I accosted Canadian Barista Champion Sammy Piccolo in between his coffee at Octane and his volunteer dogwalking schedule to grill him a little bit before the competition heats up Thursday in Hotlanta. Here’s what he had to say…

Have you ever competed in the WBC before?
Yes this is my fourth time. I am from before the internet my wife would say.

What is cafe culture like in Vancouver? Know anyone good roasting coffee up there?
I think we have an amazing coffee culture and in the last ten years it has exploded! I am so proud to be from the Pacific Northwest where there are many really good cafes in cities like Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland.

Great roasters! Of course, I am lucky to have my brothers roasting for me at 49th Parallel. And there are a lot of other good roasters in Vancouver like JJ bean and Ethical Bean.  I know there are more (sorry if I missed you!)

What have been some of your favorite coffees in the past year?
Anything by the Bagersh family in Ethiopia. I love their micro-lot Beloyas and Arichas I am sad we might lose these micro-lots (anyone not aware of the situation, you can go to Tim W’s web-site. He wrote a good article on it.)

Have you been to Atlanta before?

What are you looking forward to doing in Atlanta besides winning the World Barista Championship? Did you bring your little boy?
I am looking forward to seeing people I literally haven’t seen in three years and really miss; I am looking forward to spending time with them and people who have helped me on this journey, I didn’t bring my little boy (I miss him already).

Why do you compete?
Meeting people, competitions are thrilling, and in order for me to keep learning and discovering more about coffee.

What would you change about barista competitions if you could?
I would include a Semi final , and maybe increase the time to 16 minutes a round, but that’s only because I am slow. I really feel these competitions are going in the right direction, and I like how they are becoming more and more about the coffee.

What would you like to see change in coffee culture in the larger picture? Either locally or globally.
I think if the specialty coffee industry grows the farms will be in a better place and we won’t see things happen like in Ethiopia because we will have more say in the world of coffee.

Does your family understand coffee and your role in it?
Yes they do.  My wife Andrea , my brothers Vince and Mike have supported me since I began competing. We are a coffee family. Mike is a roaster, Vince is the President of 49th Parallel coffee roasters in which Mike and I are partners………So yes they probably understand my role in coffee better than I do.

You get to work in the morning. What drink do you make for yourself?
Well for me customers come first so I try the espresso, the drip, the french press and the Clover all before I start to make sure quality is up. But I like an espresso anytime of the day and a nice single origin drip.

For my pre-WBC interviews this year, I’m going to have a rolling question at the end where I ask one competitor to ask a question to another, on any topic you like. You have received a question from Carl Sara, New Zealand Barista Champion. He asks:
“Sammy, You are a WBC veteran, What would you see as the biggest change in yourself since you started competing?”

I think I have changed when it comes to listening to others more, and being more open minded. I have also learned how to work in a team better. I always played individual sports while growing up so it has been a learning curve. I also just really want to have some fun in Atlanta, meet new people, and drink some amazing coffee.

Thanks, Sammy!

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