Get to know the winner of Veneziano’s Barista Brawl

michael beckford veneziano barista brawl

Michael Beckford is the winner of the 2023 Veneziano Barista Brawl, competing in five different disciplines in the ultimate test of skill.

  • Name: Michael Beckford
  • Nationality: English
  • Instagram: @them1guel
  • Company: The Alleyway Café, Heidelberg, Victoria

Q: How long have you worked as a barista?
A: Around 10 years now.

Q: What led you to becoming a barista?
A: I dropped out of school early, and it was the only job I could find at the time. I had been a baker’s apprentice before, but I didn’t have a good time with that. I did a three-week barista/bartender course, and I practised on a coffee machine in the middle of the night at a general store my friend Tom worked at, so I could be good enough at making coffees to talk myself into getting a job.

Q: What was the first café you worked at?
A: It was New World café in Greensborough, Victoria.

Q: How long have you been at The Alleyway Café?
A: I’ve worked for Alleyway Owner Heeb El-Bay for five years, first as a barista, then I managed his other café, Aisle 17, for 3.5 years. I’ve now been a manager at Alleyway since January 2023.

Q: What is your favourite part about working as a barista?
A: The people I work with, and I just love making coffee.

Q: What’s your go-to coffee order?
A: Probably a double espresso.

Q: What prompted you to register for your first coffee competition?
A: My coffee representative, Sean O’Shea from Veneziano, called me around a week before the competition because there were still a few spots left [in the Veneziano Barista Brawl]. At first, I said ‘no’ because I’m pretty anxious around crowds. I spoke to my girlfriend about it that night and we agreed it would be fun. I called Sean back the next day and said I’d do it.

Q: The competition consisted of five different skillset stations, including an aroma test. How did you prepare?
A: I went and bought a smelling kit. I had tried one before
and I knew I wasn’t great at it. I’m also selective with my eating so there’s a lot of things I had never tasted or smelled before. It turns out they didn’t use the same kit that I got, so I struggled a bit in that round.

Q: The fifth station was a blindfolded latte art test. How did you go?
A: It went perfectly. I got the right level of coffee, and I made
a heart that looked decent. It was the same Inker cup that
I had been using at work for the last five years, so I just thought to myself ‘you’ve done this thousands of times, just do it again’. I used the table for balance, and I felt the jug to figure out where the milk got hot.

Q: You ended up winning the event. How did you celebrate?
A: We just went for a drink across the road. My friend Tom who was supporting me that night used to live a few streets away [from Veneziano] so we knew the bars around there.

Q: What are you planning to do with $5000 in prize money?
A: I’m starting my own coffee business from home, so I thought I could use the money towards that. It’s going to be a small- scale roasting business called Nectar Coffee Co.

Q: What advice do you have for anyone looking to participate in their first coffee competition?
A: Be relaxed, don’t take it super seriously to the point of stressing yourself out, and enjoy yourself.

This article appears in the October 2023 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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