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.