In the days leading up to the United States Barista Championship and the U.S. Brewer’s Cup, we at Barista Magazine are proud to share with you exclusive interviews with the six regional champions in each competition. We will feature the Southwestern Barista and Brewer’s Cup Champions; the Northwestern Barista and Brewers Cup Champions; the Southeast Barista and Brewers Cup Champions; the Northeastern Barista and Brewer’s Cup Champions; the South Central Barista and Brewers Cup Champions; and the North Central Regional Barista and Brewer’s Cup Champions on Tuesday. And stay tuned right here on Barista Magazine’s blog all next week for more of our preview coverage of all the exciting events and parties happening in Seattle in conjunction with the SCAA, and reports and photos of all the action every day through the end of this epic week in coffee.
Barista, Retail Manager, Senior Coffee Educator
When did you first get into coffee?
I’ve been drinking coffee my entire life. My mom used to wake me up with a bottle of cafe con leche as far as my memory begins. My very first coffee job was at Volta in Gainesville—truly quality drinks coming out of there!
What was your first amazing experience with coffee?
It seems as if each moment of growth is exquisite and exciting, each one reminding me of how beautiful and dynamic this industry is. Perhaps the most amazing experience was when [Panther Coffee owners] Leticia and Joel took me to Huila, Colombia. I had a very romantic idea of what the coffee business at origin would be like. The purpose of the trip was to visit the producer of the coffee I was using for competition at the time; we flew from Bogotá to Neiva, drove for hours and finally ended with dinner. We then learned that the producer had actually just sold the farm and we wouldn’t be able to visit. It was a sobering moment, as it showed me the realities of the business decisions that take place at the production level. We visited multiple producers during that trip and I was overwhelmed with happiness to be able to smell the lovely scent of coffee flowers and taste the sweet and tart coffee fruit. Truly amazing experience in many respects.
What was your first barista competition, and how many have you competed in since then?
My first barista competition was the SERBC of 2012. I have since then competed in the USBC 2012, SERBC & USBC 2013, and most recently the Big Eastern 2014.
What’s the coffee scene like in Miami?
Miami’s coffee scene is rich with history and fervor. Many Miamians have roots in coffee producing countries, and have either been on coffee farms or have close relatives that have ties to coffee production. They are extremely passionate about their traditional methods of coffee preparation which, to our benefit, often translates to general excitement about coffee. Miami is a cultural liaison between the United States and Latin America, so it’s no surprise that its coffee scene is so dynamic. Miami has embraced the specialty coffee scene with open arms, and we’re elated.
How did you train for the regional, and how are you preparing for the USBC?
Life doesn’t stop for competition, so I have to start extra early and commit to some serious discipline in the weeks that precede the event. Nothing can replace practice, getting as much feedback as possible, then practicing until I notice significant change, and then practicing even more until it comes with ease. A lot of mornings starting at 3 a.m. and many nights end early so that I can maintain my health and—for the sake of my coworkers—my mood, haha. I live by this Bobby Knight quote: “Most people have the will to win, few have the will to prepare to win.”
Can you tell us about the coffee you used in the regional?
The coffee I used in the regional was from Kailash Coffee Mountain, grown at 1,500-1,750 masl in Nueva Segovia, part of northern Nicaragua, bordering Honduras. It is incredibly elegant and complex, much of which can be attributed to the virgin soils that the coffee is grown in. Maximo Ramos purchased the land in 2011, which had been previously abandoned. He is wholeheartedly committed to maintaining the pristine ecological balance that exists on the land, which is an excellent catalyst for the commitment to quality the succeeding sequence of processing, roasting, and preparation that Kailash follows. Kailash has an an excellent balance between acidity and sweetness, with flavor notes of candied orange, sparkling lychee juice, and a lingering jasmine finish. It has a silky mouthfeel, and medium roundness. It’s hard not to love this coffee as it brews beautifully and lends itself to a very balanced espresso.
What did you learn from your experience at the USBC in Boston last year that you brought to this year’s regional?
I think the concept behind the performance last year was interesting but it was a very risky presentation, and I definitely didn’t practice enough to be totally comfortable troubleshooting errors that might happen on stage. And then every single thing that could go wrong, did. So this year, I removed everything that was superfluous and gave myself room for unexpected things to happen. I’d say the main difference between this and last year is that last year, everyone could tell when things went wrong, and this year, I tried my best to not show any stress when the unexpected occurred and just worked around it.
What do you do when you’re not doing coffee?
When I’m not doing coffee: I’m spending time with my dog, Red, catching up with friends over drinks, or pursuing running and yoga. I love to sail with my family on the weekends or soak up the sun with a good book at the beach. I try to catch the KenKen puzzles at least once a week, usually at my obligatory Sunday brunch.
Tell me how you feel about winning the Ecuador trip from Cafe Imports — it’s such a super special prize.
I’m absolutely thrilled about winning the trip to Ecuador. I’m looking forward to learning about things that are unique to coffee production in Ecuador, as well as having the opportunity to travel with some of the baristas that I look up to in the industry. It’s incredibly exciting and I’m honored be a part of it!