Story by Adrienne LaFrance
Photos by Matt Mallams
It’s a quiet June morning at Ala Moana Shopping Center, and at a Honolulu Coffee Co. kiosk, a pot of coffee gleams auburn under the sun. This is not just any run-of-the-mill, grab-it-and-go joe. The coffee in this pot is some of the best—and rarest— in the world. Weeks earlier, in the town of Bogotá, Colombia, it won the man who created it the right to call himself the second-best barista on the planet. Now that man, Pete Licata, stands at the kiosk counter, pours a taste of the brew and sips it for “quality control.”
Boffo barista: Honolulu Coffee Co.'s Pete Licata was named the best barista in the country at the United States Championships in Houston this year. he then flew to Bogota, Columbia, to compete in the World Barista Championship, where he took second.
Licata knows the beans that created this coffee intimately: He picked them on the Big Island when they were still cherries on the tree, processed them, roasted them, blended them, ground them and then transformed them into the liquid before us. Licata spent months perfecting this coffee and years getting himself to the point where he would be able to do so. Now on this June morning he has maybe a quarter-pound of beans left, a mere handful of the creation that took him from Honolulu to the heights of the international coffee world. “After that it’s all gone,” he muses. “This special little project that became an enormous undertaking.”
We drink the coffee. It is remarkably sweet and full-bodied with an uplifting bite of tangy nectar at the finish, like the flare of a flame just before it goes out. “At this point it’s got kind of a dry, bittersweet cocoa type of flavor,” Licata says between sips. “It’s still very, very sweet. The acidity is still there; it’s kind of like sweet orange citrus. And there’s definitely a berry fruit coming through— like a chocolate-covered blueberry kind of thing.”
That complexity was by design. “Literally understanding what creates different flavors throughout the entire process of coffee, especially in the United States, that’s something that has been a little bit of a mystery,” Licata says. He took it upon himself to unlock that mystery— and in the process he did something that no competitive barista before him had done: He crafted his coffee all the way from the field to the cup.