Interview: Barista Nick Griffith (Intelligentsia Coffee)

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Barista Los Angeles

Photo courtesy of Nick Griffith

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. Nick Griffith from Intelligentsia Coffee in Los Angeles 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?

Nick Griffith: Competition pushes the craft of espresso preparation forward, forcing the barista to interpret flavors, learn more about coffee and be creative in revealing what you have learned about your coffee to people who may never have tasted it before. It’s a tremendous opportunity to share coffee with others in a unique setting surrounded by your friends and peers.

JL: How did you become interested in coffee?

NG: It was really the people that got me interested first, and I was intrigued by the idea that something as simple as coffee could cause so many different types of people to come together. However, I quickly learned that the idea that coffee is simple was as far from the truth as you could possibly get. The more I learned the more I discovered I didn’t know much, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

JL: What’s your first coffee memory?

NG: Growing up, watching my parents drink it. I could never figure out why they drank it. Every time I would try it I thought it was so disgusting. Then I remember when Starbucks first came to town. My mom and I went to check it out. I remember ordering an espresso and the girl behind the counter asking me, “Are you sure? It’s so bitter.” She was right.

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

NG: Ernesto Illy. He taught us all to look deeper, laid out the diagram and parameters for coffee percolation and put coffee under the microscope figuratively and literally!

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

NG: Tasted many different coffees at many different roast levels and practice, practice, pra…

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

NG: There’s never just one coffeehouse I like. I’ve got a list: Ritual, Koplins, Method, Verve, Element, Ecco, Four Barrel, Choke (RIP). These are the cafes that do it good. They’re passionate about what they do and they make you excited about coffee.

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

NG: It’s difficult to think about the WRBC and not think about Heather Perry. If she decides to enter she’ll be a contender for sure. I’ve had a few chances to catch Ryan Willbur practicing and he’s looking solid this year. I heard Baca is bringing a new understudy and judging from how well Drew Catlin did last year, I’m excited to see who Ritual brings out this year.

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

NG: Underwater Welder? Jet Test Pilot? Hair Stylist?

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Joshua Lurie

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

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