Interview: Barista Elaine “e-labs” Levia (Barefoot Coffee)

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Photo courtesy of Elaine Levia

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. Elaine Levia of Barefoot Coffee in San Jose is one barista you’ll find competing at Western Regional Barista Competition at downtown L.A.’s Spring Arts Tower.

Josh Lurie: Why did you decide to compete in the WRBC?

Elaine Levia: WRBC came like a little baby. A bouncing baby espresso obsession. Over carnitas burritos at Chipotle on a break from a barista jam at Barefoot Roastworks, I mused aloud about competing— next year. Miss Monica Hill said: “Why not this year?” So here I am, jumping in the pool with all the cool kids.

JL: How did you become interested in coffee?

EL: Coffee interest piqued as soon as I started working at Barefoot. I was put on merciless espresso probation and quickly learned to love the stuff. Before that, coffee was simply social, I would drink whatever, wherever, especially at 4 AM at all night diners, just to have an extra half hour with the people I was hanging out with.

JL: What’s your first coffee memory?

EL: Probably drinking milky coffee with my four year old brother. Caffeine plus toddlers equals awesome.

JL: Do you have an espresso mentor? If so, who are they and what did they teach you?

EL: Emme Newbom, because little kids are bringing decaf back like Justin Timberlake is bringing sexy back. Seriously? Aww. Everyone gets a shoutout. BCR trainers, roasters, wholesale, and especially baristas have been so utterly lovely and helpful, especially when reminding me that sometimes, it’s just coffee.

JL: What did you do to prepare for the competition?

EL: We have an Aurelia in the BCR training room, so I started there, once I had cupped a couple candidate coffees side by side, quickly making decisions, and then pulling shots until my face started falling off and my brain turned into vaporized single origin espresso. Lots of Barefoot staff have helped me with signature beverage ideas, which has saved me from my fallback, Nestle Quik and rainbow sprinkles, with a side of creamed unsalted butter… I also had this really great dream about the WRBC, in which I had a pile of espresso and a pile of curry, and had to use a dixie cup to dose into a portafilter. It was terrifying, but really helped me get my game face on…

JL: Outside of your coffeehouse, what’s your favorite coffeehouse in the U.S., and what do you like about it?

EL: I am such a Ritual fan, it’s ridiculous. I really enjoy sitting in front of the video store next door looking like I belong. If I leave the state I try to google coffee shops, but I’m better at getting lost.

JL: Other than yourself, who do you think has a good shot at becoming WRBC champ?

EL: Whoever has the guts to incorporate the following items in some capacity into their presentation: Steak (rare), My little pony figurines (sparkly), and a chainsaw. Ready… go.

JL: If you didn’t work in the coffee industry, what would you do for a living?

EL: I would probably just be a regular college student. This just throws a little love in the mix.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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