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. 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 P. 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.