Interview with our own USBC Semifinalist Philip Search!
In a little over a week, we’re thrilled to cheer our own Philip Search on to Houston, Texas, where he will compete as a semifinalist in the United States Barista Championship among the best of his profession. Philip took home regional title in this month’s Northeast Regional Barista Competition, and we couldn’t be prouder. We persuaded him to take a break from rigorous training and rehearsal to give the world a bigger preview of what he’ll be doing up there on the USBC stage.
What inspired you to compete in 2011?
I think there are multiple reasons I ended up competing. Every year I go through an internal debate with myself about whether or not I will do this all over again. The truth is though, I love coffee, I love being able to highlight it in this format. It excites me to be able to have unique conversations, and a chance to learn with other coffee professionals. I have to say though, I was truly inspired this competition. It started when I tasted the Liquid Ambar and the Don Mayo in a cupping. They both are compete coffees, unique in their own rights, and totally representative of the work of the families at origin, the cultivars, and the terroir of their regions.
The first time I roasted the Liquid Ambar as espresso, I pulled a shot and we were all floored. Pillowy body, a mind blowing espresso with a unique honey malt flavor I’ve only tasted a few times in 16 years. The Don Mayo was equally impressive. The spice note reminded us all of an Indian curry dessert. These coffees together create a unique combination of flavors that nearly brought me to tears. Completely unique to anything I had ever worked with before. After this, I was hooked. I wanted this coffee, and the risks the farmers took in producing it to be showcased to the world. There were other circumstances that came to light about the coffee. As you know there is a shortage of super high quality coffees in the current market. The coffee from the Don Mayo mill is part of what I believe is a solution to this issue. It is a Villa Sarchi Cultivar, a natural mutation of old Bourbon plants that happened in Costa Rica quite a few years ago. In showing off this coffee as a microlot separated out with its unique cultivar, I hope to encourage farms to begin producing more of this coffee in the Tarrazu region of Costa Rica where the climate and soil lend its self to its best potential.
I also enjoy being able to push our industry forward in unique ways. In the past this involved adding special dose control to things like the Anfim grinder. In this case, I wanted to show people a grinder platform that doesn’t have most of the existing flaws of current espresso grinders, and that there is a different way to pull shots even in a tight time frame. I also believe that in life, and all things coffee, we should aspire to our daily tools being functional works of art. This grinder reflects that aesthetic belief.
You use an unusual grinder setup. What is it?
I wanted a grinder that looks good, and avoids a lot of the dosing, heat, and grind spectrum issues of existing espresso grinders.
What goes into your signature drink, and how did you come up with it?
The sig drink is an infusion that mirrors the flavors of the two coffees I used. This allowed me to stretch out the flavor profile and make the complexities of the coffee more accessible. It involves using nitrogen cavitation, a common tool in the arsenal of cutting-edge mixology, to infuse flavors into liquids. I used a slice of orange, grapefruit peel, tamarind, smoked sea salt, sucrinate (dried unprocessed cane juice), raw orange blossom honey, and lapsong souchong tea, and infused this into water. Then I poured this “deconstructed flavor infusion” into champagne flutes and served it alongside the espresso. This helps people better understand the coffee. The cool thing is that, along with each ingredient as a flavor, there is a chemical reason I used them as well, each represent an acid or other chemical piece of the flavor that is in the coffee as espresso. For example, the Don Mayo had a unique tropical flavor from tartaric acid, this was then achieved in the deconstruction using the tamarind.
Do you find it easy to explain “nitrogen cavitation” to people at parties?
Sure! But I can be a bit of a nerd. Nitrogen bubbles are small, and when put with ingredients under pressure, they attach themselves to cell walls and weaken the cells, when you rapidly release this pressure, the cells burst and you have and instant infusion. Pretty simple really.
Who else are you watching closely in this year’s United States Barista Championship in Houston, TX?
Well, really there are always a lot of great coffee people, and it can be any ones game, But Pete Licata, from Honolulu Coffee, is another long term veteran with a lot of experience. He is solid, and his coffee has a great story.
What are you doing to refine and perfect your routine before you compete in Texas?
Practice, and trying to master the skills of being a coffee whisperer, also trying to get as much time in talking to people about the coffees as possible. This is key for me, because my routine, and everything I do is based more on being a practicing coffee professional than in just a routine for the great game that Barista Competitions are. I desire to be a coffee ambassador, both to the professional community at large, and to customers. That is my passion, and what I live for.
Follow Philip at the USBC on the road to the World Barista Championship this June in Bogota! And follow him personally on Twitter at @phineas984.