Interview: 2009 USBC Semifinalist Jason Silberschlag (Cartel Coffee Lab)

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Barista Phoenix

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 Jason Silberschlag from Cartel Coffee Roasters in Tempe, Arizona, 2009 South West Regional Barista Champion.

Did anything surprise you about your regional competition?
I was kind of surprised that there were so few people there from our region. The only people who were there to compete were myself and three of my baristas.

Will you adjust your approach for the USBC, based on what happened at your regional?
No, I just practiced more this time. I learned a ton. I went to the Western Regional just to observe and I got a ton out of the Intelligentsia guys. I had seen them before and knew them by name. They were real open with me about stuff that they do. That was real helpful. They’re guys who really know what they’re doing. There’s not a lot of people in our area making good coffee. That was a pretty good thing, learning from other baristas in other regions.

What’s your goal at the USBC?
I want to score over 500 points. That’s a good goal for me.

What did you learn by competing?
Technique. The competition compared to real life barista-ing is very different. I learned that certain aspects of what we do behind the bar are more important than others. It’s a good wake up call for them, but really coming back behind the bar and making drinks for people on a daily basis, gleaning that consistency that they had is awesome. It’s priceless. As a shop owner, I’ll always do what I can to help my baristas go, because during the training process, all the practicing they’ll do, I don’t have to pay them, they meticulously analyze what they do. It’s really a great experience for them and for me as an owner. The competition is awesome in that respect.

What’s your training schedule been like leading up to the USBC?
Over the past four or five days, I’ve spent anywhere from one to three hours really working on things, everything from practicing pouring cappuccinos to full run-throughs of my presentation.

What’s your approach in choosing the music?
I wanted to go with something that’s new to me, so I found a CD last night. I didn’t have much of an approach, I guess is what I’m saying.

What are some of the other coffeehouses you wanted to visit while you were in Portland?
I wanted to come here to Coffee Plant. I want to visit a couple of Stumptowns, probably Albina Press, maybe Billy Wilson’s new shop BARISTA. There may be a few more on that list that I’ve yet to discover, but I plan on talking to locals and figuring that out.


Joshua Lurie

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

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