It was no surprise to everyone who personally knows Haley Noonan, Fort Bragg Army spouse, she was going to win the area-level Starbucks Barista Championship this year.
Although Noonan has only been a barista for the last year and four months, the burgeoning coffee aficionado’s tenacity and curiosity for learning the ins-and-outs of making a good cup of joe was what gave her the extra shot to advance through the levels before winning at the area level competition in Raleigh, North Carolina Nov. 1.
Noonan said when she first dabbled in the coffee world, she just knew that she liked coffee. But as time passed and her knowledge on the beverage expanded, she realized it was more than coffee she loved.
“I’m passionate about making drinks for people and helping people find out what kind of drink they like,” Noonan said. “When I first started at Starbucks, I could not steam milk. It was rough.”
Back when she was a fresh barista, she was unable to discriminate the flavors in coffees. But with time, she said her palate has expanded.
“I can actually taste the nuttiness; I can taste the caramels,” she said. “Especially in espressos, it really does have like a caramelly, just a very smooth rich flavor. It’s one of my favorites.”
Noonan credits all her skills and wisdom to her coworkers and mentors she’s encountered during her yearlong experience in the art of coffee making.
“They’ve definitely helped me in becoming the barista that I am today,” she said.
Noonan said her competition journey was no easy feat. The north post Exchange Starbucks barista said she only wanted to participate because she heard it would be a great learning opportunity. But slowly, she beat out competitors from the store level in February, advanced on to the district level in May and finally won the area-level championship early this month.
“I had some tough competition,” she said.
For the final round in Raleigh, Noonan was judged for 30 minutes on her routine, craft, customer connection, coffee leadership and latte art. Additionally, she had to craft six beverages and conduct a coffee tasting.
The six drinks she made were a cappuccino, a cold-foam blonde iced cappuccino, iced vanilla-bean coconut-milk macchiato, blonde flat white, a latte and a triple mocha ice, blended coffee drink. For the tasting, instead of doing one type of coffee, she went with her tried-and-true method of showcasing two different brews via french press.
“I chose to compare a full body coffee (espresso roast) to a medium body coffee (Casi Cielo),” she said. “I also paired food with the two coffees to bring out certain flavors. For the espresso roast, I made homemade brownies, which helped to bring out the rich caramel taste of the coffee. For the Casi Cielo, I paired fresh strawberries to bring out the citrus notes in the coffee.”
Along with her expertise in her craft as a barista, Noonan has an exceptional attitude as an employee, said Bill Shoffner, Fort Bragg Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) general manager.
“When we posted that (Noonan) had won on our Facebook page for the Exchange, the comments just kept coming,” Shoffner said. “It’s phenomenal because the customers (who) have interacted with Haley know she just brightens their day. When you go in there and it’s 7 o’clock in the morning and you haven’t had coffee yet, she just provides outstanding service.”
Shoffner added, Noonan’s duty is what the organization is all about and they are proud of her because one of AAFES’ core values is Family serving Families.
“She’s a military spouse and she provides outstanding service to the military Families,” he said. “She being a military spouse knows people coming in (to the store) and might be having a bad day, or a spouse deploying and what that means. It’s beneficial to us to be able to serve the Families when we have people who really understand the mission the military has.”
When Noonan’s manager notified Shoffner Noonan had won the area level barista championship, he said he wasn’t surprised.
“We knew she was gonna win,” he said.
Noonan’s favorite part about being a barista is connecting with peers who share similar passion and the people whom she meets at her job.
“I love interacting with people,” she said. “Especially on an Army base, you meet so many different people from so many different places.”
In 2019, Noonan will be splitting her time between her passion of serving coffee and other non-caffeinated treats to the Fort Bragg community and school. She’s recently been accepted into the nursing program at Fayetteville Technical Community College.
“I’m so excited about it, but I’m also passionate about coffee at the same time,” she said. “I’ve made a connection with my customers, so I’m going to continue working.”