Interview: 2009 USBC Competitor Jay Caragay (Spro Coffee)

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Barista Baltimore

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 Jay Caragay from Spro Coffee in Towson, Maryland.

1. Did anything surprise you about your regional competition?
This year, I helped another competitor prepare for the regional. It was her first competition and I think she did very well. What was most surprising about the regional were the new faces and the dramatically improved skill of competitors overall. It truly demonstrates that our craft is advancing.

2. Will adjust your approach for the United States Barista Championship? If so, how?
My approach for the USBC has always been to present our vision of coffee and cuisine. This year will be no different in that respect. It will be a showcase of some of the areas we have spent the past year exploring.

3. What is your goal at the USBC?
As always, the goal for USBC is to present our vision of coffee and, hopefully, challenge others to explore coffee in uncommon and unexpected ways. It is our intention to present coffee in fun, unexpected and even whimsical ways. The signature drink I have been preparing is part of the spring menu for The Spro and explores the use of lobster. Other preparations we have been working on that may find their way to the USBC (in later rounds) utilize components of Dr. Pepper and Fruity Pebbles.

4. What did you learn by competing at your regional?
Regional competitions are a great way to connect with passionate baristas from your region that you may not have had the chance to meet previously. It’s a way to connect, discuss and share ideas, developing a camaraderie that is the centerpiece of any competition.

5. What’s your training schedule like until the USBC?
Since I own and run the company I work for, I don’t have a lot of time to spend in actual training sessions. Most of the “training” for the USBC will be in the form of working out techniques during bar shifts and preparing mentally for the competition.

6. What’s a coffeehouse you didn’t know about before your regional competition that you now plan to visit?
I wasn’t aware of 21st Street Espresso in Pittsburgh until this past Mid-Atlantic Regional and I was able to take some time away from the competition to visit. I’m lucky, since my involvement in the barista competitions allows me to travel and visit many different coffeeshops and see their interpretation of our craft and coffee.

7. What’s your approach in choosing the music that plays during your performance?
Music to me is an integral part of the competition experience. Like the coffee and signature drink, I’m thinking about the music for the presentation months out and over the years, I’ve explored the range from slack-key Hawaiian to motion picture themes to metal and hip hop. For 2009, I had been working on a theme of broadway musicals but recently decided to change gears and am currently developing a mix of 80s hip hop, pop and some other themes that pay homage to previous presentations.


Joshua Lurie

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

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