From January 23-25, top baristas from California and Hawaii will converge on Los Angeles to compete at the Western Regional Barista Competition. The winner scores a coveted slot in the Semi-Finals of the 2009 United States Barista Championship. Amber Johnson from LAMILL COFFEE in Los Angeles is one of the baristas you’ll find competing at downtown L.A.’s Spring Arts Tower.
Josh Lurie: Why did you decide to compete in the WRBC?
Amber Johnson: I have been interested in competing the last few years but have not been able to for various reasons. I’ve been a barista for many years and I think competition could spice things up for me a bit and push me to take my barista skills to a new level. I’m a pretty competitive spirit, so this could be a good outlet for me. We will see I guess.
JL: How did you become interested in coffee?
AJ: I grew up in a very very very small town in Montana where there was nothing even resembling a coffee shop for nearly 100 miles in any given direction (I’m really not making this up). My Mom, a Seattle area native, would mail order fresh(ish) Coffee on a monthly basis, insisting that she would not stoop to the canned stuff no matter what. Every time we would go to the city for supplies (Missoula) she couldn’t resist stopping at coffee shops at least twice before we would head home. I always loved the romance of the coffee shops and found the baristas to be extremely cool people even when I was just getting vanilla steamers as a wee one. My senior year of high school, as I was heading off to Art School to become an Animator, my Dad gave me a lecture about why I might want to maintain good credit so that I could own my own coffee shop one day. I thought he was crazy, I had never even worked in a coffee shop, but he knew what was up!
JL: What’s your first coffee memory?
AJ: It must have been at about the age 9 or 10 that I started drinking Lattes with my mom, mine were decaf of course. I would always get them spiked with a touch of Cinnamon. As bad as it sounds, I still like a little cinnamon in my latte now and then.
JL: Do you have an espresso mentor? If so, who are they and what did they teach you?
AJ: Not really, I guess I have had a lot of people in the past years come and go that have taught me a lot and I really do look up to a lot of people in the industry. But I tend to just try and take it all in and pick and choose what works for me.
JL: What did you do to prepare for the competition?
AJ: Lots of research of past performances and lots of time spent playing with signature drinks. Once I had that figured out I spent a lot of time choreographing my final presentation and doing mock run after run.
JL: Outside of your coffeehouse, what’s your favorite coffeehouse in the U.S., and what do you like about it?
AJ: Lighthouse in Seattle’s Phinney ridge neighborhood. I really liked their coffee and the people that worked there were always wonderful to me. I also loved its location, it was in a area with very few other businesses around, it truly was the neighborhood shop.
JL: Other than yourself, who do you think has a good shot at becoming WRBC champ?
AJ: Ryan [Willbur] from Intelligentsia
JL: If you didn’t work in the coffee industry, what would you do for a living?
AJ: I think I would have become a chef by now. I spend most of my non-coffee time cooking and baking or at least thinking about it.