Interview: Barista Frances Capell (Mokka)

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Barista Berkeley

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. Frances Capell from Mokka in Berkeley, California is on barista you’ll find competing at downtown L.A.’s Spring Arts Tower.

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

Frances Capell: I’m a pretty competitive person who was recently outdone in a Halloween pumpkin contest. Then I lost a Christmas wreath decorating competition. This just seemed like the next logical step.

JL: How did you become interested in coffee?

FC: I’ve always loved drinking coffee. I scored my first barista gig as a teenager at a Moxie Java in Boise, Idaho. But they have automatic machines that do everything. I wasn’t any good until I started living la vida Mokka. The products, the people, their passion, it’s all amazing. It’s a great environment for developing barista skills. Plus they tolerate my silliness most of the time, which is important.

JL: What’s your first coffee memory?

FC: My dad used to take me to a coffee shop sometimes as a kid after school. I’m about 5’7″ these days, so in retrospect, my mochas were most likely decaffinated.

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

FC: My coworker, David Whitaker. His espresso? Delicious. His enthusiasm? Inspiring. His dance moves? Stylish. And Penny Lane, another Mokka barista. She’s admirably sassy and amazing with flavor combinations.

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

FC: I’ve been doing some after hours practice sessions. We’re also having an in-house competition this Sunday. Yesterday my boss Michael reminded me that it’s conceivable that I could place last. It could get pretty ugly, as I’ve been known to throw dishes.

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

FC: Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe in Oakland. It’s not really a cafe at all, it’s a diner with cheeseburgers and such. But they serve Guinness with espresso and it doesn’t get much better than that.

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

FC: I’m not really familiar with my competitors. I imagine they all have good shots (with highly persistent crema).

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

FC: So many things. Off the top of my head: cage-fighting, cheese-promoting, competitive eating, selling jewelry I’d make from a combination of seashells and animal teeth. All of these would be equally fulfilling professions for me. I’m also ridiculously good at karaoke, so maybe I could turn that into something lucrative. Seriously, though, I’m a student majoring in creative writing.


Joshua Lurie

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

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