Interview: 2009 USBC Competitor Ryan Willbur (Intelligentsia)

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Barista Los Angeles

Photo courtesy of Ryan Willbur

From March 5-8, the Oregon Convention Center in Portland is hosting the United States Barista Championship. Leading up to the USBC, I’m showcasing baristas who placed in the Top 6 in their respective region and decided to compete for greater glory. Meet Ryan Willbur from Intelligentsia Coffee in Los Angeles, a Western Regional Barista Competition Finalist and a contender for the American coffee crown.

Josh Lurie: Did anything surprise you about your regional competition?

Ryan Willbur: Nothing was too big of a surprise. I guess the three of us taking home trophies was a bit of a shocker. It was one of those things you hope for, but never really believe possible. So, to actually have us all heading to the USBC and placing well, that was a pretty rad surprise.

JL: Will adjust your approach for the United States Barista Championship? If so, how?

RW: Yes. My approach changes just in the sense that I am not preparing to compete in Los Angeles. I have figure out a what milk to use, where to source it from, where I can find the really fresh ingredients I need. Also, it’s a bit easier to prepare for the USBC, as I already have a routine, and from here out, all I am doing is trying to work out the kinks.

JL: What is your goal at the USBC?

RW: My goal for the USBC is to continue to improve and climb my way to the top. I’ve said from the beginning that the day that I stop improving is the day I’ll retire. I finished 11th last year and my goal is to do better than that.

JL: What did you learn by competing at your regional?

RW: The WRBC taught me a few lessons in drink balance. I am now being more exact in the amount of each ingredient going into my drink. I learned a couple of things about cappuccino milk and texture. Many of my judges felt that if my cappuccinos were a bit warmer than the coffee would stand out more.

JL: What’s your training schedule like until the USBC?

RW: I am spending afternoons preparing for the USBC. No set time, really. I open the coffee bar, take an hour break, then head to the lab until whenever I feel I’ve done enough. Nick, Devin, and I try to meet once a week to check up and see how everyone is doing, and that’s about it. Beyond that, I’m still on bar 35+ hours a week.

JL: What’s a coffeehouse you didn’t know about before your regional competition that you now plan to visit?

RW: I think I’ll be stopping by the Abbey next time I’m in Santa Cruz.

JL: What’s your approach in choosing the music that plays during your performance?

RW: I like to choose music that will make people dance and smile. That’s about it.


Joshua Lurie

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

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