Interview: Pete Licata: 2010 Western Regional Barista Champion

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2010 Western Regional Barista Champion

This year’s Western Regional Barista Competition was loaded with heavy hitters from California, but it turned out to be an outlier from Hawaii who took the title. Pete Licata, a two-time Midwest Regional Champ and National runner-up, relocated from Kansas to Honolulu Coffee Company last year. After winning the 2010 WRBC title, he discussed his experience before catching a return flight to Hawaii.

What did you learn by competing here today?
I learned that you don’t have to have a bajillion crazy things and cool stuff to win. Having great coffee and a well-done presentation is better than having a lot of cool stuff, among other things.

Did anything catch you off guard here today?
Winning. The competition today was so intense and everybody was so good in the final especially…I feel good and I’m real happy I won. Anybody could have won, in my opinion.

Do you plan to change anything for the USBC?
A little bit, yeah.

In what way?
Make it better. My espresso was maybe a day or so past it’s peak prime on flavor. The trick is getting degassed and the flavor peak at the same time without losing anything else, which is difficult, but it’s something I’ll be working on for the next month. My signature drink will most likely be slightly refined for the better, and my actual presentation will probably be even more focused than it was today.

What’s your schedule like between now and the USBC?
Lot’s of stuff. I have a lot of traveling and meetings and training, and accounts to meet with. My regular schedule is so busy, it’s going to be pretty crazy before I get back out here for the SCAA.

What’s your goal at the USBC?
To do the same thing that I did here, and I’m not talking about winning. I’m talking about doing something different, changing people’s perceptions of espresso and really making people just think about their coffee more. As a barista, we can do so much. We can do anything that we want to, as long as it’s good. I was telling him during the interview, after the presentation, I’ve done plenty of things that suck, things that are bad. You weed out the bad stuff and find the good stuff and move the industry even more forward.

What’s the key to a great signature beverage?
The key to a great signature beverage depends on your judges, but it also needs to be different and fun and interesting and just really taste good. I’ve done so many drinks where it’s cool, innovative and it tastes okay, but it doesn’t make my mouth happy. That’s the term I always use – Does it make my mouth happy?

What’s your approach when choosing music for competitions?
I like something a little upbeat, because quite honestly, if I have something slow, it’s going to put me to sleep. It’s going to be pretty awful. But not too outrageous, something that’s soothing and calming to the judges as well. Usually it’s something that I hear randomly, a lot of times electronic music that I enjoy and go, yeah, that could work, and give it a try.

Was there a coffeehouse you didn’t know about before the WRBC that you now want to try?
There are a few. I want to try LAMILL. I didn’t get a chance to go by there, which I feel bad about. I didn’t get a chance to go by hardly any coffeehouses. I need to find out where Verve is. There’s a lot, because in Hawaii, I come to California and find there’s so much I haven’t been exposed to, and I love it. I love all these guys and hanging out with them and geeking out about coffee.

What is it about coffee that inspires you?
One thing that inspires me is the complexity of it, the endless possibilities of where it can go and what it can become. There are a couple industries that I feel are similar, in a way, but coffee is one that, how many different ways can you effect the coffee? You can go from growing and cultivating the coffee to processing, roasting, preparation, the whole nine yards. You’ve got, are you going to do a filtered coffee? Are you going to do an espresso coffee? Are you going to a French press? How many million other ways are there to make coffee? They all bring out different characteristics of it. You go all the way back in that process to where it comes from and how it’s produced. There are almost infinite possibilities in what can happen with it. That’s one of the things that I like about it. It never has to be a stagnant industry. It can always move forward in one way or another.


Joshua Lurie

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

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