Hawai‘i’s Pete Licata, the 2011 US Barista Champion!

It isn’t everyday that you get to tell the world that your friend and colleague is a champion.  Today is one of those days.  If you haven’t already heard, the venerable Pete Licata, Director of Coffee Quality at Honolulu Coffee Company, is the 2011 United States Barista Champion!  While I’m tempted to tell you about this man, full of talent, integrity, and passion, I won’t; I know Barista Magazine will offer that in an upcoming issue.  Instead, I’m going to tell you about the remarkable process Pete went through to create his coffee and what this new title might mean. If you want to see his permormance, you can watch it here.

Living in Hawai‘i, Pete had an extraordinary opportunity and the wherewithal to recognize it.  He did something no competitor anywhere in the world has ever done.  He produced his coffee from seed to cup.  Literally.  Pete trekked to the Big Island many times to harvest coffee (with some help from friends) from Rusty’s Hawaiian Coffee (Ka‘u) and Kona Coffee and Tea’s Waiono Meadows (Kona).  Then, with the assistance of Miguel Meza (Isla Coffee), he processed the coffees.  Once the coffees had rested long enough, he milled them and brought them to O‘ahu.  Once in Honolulu, he roasted the coffee at Downtown Coffee (thanks Fred Hokada) and practiced his performance at Beach Bum Café (cheers Dennis McQuoid).  Of course, I’d be remiss to not mention Honolulu Coffee Company and owner Ed Schultz for the support they gave Pete.

Yup.  Pete did everything in the coffee production chain to create his coffee.  Then, in a brilliant performance, he trounced his competitors to take the 2011 USBC title.  And yes, the coffee tasted amazing (there are benefits to befriending a champion).

The effort Pete put into his coffee was monumental.  I’m willing to wager all my coffee toys that no previous competitor has dedicated that much time and resources to a competition.  Impressive as that is, Pete now has knowledge of coffee which few people can even pretend to have.  How many superstar baristas or industry members do you know who have experienced coffee production to such detail?  Producing coffee is hard work.  I assure you, Pete will never brew coffee again without considering the harvesters who picked it, the manufacturers who built the processing equipment, the workers who cared for and stored it, the movers who shipped it, and the roasters who roasted it.  

Empathy is a powerful emotion.  When wielded by a person who commands the love and respect of many, it can be a remarkable tool.  Never before, I believe, has a person had the potential to unite the coffee industry by sharing what has been learned and felt.  Baristas wax poetic about the labors of farmers, and farmers talk, bright-eyed, about the glorious brew their coffee will produce.  Pete knows this all, now, as more than a story.  He’s lived it.  

What better spokesman can advocate for the farmer, the price of coffee, and quality of life?  What roaster carries the sweat of field labor and transforms it to organoleptic bliss before an eager consumer?  What barista is truly humbled by the giants whose shoulders s/he stands upon?

On top of all this, Pete won the competition using 100% Hawai‘i-grown coffee!  There is no longer any doubt that these coffees can be extraordinary and dizzyingly dazzling.  Specialty Coffee- take notice!  Turn your heads to this small island chain for experiences you’ve only dreamed of.  Work with farmers (as you so often do elsewhere) to discover untapped potential.  And don’t be hindered by price, as it is quite justified (just ask Pete).    

Congratulations Mr. Licata!  Team Hawai‘i will support you to the end.  Good luck in Bogota!

(For a video interview of Pete and some of his perspective, watch this)

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