Interview: Barista Matthew P. Williams

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Barista California

Photo courtesy of Matthew P. Williams

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 earns a coveted slot in the 2009 United States Barista Championship Semi-Finals. Matthew P. Williams from Verve Coffee Roasters in Santa Cruz 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?

Matthew Williams: I wanted to compete mostly to push myself to be a great barista, but of course the appeal of fame, glamor, power, and unspeakable wealth have something to do with it.

JL: How did you become interested in coffee?

MPW: My dad was a big coffee drinker, but we were a Folgers household. Sometime in the mid-nineties, a local newspaper did a feature article about a home-roaster in the area. I didn’t think much of it then, but when I was 19 I started buying coffee from a local roaster. Looking to upgrade my blade grinder, I shopped around online for Zassenhaus grinders and came upon Sweet Maria’s. Something clicked and I got into home roasting, becoming an obsessive coffee geek hard and fast. I left home for school, and it eventually put me in the right place at the right time to join the Verve crew.

JL: What’s your first coffee memory?

MPW: In the summertime, my dad liked to make incredibly strong iced coffee out of instant crystals. I was probably five or six when he tricked me into trying it. Thinking it was Pepsi, I took a big disgusting gulp of it. It’s a wonder how I ever got into coffee after being traumatized at such a young age.

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

MPW: I cut my coffee teeth as a home-barista, so I looked to guys on the internet forums for information; this led to a lot of trial and (mostly) error before I started to figure things out. Chris Tacy was a big source of information on espresso, and he also made it seem like coffee was a respectable career path (he has apologized for this).

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

MPW: I spent a lot of time in the gym working on my tamping muscles. I drank a lot of coffee and consequently ate a lot of bananas.

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

MPW: Ritual has always taken good care of me, except the first time I went and Ryan Brown gave me huge attitude.

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

MPW: It’s hard to say… Drew and Chris are sitting this one out, so it’s anyone’s game.

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

MPW: I’d probably be in grad school right now trying to make my degree in linguistics less useless.


Joshua Lurie

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

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Good luck! Let us know how things shake out!

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