Meet the Barista: Ten Questions with GARRETT O’CONNOR

Garrett O’Connor

This is an ongoing series in which you will get to know a little bit more about the fine young men and women who prepare your coffee at Kean Coffee through a set of random interview questions. Garrett O’Connor has been part of the team at Kean Coffee Newport for a little under a year. Garrett loves working with people and honing his craft as a barista. He is multi-talented, multi-faceted, and witty. If he doesn’t pursue a career as a stand-up comic, he will certainly entertain those around him despite it. Garrett can always be counted on for a smile. That’s why we love Garrett!

KC:  What do you like best about being a barista?

GO: The cute girls that come in. Also when I manage to make a really good latte art and people take pictures of it.

KC:  What is your favorite coffee drink?

GO: Italian cappuccino, Napoli style

KC:  What is your favorite thing to do on a Saturday (when you have the day off)?

GO: Sleep, or go to an Anaheim Ducks game..

KC: What was your favorite toy as a child?

GO: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

KC:  What is a fun fact that most people do not know about you?

GO: I like to sing in the shower.

KC: What was your favorite Halloween costume ever?

GO: Going as myself when I went to a uniformed private school. I thought it was a clever exploit.

KC: What was your least favorite costume ever?

GO: There are no bad costumes when you get free candy.

KC:  Who was your idol when you were a kid, and why?

GO: Martin Diedrich, pretty self-explanatory. He still is my idol.

KC:  If you had to enter a cooking contest and prepare your best entrée or dessert to impress the judges, what would you make?

GO: Lemon glazed seared halibut with garlic risotto and Bananas Foster (I make the best!)

KC: What was your favorite movie of all time, and why?

GO: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It’s pretty epic.


KC: Thanks Garrett!


Meet the Barista: Eight Questions with MANUEL RODRIGUEZ

Manny Rodriguez- out standing in his field

This is an ongoing series in which you will get to know a little bit more about the fine young men and women who prepare your coffee at Kean Coffee through a set of random interview questions. Manuel “Manny” Rodriguez has been with Kean Coffee for two years, as a barista in our Newport coffeehouse. In addition to being an awesome barista, Manny is a high achieving college student who aspires to become a teacher. Whatever he is doing, Manny works hard and always strives for excellence, while at the same time keeping a great attitude. That’s why we love Manny!

KC:  What do you like best about being a barista?

MR: The best thing about being a Kean barista is crafting every single drink from scratch using world class ingredients to make drinks of great quality and taste our customers can experience.

KC:  What is your favorite coffee drink?

MR: Turkish latte is my favorite drink with no doubt. I love the taste of espresso, cane syrup and cardamom in the same drink.

KC:  What is your favorite thing to do on a Saturday (when you have the day off)?

MR: It has been a while since I had a Saturday off. However, on a typical Saturday afternoon I go to the gym, read my Bible, and watch sports among other things.

KC:  If you could travel to any place in the world, where would you go?

MR: If I could travel to any place in the world I would go Egypt.  Egypt’s history of pharaohs and archeology have always fascinated me.

KC:  What is a fun fact that most people do not know about you?

MR: Most people do not know I have a great sense of humor.

KC:  Name one of your personal traits or skills that you are most proud of.

MR: I am a good listener.

KC:  Who was your idol when you were a kid, and why?

MR: My idol has always been my grandmother. She raised me and taught me values such as respect, kindness and selflessness just to mention a few.

KC:  If you had to enter a cooking contest and prepare your best entrée or dessert to impress the judges, what would you make?

MR: To impress the judges I would make chocolate-covered marshmallows topped with shredded coconut.

KC: Thanks Manny!

