Leah Shinkle may very well be the best barista in Kansas.
In April, Shinkle was one of two Kansas baristas from PT’s Coffee Roasting Co. to compete in the U.S. Barista Championship in Atlanta. She didn’t win, but soon after arriving home in Kansas City she was promoted to head of training for PT’s employees at both the original Topeka café and the 2-year-old location at 310 Southwest Blvd. in the Crossroads Arts District.
“I was always fascinated by the culture and lifestyle of coffee,” the 26-year-old says. “Especially how it creates a space for people.”
Being the middle child among nine brothers and sisters who were all home-schooled led the burgeoning coffee aficionado to gain a great love and aptitude for social interaction. She feels this passion and skill led her to become so intrigued by coffee shop culture and customer service.
Shinkle’s coffee career started at 18, when she was hired as a barista at a Starbucks in her hometown of Topeka. She rose to the rank of supervisor in less than two months and stuck around for four years (with one year off for a stint of missionary work in the U.K. and Eastern Europe).
After two years working at PT’s in Topeka, Shinkle was tapped to train as an understudy for fellow employee Joel Bigelow, who planned to compete in the Kansas City qualifying round for the U.S. Barista Championship. This meant three hard months of tireless effort, which served Shinkle well when, on the last day before the competition, she was asked to join Bigelow at the February qualifiers.
Both Bigelow and Shinkle advanced to the nationals, and although neither made it past the first round, Shinkle was elated to compete against folks who had been going for years.
“It was a pretty big deal just to make it there,” she says.
Q: Favorite ingredient?
A: Fresh fruit.
Q: What is an ingredient you hate?
A: I’ve never really liked hazelnut.
Q: Could you describe your barista style in 10 words or less?
A: Coffee’s about people: Don’t forget that’s why you’re in it.
Q: When money and calories aren’t a concern, what do you splurge on?
A: Anything! I love food. Especially if you give me something weird.
Q: What is your favorite cheap meal on the fly?
A: Chick-fil-A. Either that or tacos.
Q: Best meal you’ve had this week?
A: I went out to Westport Café and Bar with some friends. I had some cod.
Q: Favorite dessert?
A: Grandma’s cherry pie.
Q: Go-to drink at the end of the day?
A: An Old-Fashioned.
Q: Favorite KC BBQ?
A: Terrible thing to say: I’ve never been. I need to change that and will.
Q: Dream vacation?
A: Some sort of backpacking through Europe.
Q: Which celebrity would you like to make coffee for?
A: Angelina Jolie. She seems like one of the coolest humans as an activist, a real fighter for people.
Q: Pizza: Hot and fresh, or cold the morning after?
A: Hot and fresh.
Q: What would you be doing if you weren’t a barista?
A: Writing music.