskey, and the Strawberry Glades 

I’m doing two reviews in one today! My friends over at TOPO Distillery have debuted their organic Eight Oak Whiskey, and they were kind enough to send me a bottle for review. This fortuitous gift also provided me with the perfect opportunity to test out a set of Sipping Stones, soapstone cubes designed to provide a slight chill for drinks on the rocks that you don’t want to dilute. And yes, I also received them free to review (obligatory disclaimer alerts!).


Why not try them together, I thought. So I did. I made sure the Sipping Stones were chilled for a good day, as the instructions suggest, and then set to tasting.


Now, those stones are an obvious conversation piece on their own, providing a lovely, eye-pleasing addition to any chilled beverage. So is TOPO’s Eight Oak bottle that comes with a piece of whiskey-soaked wood at the bottom—and yes, you should suck that wood for all it’s worth when you reach the end.


But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with the savoring, not the gluttonous sucking, yes? I’ve come to expect quality from TOPO Distillery, which is based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. They make spirits with sophisticated character including their unique vodka, a clear liquor that is often utterly forgettable but smooth and pleasantly sweet in this case, and their subdued Piedmont Gin, one of the few gins I genuinely enjoy in a cocktail. Eight Oak is aged in eight distinctly different oak barrels during its maturation process. Each barrel has its own profile of toasting and charring, and one of them also involves vanilla chips.  2/20 Correction: Oops! I got that process wrong. Esteban McMahan, TOPO’s Spirit Guide, informs me of what it really is: 

The Eight Oak refers to the eight combinations of three oaks (one American and two French oaks) and toasts that we use (one has a high vanillin content). We’re using techniques that have been used in the wine industry for over 100 years and it enables us to get a flavor that is simply unattainable using a single American oak barrel.

Thanks, Esteban, for clarifying that for me! And now back to the review…

The color is a beautiful peach-amber with a golden horizon.

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Snappy’s Cafe


Snappy’s Café is a prime example of what I consider a cozy neighborhood coffee shop. Local art rotates on a regular basis. It’s quite small, with seating for roughly 15 people that consists of tables, two bars, and mismatched, cushion-covered benches. There are a few outlets available, and wireless is free. I’ve only seen it busy during the afterschool crowd in the late afternoon.

Of course, the counter full of turtle collectibles and fridge topped with stuffed turtles adds an adorable amount of whimsy.


I don’t know how they fit in musicians, but Snappy’s Café also hosts music nights a few times a month including sing-alongs! The only drawback in atmosphere is that it can get quite stuffy in summer heat.

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