Interview: 2008 World Barista Champion Stephen Morrissey

  • Home
  • Coffee
  • Interview: 2008 World Barista Champion Stephen Morrissey
Barista Chicago

2008 World Barista Champion Stephen Morrissey was recently in Los Angeles to help emcee the Western Regional Barista Competition. After the first day of competition, I had a chance to sit down and discuss his coffee background, influences and approach.

Josh Lurie: How did you become interested in coffee?

Stephen Morrissey: I started working for an Italian restaurant at 15 in a small town north of Dublin. I went from kitchen porter, to assisting the chef, to assisting the head chef, to head waiter. After growing weary of the same customers and same menu 5 minutes from my house every night, I switched to another cafe where my brother taught me latte art in an afternoon, well hearts anyway. Annoyingly, I can’t remember the first time I nailed the heart or nailed the milk. Initially, their was ego; an arrogance cause I thought I was the only one who could pour art.

That was erased quickly when I got invited to the first World Latte Art competition in Greece. I soon realised I wasn’t alone, and not only that, I realised I wasn’t that good. Compared to the barista from Denmark, I was totally unprepared. Along with a trip soon after to the 2005 World Barista Championship in Seattle, these trips made me aware of the notion of a professional barista. It was a stark contrast to Ireland, where to my mind at the time, it was thoroughly entrenched in a part-time job category. In Greece, I was using off the shelf pre-ground coffee in 2005. Realising my amateur status, I made a point of reading all I could, going to competitions and probably more importantly, traveling abroad to work in different cafe cultures, first Vancouver, then LA.

JL: What’s your first coffee memory?

SM: Sipping my mam’s coffee at home. (we say mam not mom)

I remember one time trying to be cool in a restaurant and ordering a cappuccino when I was like 15. It burnt the tongue off me, and moaning with wet eyes to my server and later to family, I was advised that cappuccinos are supposed to be served scalding hot. Its funny now to remember that one of my problems in training for the Worlds was learning how to not make my cappuccinos too cold. My favourite ones are those I can drink in three sips, at a temperature that almost feels the same as my own. A perfect cappuccino is my favourite breakfast.

JL: Do you have a coffee mentor? If so, what did they teach you?

SM: James Hoffmann and Kyle Glanville.

James was last year’s WBC and is a close friend. He taught me an approach to coffee that questions absolutes and always looks for proof in the cup. I like to think my mentality or approach is a combination of the European and American school…I’ve spent so much time in each of those places I feel like I’m developing a good middle ground and that there’s value in that. I still really want to visit Australia and New Zealand and much of the rest of the World to see different flavour preferences. James’ scientific mind and very logical perspective on things made a big impression on my early exposure to coffee and helped frame the significance of different brewing parameters. He taught the concept of exploring coffee, the questioning of what we thought to be true. In coffee, there are all these ‘rules’ you never question. When you take a closer look, you sometimes find a lot of the techniques we go by, and a lot of the aesthetics just really don’t make sense.

Kyle Glanville showed me what a barista could be. I guess I’m guilty in the past of seeing limits in the profession, and have felt for a while that as baristas become educated, they tend to simply emigrate into another role in the industry. Kyle’s pushes baristas to acknowledge and represent the work of the farmer and the roaster to an extent that goes beyond just knowing their names and where they live. He leads baristas to develop into the ambassadorial role it should and can be.

We’ve seen so many of the best baristas stop being baristas. There’s often just not enough in the job profession to keep their passion sustained. If we have any hope of elevating the craft, we have to empower the baristas. A barista should be an ambassador, proficient in their ability to breq quality consistently but also conscious of their opportunity to educate the consumer and represent those who made the coffee possible. [SCAA Executive Director] Ric Rhinehart had a line: “If you think of how many times most roasters and farmers have the chance to engage a customer, to educate them, you’re talking maybe what five times a year, maybe in some cases even 100?. Compare that to the amount of baristas dealing with customers right now all around the world and the potential for consumer awareness and understanding of quality coffee is clear .” The barista profession needs to become something more substantial, we need to expect more from baristas and ten make sure that additional skill is rewarded. The career barista shouldn’t be an unrealistic notion.

JL: Outside of your coffeehouse, what’s your favorite coffeehouse and why?

SM: I don’t have a coffeehouse, unless you consider my home set up which I must say isn’t too shabby. There are two places that I think of as my favourite spots; Intelligentsia’s Silver Lake store and a mobile coffee cart owned by a man called Gwilym [Davies] in East London.

I worked for Intelligentsia [in 2007] for two months, training baristas 9-5 for two months for a café that hadn’t opened yet. It’s unheard of. You just don’t get that kind of commitment to quality and education. I think the result is a very informed and skilled group of baristas who inspire each other and their customers. I love the aesthetics of the shop, and any time I fly to LA I always make a bee line for that back bar to seek rescue in a cup of something fresh and tasty. They also play Midlake a lot which was always gonna win me over.

Gwilym is one of the most charming people on earth. On a sunday morning in the Columbia Road Flower Market in Shoreditch, just beside a wonderfully simple sausage, egg and bacon bap place, you’ll see a long line of actors, gardeners, celebrities, cats, dogs and back wen I lived there often me, cueing happily in line to be served by Gwilym. He normally goes through around ten kilos of whatever Square Mile Coffee’s seasonal blend is at the time and while seeming the most laid back person on earth, is wholly committed to a quality cup every time. I miss him terribly, and especially miss ambling over early on a hungover Sunday morning and drinking one of his cappuccinos made with 5.5% fat jersey cow milk and wolfing down my sausage, rasher, and egg bap. One of my favourite memories was when he put a dry cappuccino down on the menu for some ridiculous price, in an effort to encourage people to seek nice wet capps instead. Annoyingly, but quite funnily, everyone paid the excessive price to see what that kind of quality tasted like.

JL: What’s your favorite extraction method and why?

SM: French Press – easy, consistent, just don’t forget to break and clean – watch James’ video on


Joshua Lurie

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

Blog Comments

[…] Funny Stuff is all around placed an interesting blog post on Q#038;A with 2008 World Barista Champion Stephen MorrisseyHere’s a brief overview…simple sausage, egg and bacon bap place, you’ll see a long line of actors, gardeners, celebrities, cats, Bdogs/B and back wen I lived there… […]


PhilChar Blog » Food GPS » Blog Archive » Q&A with 2008 World Barista Champion …

[…] Newsletter. Go here to read the rest:  Food GPS » Blog Archive » Q&A with 2008 World Barista Champion … […]

Leave a Comment