Pete Licata has made a permanent sea change to the coffee city so many international baristas dream of. He talks about his new career focus and why education is key to the next generation of talent.
Melbourne will always be held in the highest esteem for coffee competition veteran Pete Licata. It’s the city where he won the 2013 World Barista Championship (WBC), the city that made him a household name, and the city he now calls home.
Six years on from his championship win, Pete and his family have made the move from Kansas City to Melbourne, with Pete accepting the role of Research and Development Coffee Consultant with Veneziano Coffee Roaster’s parent company Nomad Coffee Group.
“We were joking a year ago about me coming to Australia and eventually the talks started becoming more serious. One thing led to another and next thing I know we’re here,” Pete says.
Pete’s connection to Australia-based Veneziano Coffee Roasters began prior to his WBC win. While living in Hawaii, Pete met Veneziano’s Head Trainer Jade Jennings in 2011 when she visited local coffee farms. They met again during the 2013 WBC when Jade introduced Pete to Veneziano as part of the competition’s barista buddy program to support him during his WBC preparation.
“Jade really took care of me. I was able to hang out at Veneziano where we had a machine set up and I did run throughs. They were really great to me and it started a strong relationship,” Pete says.
Pete adds he was never concerned about packing up his life and moving around the world. In fact, he welcomed the idea. Having been to Melbourne before, he had already fallen in love with the city, and was ready for a change of scenery.
“The main focus is working with [Veneziano’s] research and development team, which will include new equipment testing and looking at products and solutions we might want to use for different coffee brands,” Pete says. “The second focus is an educational component. I’ll be working with the Nomad staff to oversee the direction of the educational program. The third [component] is competition-focused, providing coaching and training to staff who might be taking part in coffee competitions.”
Pete believes that through Veneziano’s training and developing program, the coffee community can explore new avenues to produce and grow coffee.
“Eventually, our expectations will change. So will our resources. I think the next generation of specialty coffee will see a new level of knowledge of what coffee could truly be,” he says.
“Veneziano is looking to grow and is constantly looking for opportunities to have a world-class training and educational program to get people to the top levels of the coffee industry.”
Pete knows all about that level. After 16 years working in the coffee industry, Pete has cemented himself as a well-regarded barista and trainer, but his career is far from the one he set out to follow. While studying linguistics at the University of Kansas in the United States, Pete started working at a local café to support his college life.
“I started working in a local café near my school where my friend Holly Bastin asked if I wanted a job. I originally turned it down,” Pete says. “I eventually got into it and it was such a lot of fun that I just kept going.”
Pete soon discovered there was a lot more that coffee could offer, including a competition circuit and the chance to represent his state and country at a competitive level.
“There was a regional championship in Kansas where I was introduced to Tim Wendelboe, who at the time was the 2004 World Barista Champion and [soon to be] 2005 World Cup Tasting Champion. He was hosting a workshop weekend and I learnt a lot about the competitions. It made me very excited and motivated to [compete myself],” Pete says.
On his first attempt, Pete stunned the crowd and judges in his hometown by winning the 2005 Midwest Region Competition. This was the catalyst for Pete’s competition career.
“In 2005, I spent two to three months doing 15-minute run throughs, figuring out what I wanted to say, how I wanted to say it, how to make the drinks properly, and refining my technique,” Pete says. “I’d make a shot and do different milk steaming techniques and then try a different way. It’s that discovery you have go through multiple attempts before you can instinctively do something well.”
Pete says people outside the industry don’t realise how taxing coffee competitions can be. There are a multitude of factors that can implode in the blink of an eye. The tray you’ve picked out might be too smooth for your cup and it could slide off. You might forget your speech in front of the judges, or your coffee’s quality isn’t up to the consistency you know it could be. Pete says the key to preparing comes down to three things: practice, practice, and practice.
“The amount of time you put into your presentation is pretty intense. You have to come up with a 15-minute speech of what you want to present and how you intend to do it. Then, you practice that over and over again,” he says.
From there, Pete’s competition record continued to grow, competing for a consecutive eight seasons, winning four regionals, two national US Championships, and placing first in the 2013 WBC.
It was Pete’s cocktail-inspired signature drink that gave him a 12-point win over Australian barista Matthew Perger in an epic showdown at the 2013 Melbourne WBC. This made Pete the second US barista competitor to take home the global title with a score of 631.
Melbourne may be hosting the WBC again in 2020, but this time around Pete is content in giving back to the community that raised him rather than making an all-star comeback.
In his new role, Pete hopes to inspire baristas looking to dive into the coffee industry and competitions, and guide them on their own competition journey.
“Competing is tough,” Pete says. “It tests everything you thought you knew. But it can be a catalyst to drive you to the highest levels you ever imagined and make you a professional better than you may have ever thought.”
This article appears in FULL in the June edition of BeanScene Magazine. Subscribe HERE.