Dive into Seattle's coffee culture with US Barista Champ, Sam Spillman

Yes, Seattle is the home turf of Starbucks, but there is a whole world of craft roasters and independent coffee chains that help us fuel our day. Here to shed light on that world and share her unbelievable story of becoming the 2019 United States Barista Champ, we bring you Sam Spillman!  Sam is the Director of Coffee and Café Experience at Caffe Vita, one of our favorite spots that still does its roasting daily in Capitol Hill.

Sam Spillman Caffe Vita, United States Barista Champion

How long have you lived in Seattle? What do you love about it?

I have lived in Seattle for 9 years. What I love about Seattle, first and foremost, is the coffee culture in this city. You can find a café on every block that serves high quality coffee. Also, Seattle is the birthplace of the café concept. Secondly, I LOVE the outdoors. By living in Seattle, I can go mountain biking during the day, and watch the sunset on the beach by night.

Sam behind the coffee counter

How long have you been a barista for? How did you discover your passion for coffee?

I have been a barista for 10 years. My first barista job was in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho at a cafe called Java on Sherman. When I moved to Seattle for school, I started working for a local roasting company as a barista and received actual barista training. It was here that I realized that I wanted to chase a career in coffee.

Sam at the United States Barista Championship

How did you decide to enter the USBC and how much time went into preparing for it?

I competed in the United States Barista Championship (USBC) when my first trainer encouraged me to do so in 2014. Her name was Laila Ghambari and she won the 2014 USBC. The year I won, I put in four months of 40/week preparation, totaling up to somewhere around of 640 hours (at least). This was in addition to my fulltime job that I was working at the time.

When preparing a barista routine, every move you make needs to be dialed in, while preparing high quality beverages. Espresso is really challenging to make consistent. While being judged on the consistency and quality of your beverages, it is important that you do everything the same every single time.

“I want to bring people into the coffee experience and invite them into the story that coffee provides”

Sam at Caffe Vita

What is unique about Caffe Vita and your approach to coffee?

As of this past January, Caffe Vita was bought out by Deming Maclise, a local restaurateur, who had a passion for coffee expressed through his Caffe Fiore brand. I chose to work with Caffe Vita specifically, because of the ownership and their desire to make good coffee approachable. I want to bring people into the coffee experience and invite them into the story that coffee provides, Vita’s focus is exactly that.

What do you think people should know about Seattle’s coffee scene?

Seattle’s coffee culture is very unique. Given that the café concept originated in Seattle, you find a lot of cafes that are stuck in very old habits (super dark roast and limited taste profiles). What I love most about Seattle’s coffee culture is that you can get a classic coffee experience through a café like Vivace or you can get a more progressive experience through a café like Caffe Vita. What I’m trying to say is that there is coffee for everyone, no matter what their preference is.

Sam tasting coffee

How has COVID impacted you personally and Caffe Vitta?

COVID has had a huge effect on myself and Caffe Vita. When our whole goal is to invite people in and share an experience with them, it is really hard to do that with the restrictions of COVID. One positive that has come out of COVID, is that we have been forced to navigate how to create an experience and stay connected in the midst of keeping socially distanced. For me, I have learned to utilize platforms, like Zoom, to stay connected and continue to share experiences.


Sam will be leading a LIVE Coffee Brewing and Tasting Class on January 19th as part of our Holiday Gift Box. Don’t miss this unique opportunity to learn the art of coffee with the best of the best! 

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