Latte art by Manny of Kean Coffee

Meet the Barista: Eight Questions with BYRON PIERCE

This is the first in an ongoing series of blog entries in which you will get to know the fine young men and women who prepare your coffee at Kean Coffee through a set of random interview questions. We first shine the spotlight on Byron Pierce, a barista and shift manager who works at both our Newport Beach and Tustin coffeehouses. Byron has also recently begun acting as a barista trainer for Kean Coffee wholesale accounts, to rave reviews.  Byron is extremely dedicated and passionate about what he does. Don’t let this tough guy in the photo fool you, Byron is a sweetheart. That’s why we love him.  

Byron Pierce – barista, trainer and shift manager extraordinaire

KC:  What do you like best about being a barista?

BP: What I like best about being a barista is simply working with fine espresso, steaming perfect milk to perform fine latte art, and just making our customers smile everyday while getting quality coffee on every visit to our coffeehouse.

KC: What is your favorite coffee drink?

BP: A double Italian cappuccino. 

KC: What is your favorite thing to do on a Saturday, (when you have the day off)?

 BP: Well… first I cant stay away from our coffeehouse, I go into Kean Coffee every morning to have my coffee to start my day off well. then what I usually do is spend time with family, or simply go for a motorcycle ride up in the canyon areas, to ride and enjoy the beautiful view.

KC: If you could travel to any place in the world, where would you go?

BP: I would love to travel to two places – one being my ancestors country which would be Poland, and I  would also love to travel to Brazil.

KC: What was your favorite toy as a child?

BP: Remote control airplanes!! they were the best.

KC: What is a fun fact that most people don’t know about you?

BP: That I’m really energized to get up one day and randomly do anything that I normally wouldn’t do as a hobby. Like rock climbing in Utah. 

KC: Who was your favorite band/musician in high school?

BP: Mike Ness from Social Distortion. 

KC: Which of your personal traits or skills are you most proud of?

BP: Making fine coffee beverages, performing Latte Art, riding sport motorcycles, and speaking out to people with confidence.

KC: Thanks Byron!

One of Byron’s latte art creations

Kean Coffee Barista Michael Richardson competes in WRBC 2009

The Western Regional Barista Competition for 2009 took place on January 23, 24 and 25 in Downtown Los Angeles, hosted by Intelligentsia Coffee in Silverlake. This is an intensive competition where talented, diehard baristas from all over California come to practice their craft and show their personal best in front of a panel of judges from the specialty coffee industry for the chance to obtain valuable professional feedback, see how they measure up, and possibly win a spot to go on to the national competition. Winners on the national level ultimately compete in the World Barista Championship, a title currently held by Ireland’s Stephen Morissey.  

Mike Richardson at WRBC 2009
Mike Richardson at WRBC 2009

Kean Coffee’s own Michael Richardson competed in the Western Regional Barista Competition this year and made us very proud. Mike has participated in a number of barista events including the Ultimate Barista Challenge which takes place in L.A. every August, so with the WRBC Mike took it up a notch. This competition is not for the faint of heart. It requires nerves of steel, steady hands under pressure,and the ability to speak eloquently and in an engaging manner while your every move is being analyzed by seven expert judges – a head judge, two technical and four sensory judges. As a competitor, you must prepare four espressos, four cappucinos, and four of your own personal creations, signature drinks, to the closest level of perfection you are capable of in such circumstances. And all of this in exactly 15 minutes, as competitors who go overtime even a few seconds are disqualified, which happens every year to at least a few in the lineup.  Competitors are scored on every aspect of their routine from their technique in preparation, to the aesthetics of their table presentation, to their verbal presentation to their cleanliness and efficiency as they work. All of the scoring categories being said and done, ultimately the winning elements in the scoring come down to the taste of the espresso drinks – the definitive element in any barista’s talent.

Barista competitions are events that are crackling with energy. With a room full of fanatical coffee geeks who have all gathered together to indulge their passion for excellence in coffee and the coffee trade, how could one expect anything less? The coffee companies which sponsor competitors in these competitions are almost exclusively the small independents, with chain coffee companies altogether invisible in this world of serious coffee culture. It is a youthful culture characterized by creative intellectuals – philosophers, poets and artists, even “mad scientists” if you will, who use coffee as their medium and life as their canvas. Younger and older enthusiasts alike, the WRBC has a definite rock n’ roll vibe, with the championship baristas being the “rock stars” of the scene.

