Interview w/ Pete Licata – 2011 US Barista Champ

05.11

After taking four regional titles and coming in second place at the USBC finals twice, Pete Licata from Honolulu Coffee Co, is a prime example of persistence who has reaped the benefits of never giving up. There was an incredibly talented group of competitors in this years US Barista Competition, so it was no easy task to take the top prize.

Pete’s presentation, which shared his journey from fruit to cup, along with the quality of  his drinks—prepared with self-picked and self-roasted Hawaiian coffee—brought home the US Championship title, making him the first to do so with Hawaiian coffee. I recently talked with Pete about his win and what he’d be doing if it weren’t for coffee.

It’s been over a week since winning the USBC. Has it sunk in? Are you ready to represent in Bogotá or have you re-immersed yourself into training?
I still don’t think it has sunk in yet. I haven’t really had time to think about being some champ, probably because there is another competition just 5 short weeks after the USBC! I have literally been running all over with my mind racing about all of the little details I need to take care of in order to be prepared for WBC. I feel I will be ready to represent in Bogotá, but my training mode this year is FAR more extensive than anything I have ever done before. As of right now I have hulled my coffee and roasted a sample batch. Next is going to be practice runs in between roast days, high altitude training (Colorado and maybe Mauna Kea), and finding the perfect touches in smallwares.

Will you be changing anything about your routine for the WBC or are you completely satisfied with it? I will never be satisfied with my routine until there is nothing negative that can possibly be said about it. I am taking in my judges’ feedback and information and going to revamp what I can. Obviously I feel good about my routine, but I am my own horrible critic.

Could you summarize your signature drink and the concept of your presentation? Let’s start with the presentation. The concept was to tell the story of the coffee, as well as my own, in the journey it took from the fruit to the judges’ cups on the table. I didn’t just want to say “look at what I did,” but rather “look at your coffee and what a fantastic journey it takes to get to you.”

Aside from telling the story, I tried to emphasize a balanced espresso by explaining each element and building the blend from the ground-up. This is where my sig drink came in. It was a highlight of the honeyed coffee I used in order to give a representation of my first tastes, as well as delving into the honeying process itself.

The drink was 3 tastes—a tea made from the cherry skins and parchment that the mucilage had dried onto (to represent tasting the cherry right off the tree), a French press of a lighter roast (to represent cupping the coffee for the first time), and a single shot of the coffee at a longer espresso roast (to represent pulling shots and understanding how the coffee would fit into the overall blend).

You harvested and roasted the coffee you competed with, which gives you a rather strong and unique connection with the entire process from fruit to cup. Was there anything during the experience that surprised you, that you weren’t aware of previously? I didn’t realize just how many spiders live in coffee trees in Hawaii.

If you could get consumers to understand just one thing about coffee, what would it be? That coffee is an agricultural product. It needs to be fresh (green and roasted). As economic and environmental factors change, prices will too. Just like the price of your milk or fresh produce.

Do you have any creative talents outside the realm of coffee? I am remarkably talented at consuming really tasty beer.

If it weren’t for your passion of coffee, what would you be doing with your life? Probably translating Japanese and raising a family…

Congratulations to Pete, Honolulu Coffee Co and everyone else who helped support you along the way. Thanks for talking with DCILY and good luck at the World Barista Championship in Bogotá.

[photo via USBC2011]

posted by on 05.11.2011, under Interviews, Misc.

Don’tcha Wanna Visit Kohana

03.25

While I was in Austin, Texas a few weeks ago for the North American Hand Built Bike Show, I made a coffee detour to visit Piper Jones at the Kohana Coffee roasting facility. Until this visit, I’d never had Kohana coffee, but was familiar with both PiperJo and Kohana on Twitter. So when Piper invited me to stop by, I was excited to meet her and learn more about the company.

Kohana is just four years old and Piper has been there for 3 of them—roasting for the last two. When I showed up, I thought I’d have a quick look around and taste some coffee, but Piper had other plans. While she let a press pot of their signature Hawaiian Prime brew, she got me started on roasting a new batch of Organic Ethiopian Sidamo. I combed through the green beans looking for any defective ones while the roaster pre-heated and Piper explained the process to a couple friends I brought with me.

Kohana got its start specializing in Hawaiian coffee and have built great relationships with farmers there, but they also offer coffee from other origins now. Piper is exceptionally passionate about what she does, she “gets it” in terms of how coffee should be treated, but like many roasters she has to balance the realities of business and principles—meaning dark roasts, blends, and other things the purist in me shudders at. There is a lot of potential in Austin and I know Piper isn’t slowing down. They recently launched a cold brew coffee that made appearances during SXSW and I’m sure it’ll be in high demand during the hot Texas summer.

Kohana doesn’t have a coffee shop of their own, but they have wholesale accounts around Austin and are also stocked at the Whole Foods there. It was great to break up a weekend full of bike love with some coffee love and finally meet Piper in person. The visit was fun, the coffee was delicious and I’m looking forward to seeing how Kohana grows.

Check out Kohana Coffee

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posted by on 03.25.2011, under Coffee Touring, Recommended Roasters