Local coffee brewer wins national title
Onyx’s Siemens 19th at world event
BENTONVILLE — Patrons of Onyx Coffee Lab who are lucky enough to have their coffee crafted by Dylan Siemens drink a cup brewed by one of the world’s best brewers, literally.
Siemens became the U.S. Brewers Cup Champion at the three-day U.S. Coffee Championships in Seattle in April, which gave him the opportunity to represent the United States at the World Brewers Cup Championship in June in Budapest, Hungary.
There he placed 19th out of 41 brewers from around the globe in the competition based on manual brewing. Contestants used ratios, water temperatures and technique to control the flavor of the cup they were brewing.
Onyx’s national award and international participation affirms the region’s growing culinary scene and the role of coffee in it, culinary professionals said.
The competition was all about innovation and stretching and bending brewing practices and rules, said Andrea Allen, co-owner of Onyx.
“It’s a lot like poetry,” she said. “They say you have to know the rules before you can break them. Competition
is all about breaking out of what you normally think about what coffee service and coffee itself looks like.”
The competition was an opportunity for Siemens to learn how other cultures brew and approach coffee, he said, explaining U.S. coffee drinkers brew coffee stronger than most countries where it’s brewed “a little lighter and more delicate.”
“I learned being on a world stage and what world-caliber coffee brewing is like. It’s a very unique experience,” he said. “I also learned that what we’re doing in Northwest Arkansas is up to that caliber. It was affirmation.”
Several online coffee-focused publications covering the national competition mentioned Siemens’ success placed Arkansas on the map for coffee lovers.
Northwest Arkansas is relatively small population-wise in comparison to other nearby cities such as Tulsa and Oklahoma City or Kansas City and Dallas, said Glenn Mack, executive director of Brightwater: A Center for the Study of Food.
Brightwater is Northwest Arkansas Community College’s culinary program and is an anchor tenant of 8th Street Market within Bentonville’s Market District in the southeast downtown area.
“When we [Northwest Arkansas culinary professionals] start winning awards on a national and [compete on] an international level, people do sit up and take notice,” he said. “We are very proud of our own. I think there is a regional intentionality to continue to improve the culinary offerings. We encourage and support each other to go on to greater heights.”
Awards and high-level competition give exposure to everyone from the coffee farmers to Onyx as a business to the area as a whole, Siemens said.
“It just brings awareness that there are things happening in areas that you might not expect like Bentonville,” he said. “It brings people in, and it gives validity even though we might not be on the coast.”
Siemens, 24, was born in Colorado but has lived in Northwest Arkansas since he was 10. He’s seen the cultural and culinary emergence take place in the region, especially over the past five years since he started working as a barista at Onyx when it only had one location in Springdale back in 2012.
“The more I travel around and go to the coasts and experience food and coffee and just beverage culture then I come home and I realize all those same things are happening here and growing exponentially,” Siemens said.
The growth of the culinary scene has been phenomenal and something Onyx is excited to be a part of, he said.
The coffee lab now has three locations — on Sunset Avenue in Springdale, on Gregg Avenue in Fayetteville, in Midtown Center in Bentonville — and a fourth is coming to East Walnut Street in Rogers, according to the company’s website. The business also has a wholesale retail side as well.
Coffee has an interesting role in the growing culinary scene because it’s not often considered to be a high form of culinary art, Allen said. She explained often times restaurants can put so much thought and intentionality into the preparation and presentation of the meal and that the coffee can just be an after-thought.
“So in that way I feel like coffee has to really compete to be on the culinary scene,” she said. “What we try to do here to try to help our costumers think about coffee in a more culinary way is to have a lot of really fun seasonal menus that feature coffee in a bunch of different forms.”
Two examples on the current menu include a cascara dark and stormy and a cascara lemonade, both of which use cascara, the dried cherries that comes from the coffee plant.
“We’re using coffee in those drinks, but it’s not the way people think about coffee,” she said. “In that way, I think we’re bringing some fun, innovation to the area.”
Mack said he would love to see Onyx continue to teach the area the “beauties of drinking fine coffee” and train more professional coffee roasters and baristas.
Siemens’ accomplishments can also serve as inspiration to Brightwater students and what they can aspire to do, he said.
Siemens served as a barista his first year and a half at Onyx before he was offered a full-time position as the company’s head of training. He’s been in charge of training all the baristas as well those in other coffee shops where Onyx is offered for the past 2½ years.
So even Onyx patrons whose cup is brewed by another barista, can be assured their barista was trained by one of the world’s best brewers.
Dylan Siemens (left), head of training and quality control with Onyx Coffee Lab, works with barista Danielle Gutierrez June 28 in the pouring station at Onyx Coffee Lab in Bentonville. Siemens is one of the company’s first employees and recently returned from a world competition in Budapest.