Manta Coffey of Presta Coffee Roasters (Photo by Torey Hayden)

Local barista, Manta Coffey, to compete for ‘U.S. Barista Champ’

April 17, 2023
By Torey Hayden
By Torey Hayden

"This is my future."

Tucson continues put itself more and more on the map with people like Don Guerra of Barrio Bread winning a James Beard Award for “Outstanding Baker” and the New York Times mentioning Tucson in its list of top 52 places to visit in 2023. But we have more news to add to that list. 

Manta Coffey, yes, Coffey, will be heading to Nationals to compete for the title of “U.S. Barista Champion” at the Specialty Coffee Association Expo held in Portland, Oregon on Friday, April 21 – Sunday, April 23. 

Coffey is a well-loved barista at Presta Coffee Roasters who competed for the first time ever in barista preliminaries which were held here in Tucson in August of 2022. There, he placed second and advanced to compete in the west coast qualifiers in Denver last month where he was then invited to nationals. 

When talking to Coffey, he expressed how wild it is that he’s getting this opportunity. He never expected to make it to Nationals and was doing it solely for the experience of it all. 

“I didn’t realize how much of a community there is in coffee. I’ve met so many people and new friends in the coffee world, “ Coffey explains, “I didn’t know that this was such a strong passion of mine until competing, but it’s made me more interested in life. This is my future.” 

Manta Coffey & Blair Smith of Presta Coffee Roasters (Photo by Torey Hayden)

Coffey’s story is pretty cool. Obviously, he has the perfect last name to be in the coffee world, but it was when his brother introduced him to specialty coffee that made him completely open his eyes. He became a barista because of his last name and love for coffee. While he loved being a barista in Florida, he didn’t get the level of education and understanding about the coffee he has received since being a barista for Presta. 

“At Presta, they make sure you’ve received an elevated level of training, not only on the bar but about the coffees being served,” said Coffey. “I love what I do. I love the familiar faces that walk through the door. The customers and I immediately have something in common when they walk through the door — a love of coffee. Working at Presta feels like home. We all build each other up and I feel so supported.”  

Coffey has chosen to use a rare varietal called Ja’adi with a score of over 90+ which is meticulously processed using the anaerobic slow dry method. Mokhtar Alkanshali, owner of a top-tier farm in Yemen called Alkanshali Estates, also featured in David Egger’s New York Times Best Seller “The Monk of Mokha,” was pleasantly surprised at the unique profile captured in this late harvest lot.

Normally, with late harvests, the sugars in the coffee cherries didn’t have as much time to develop as the main harvests, but we are finding incredible sweetness that reminds us of bubblegum, cotton candy, pineapple, rose, and raspberry. Coffey had the opportunity to talk to Mokhtar on the phone about the coffee he will be using in the competition. 

Coffey expressed, “It’s easy to forget where our coffee comes from. Yemen has coffee traditions that go back 400 years. I’m excited to be the guy that gets to showcase a beautiful coffee and tell this farmer’s story. So much hard work has gone into making it taste exceptional.” 

Blair Smith, Presta Coffee’s general manager and roaster, has been working behind the scenes to help Coffey prepare for Nationals as his coach. She herself has competed at this level and understands the competition world. Smith also roasted the coffee that will be used at the competition. 

Blair Smith of Presta Coffee Roasters (Photo by Torey Hayden)

Coffey has dreams of one day opening up a coffee shop with his brother in Florida and is excited to head to Nationals. No matter where Coffey places, this story reminds us to chase our passions and do things that push us out of our comfort zones. Coffey never imagined he would be in this position when he said yes to competing in preliminaries. Now he’ll be competing against the top baristas all over the United States. 

“I don’t care what place I get, but you better bet I am going to full send.”

Manta Coffey, you’re a winner in our hearts always. Tucson is lucky to have you. 

If you’re interested in watching Coffey compete, you can watch the live stream on on Friday, April 21 – Sunday, April 23.

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Torey Hayden is a Tucson native that loves the small-town feel the city brings. While she never moved away like many locals do, she loves to travel and explore. She graduated from the U of A in 2007 and pursued...

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