Intelligentsia Coffee‘s Nick Griffith won the Western Regional Barista Competition on Sunday at downtown’s Spring Arts Tower. He sat down to discuss his experience, and what he has in store for March’s United States Barista Championship in Portland, Oregon.
Josh Lurie: Did anything surprise you about the WRBC?
Nick Griffith: It was really nice to see the enthusiasm from all the new competitors. In past years, the competitions seemed kind of inaccessible. A lot of them had been baristas for 3-6 months and had been forced into the competition. A lot of baristas shut down and got nervous. There were a lot of competitors that were really open and enthusiastic. Two first time competitors in the finals, that was brilliant, great to see.
JL: Will adjust your approach for the United States Barista Championship? If so, how?
NG: I don’t know that I’ll change a whole lot. We do have some coffees becoming available in the next couple weeks. I’ll see how those work for espresso. If I find one that matches the profile of the Guatemala, I’ll go with that one. If I have one that’s completely different profile, I’ll have to change my espresso, sig drink and intro. The coffee dictates everything. I don’t have a static flavor profile. If I used the coffee I used today, I’d use different flavor descriptors. That shows a well rounded barista, depth of knowledge. That’s really why Devin’s performance really stood out to me.
JL: What is your goal at the USBC?
NG: To win, but I can only win if I have a great coffee and if I’m able to reveal that coffee in a great light. That is always my goal. If I did not have a great coffee to use, I would not compete. Period.
I got into the whole thing because I love meeting people. To see new baristas are just as passionate as coffee as you are, it’s exciting. It makes you want to do better, to share and grow.
JL: What did you learn by competing at the WRBC?
NG: Competition, a regional competition especially, helps you to learn what to adjust in your performance to do better at the USBC level. More than that, you learn about other competitors, other coffees, new roasteries, new coffees. Baristas are some of the ambassadors for their coffee. You’re meeting different ambassadors.
I think Renee [Teichen] and Jared [Truby] will compete. Hopefully Matthew Williams. Matt has a really good depth of knowledge and he’s very professional. I can’t wait to see what he does. Matthew’s in the position that Devin [Pedde] was last year, ten points from making the finals. I’m in the same position that [2008 WRBC Champion Chris] Baca was last year. Devin’s in the same position Kyle [Glanville] was last year. Kyle didn’t win his region, but he won the U.S. Expectations are high for all the finalists in the Western.
JL: What does this mean now that you’ve won?
NG: What this means for all the competitors, it speaks very highly that two of the best baristas on the West Coast [Pedde and Ryan Willbur] serve coffee at that competition standard every day. It’s not some unattainable barista that makes coffee across the country. It’s right here in Silver Lake. The others are in Santa Cruz and San Francisco. It speaks highly about the standard of the coffee that’s produced daily at the cafes.
JL: You have three baristas from the same company competing at the USBC. How will you work together leading up to the competition?
NG: This year we didn’t train much at all. I didn’t see Devin’s performance until the competition. He was coming into the lab at 10 PM and staying until 1 AM. I saw parts of Ryan’s perfermance twice. We kind of didn’t like that because we like the idea of helping and being a team. We’ll probably see a lot more of each other because we’ll all want to practice more anyway. If we do practice together, I’ve got two other top baristas as coaches, and their opinions, and they have the same. Feedback should be really good.
JL: What’s your training schedule like until the USBC?
NG: Probably this week, go through run-throughs twice a week, and a week or two leading up to it, do a run-through every day. There’s something to keeping it fresh so it doesn’t sound like you memorized bullet points. It’s important that you actually know about coffee.
JL: What’s a coffeehouse you didn’t know about before the WRBC that you now plan to visit?
NG: Everybody I met from The Abbey was really sweet. They’re up in Santa Cruz. They’re serving Verve. Sara [Peterson] and their husband, their whole team of girls who showed up to help. They’re so nice, so genuine. I’d love to go there.