From March 5-8, the Oregon Convention Center in Portland is hosting the 2009 United States Barista Championship. Leading up to the USBC, I’m showcasing baristas who decided to compete for the American coffee crown. Meet Benjamin Wilkinson from Blue State Coffee in New Haven, Connecticut, the 2009 Northeast Regional Barista Competition Finalist.
Josh Lurie: Did anything surprise you about your regional competition?
Benjamin Wilkinson: I was very impressed with the coffee communities from two different regions coming together to support each other through the competition which we are all trying to win. I used a grinder from Philadelphia, cleaning supplies from New York, had support from D.C., etc. Last year’s regional seemed a little less cooperative.
JL: Will adjust your approach for the United States Barista Championship? If so, how?
BW: Just step everything up to a tighter, higher caliber USBC worthy performance.
JL: What is your goal at the USBC?
BW: Great coffee is great, but it’s so fickle, no matter how hard we try. USBC will be about coming together with other people in the coffee community, in the supply chain and in the general public, uniting over one thing. We’re not looking to single out the best coffee and the best competitor in the history of time, I believe we are looking to come together as a community, do something significant, something that we can believe in.
JL: What did you learn by competing at your regional?
BW: That competing is the best way to learn. No, seriously. The act of the competition routine teaches you so much about being calm under pressure, intentional in your actions and confident in your ability. You a are a coffee professional, own it.
JL: What’s your training schedule like until the USBC?
BW: Training schedule? Unfortunately, I have a brand new cafe to manage, a 4-month-old baby & an amazing wife. I’ve never had enough time to train.
JL: What’s a coffeehouse you didn’t know about before your regional competition that you now plan to visit?
BW: Being in Connecticut, I’m a lonely distance between New York and Boston. I’ve always planned to visit the guys at Barismo and the crowd at Everyman. Hanging out with them at NERBC just upped my need to go.
JL: What’s your approach in choosing the music that plays during your performance?
BW: A combination of fun, intentional and significant, with a slight tongue in cheek. In order to not take myself too seriously, I have a Flight of the Conchords song. In preparing my whole performance, the music needs to reflect what i am trying to communicate. Usually that means something beautiful. For the last two years that has included Sigur Ros.