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. Nicole Mournian from Caffe Luxxe in Santa Monica/Brentwood 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?
Nicole Mournian: Because I like being challenged to be better at what I do.
JL: How did you become interested in coffee?
NM: I was moving to L.A. from San Diego, where I was a pastry chef at a small WONDERFUL coffee shop called Influx Cafe. They had spoiled me for 3 years with great espresso drinks. On my way out of town, I stopped at what on the outside seemed to be an ‘OK’ coffee shop. I ordered an Americano, iced (it was about 100 deg. outside), and watched in horror as the girl took a jug of black liquid from under the counter and poured it over some water in a cup. “What’s that?” I asked… “It’s our iced espresso, we pull all the shots in the morning so they are cold.” I gasped and paid and left with a frown, It was then that I knew I had to be within walking distance of some place that cared enough to make my drink for me, to order. Even if it meant changing jobs and working the bar – as it turned out, working the bar was just where I needed to be.. Thats when I found Caffe Luxxe.
JL: What’s your first coffee memory?
NM: Sour, burned coffee pot on counter in my Grandmas kitchen. It was so over cooked, it smelled like cat pee, (You didn’t say GOOD coffee memory) It’s why I refused coffee until college.
JL: Do you have an espresso mentor?If so, who are they and what did they teach you?
NM: I’d have to say Mark and Eric from Luxxe, also my co-competitor Ian is a total badass. They taught me how to apply my culinary skills to coffee.
JL: What did you do to prepare for the competition?
NM: Pulled shots. ALL NIGHT LONG. FOR 2 MONTHS.
JL: Outside of your coffeehouse, what’s your favorite coffeehouse in the U.S., and what do you like about it?
NM: I love Influx Cafe in San Diego. I love it because of my own personal history there – its like my cheers. BUT, if we are talking just coffee – no romance – Blue Bottle, Mint location, SF. I love the iced Chicory blend. Literally NO ONE can touch a short Americano at Luxxe though. It is the best presentation of what we are about.
JL: Other than yourself, who do you think has a good shot at becoming WRBC champ?
NM: I know very few people competing. So, Ian Levine, you’re my man.
JL: If you didn’t work in the coffee industry, what would you do for a living?
NM: I would be a pastry chef again.