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.
San Dimas, California
When did you first get into coffee?
In 2001, I got a barista job at Starbucks. I thought coffee shops were cool and fun places to hang out. Starbucks was growing rapidly and I was hanging out there so much that I figured I might as well work there, too.
What was your first amazing experience with coffee?
My first amazing experience with coffee was in 2004. I was working for Starbucks and we were getting in black apron exclusive coffees, these were coffees that were going to only a select number of stores (which was still probably a few hundred stores). We got in an exclusive African coffee, I believe it was a Kenya coffee. This was the first time that I realized how special and complex coffee really could be. That coffee changed the way I looked at coffee and it was this coffee that made me want to go develop my palate even more. I started tasting as much as I could and pairing coffees with foods and other coffees more to really try to find every flavor.
What made you want to compete in the Brewer’s Cup? Was it a specific coffee? Was it Klatch’s reputation as a killer competitor?
I love brewing cups of coffee. At Klatch, Heather [Perry] is obviously known as the go-to person for all things espresso related, and I have quickly become the go-to person for all things manual brew related—whether it is teaching pourover workshops or talking with customers about which brew method is best for which coffee. I make a pourover every morning and I have taught my two boys, who are ages 5 and 7 years old, how to make me a Chemex at home. So,Brewers Cup just was a good fit for me. I am also competitive, which is also another reason I have fit in so well at Klatch. I’ve learned so much in my past year–and-a-half here about coffee, the industry, and now competition. Heather is also a great coach and working with her has pushed me to want to better at what I do well.
Can you tell me about the coffee you used to win?
The coffee was Klatch’s Kenya Makwa AB. I fell in love with this coffee because of its complexity, balance, and fascinating mix of sweet and savory notes. This coffee has an up front blood orange acidity, dark chocolate body, flavors of sweet cherry, raspberry, strawberry, and a slight dry finish. The dry finish is similar to what you would find in a good wine, and is pleasant. But the savory, that is what really balanced out this coffee for me. There is a sweet green bell pepper taste that is a pleasant surprise in the coffee and always makes me want more from the cup.
Can you tell me about your recipe for preparing it? Or is that secret (it’s totally fine if it’s secret!)
Not a secret at all. I believe that sharing helps everyone in this industry serve great coffee. It was all about finding the right recipe for the coffee itself and this recipe does not work for every coffee or for every brewing device. It took at lot of trial and error to find the right way to brew it. It was about documenting everything I did, tasting, then changing one variable, then tasting, over and over again until I found the right balance. For the Kenya Makwa AB in the Gino dripper the balance was 28grams of coffee, 400ml of water, 2min 55 sec brew time. There are some specific volumes I like to hit at specific times that I will keep those a secret, at least until after U.S. competition
What’s it like working at Klatch? The company has such a long and respectable reputation in the industry.
It has been a fantastic journey. I feel like I am learning new things all the time and I love to learn. Mike [Perry] has taught me about his process in buying green coffee and roasting. I’ve had great opportunities to cup new samples with Mike throughout the year and give my opinions on what he should bring in. Of course, he still makes his own decisions but it’s great to have the conversation. Heather has taught me so much about training individual baristas and cafe staff. We have great conversations about the business and what is the right thing to do both for the business but more importantly for our customers. We work as a team at Klatch to really talk through our decisions to ensure we are making the right moves as we grow and to do things because they really are the right thing to do. We don’t want to be the “cool kids,” we want to continue to create an amazing product for the next 20 years much like we’ve done for the last 20 years. That’s a topic that comes up a lot for us. Then there is Cindy [Perry] and Holly [Perry]—I put them together because they are a lot alike, they are our cheerleaders. They are very much involved in the business and a part of the conversations to do what is right moving forward, but always with the most positive attitudes. If you want to get cheered up, you just give Holly a call.
Did Heather help you prepare? She can be a tough coach!
She did help at various times throughout the process. She met up with me about once a week to see how I was coming along but for the most part left me alone to go through the process myself. She let this be my competition for me and was just my support. Then when I made finals and I had only 12 hours to prepare for my final preparations, that’s when Coach Heather went into full affect. That was intense, but awesome. She’s given me exactly what I have needed, when I needed it and left me alone when it was right. A great balance.
You are a big reason that SoCal has such a strong coffee community, thanks to the latte art throwdowns you organized last year. Why is the coffee community in Southern California special and dear to your heart?
I grew up here in Southern California. I was born and raised in L.A. and have lived here most of my life. I spent more than half of my 20s in San Diego but moved back to L.A. a few years back. I love traveling other places but haven’t found anywhere else that I really want to live. Since I’m staying here, I want good coffee wherever I go. I like to help the community grow and get better in any way that I can somewhat selfishly because I want to be served good coffee, too. I’ve also learned so much from those who came before me and started this awesome community that I want to see L.A. push the limits in coffee and become a leader in the U.S.
What do you do when you’re not doing coffee?
I like to be busy, so I do a lot. I brew beer at home, I like experimenting with beverages in general. I like to hike and I go hiking typically once a week. I have two little boys, Jacob and Levi, who keep me very busy. I am coaching Levi’s baseball team this year and assistant coach for Jacob’s team. I’m a big Padres fan and when MLB baseball season starts back up I will be going to as many games as I can. I am also heavily involved in my church as a leader for our Jr High Ministry. My family is very important to me so I try to spend as much of my non-coffee time with them and attempt to bring them with me into as much of my coffee life as I can. Levi, who is 5 years old, is always really excited to visit new coffee shops with me. He loves to smell the coffee, but he does not yet like the taste.