Mike speaking to the sensory judges
Mike speaking to the sensory judges

On Friday, the first day of the WRBC event, Mike along with another of our top Kean baristas, Shane Richardson, (no they are not brothers…. just two great baristas with the same last name!) spent close to two hours serving Kean espresso on the “Fourth Machine”. The Fourth Machine is an opportunity for spectators at the event to sample expertly pulled espressos from a variety of the different independent coffee roasters who have sent representatives to the competition. Mike and Shane had a great time featuring their espresso skills and sharing our own Kean Coffee espresso blend, and enjoyed the opportunity to hang out with other highly skilled baristas from up and down the state.

For his competition performance, Mike was scheduled close to the end of the day on the second day of the event, Saturday, which necessitated staying pumped up but conserving energy and remaining cool and collected through hours of watching other competitors performances. With Martin [Diedrich] and fellow Kean barista Michael Coultier in the audience to cheer him on, (along with Kean Coffee barista alumni Nick Brewer as well as alumni Janelle Bel Isle, who entered the WRBC 2008),  and before a live streaming video internet feed, Mike went through his routine for the judges smoothly and calmly, and made his time in just under 15 minutes.

The competitors pick their own music to accompany their routines, all part of setting a mood and creating theatrics, in addition to helping to put themselves in “the zone”. In the background of Mike’s video you can see Stephen Morissey, current world barista champ, watching… talk about pressure! In the end, Mike’s scores placed him just about smack in the middle of the field of 23 competitors including baristas from Intelligentsia (which swept the finals and took the win, but this blog is about Mike..heheh), La Mill and Caffe Luxxe in L.A.,  Vivace, Verve, Ritual, the Abbey and Barefoot Coffee from the Bay Area, among others. Two baristas from Zoka in Seattle, Washington competed out-of-region just for the practice, as many serious competitive baristas do to hone their skills and develop their routines. For a first-time competitor, smack in the middle is pretty darn good! Verve’s Jared Truby, who placed in the finals, almost seemed proud to brag on camera that the first time he ever competed, he came in dead last. This just underscored how far he had come and how much he had learned by competing in his craft!

Mike and Ike at WRBC 2009
Mike and Ike at WRBC 2009

Mike came away from his weekend adventure at the Western Regional Barista Competition 2009 newly inspired to continue his pursuit of ultimate barista perfection, and excited to pass along this inspiration through training  fellow Kean Coffee baristas both in the coffeehouse, and working one-on-one and in small groups in our newly built barista training lab in Costa Mesa. All in all the weekend was both exhausting and exhilarating. Congratulations, and way to go Mike! We look forward to seeing him in the next WRBC, should he choose to dive under the hot lights once again…stay tuned!

Kean Barista Janelle Bel Isle at the 2008 Ultimate Barista Challenge

Okay – in the interest of giving a thorough account of the event, we are posting here the official Press Release from the producers of the Ultimate Barista Challenge. Kean Coffee was very proud of our own Janelle Bel Isle for her performance in the UBC in August. She worked hard and reaped the rewards!

Janelle at UBC 2008
Janelle at UBC 2008

The 2008 Ultimate Barista Challenge® USA in Los Angeles where local baristi attempt to oust USA Ultimate Barista Heather Perry!


Portland, Oregon, USA – The 2008 Ultimate Barista Challenge USA features “dueling challenges” in Latte Art, Espresso Frappe, Espresso Cocktail and Best of Brew Challenges. The Los Angeles UBC is hosted at the Western Foodservice & Hospitality Expo where barista battle it out in qualifying Challenges earning cash prizes, medallions, sponsor gifts and the right to challenge the nation’s top “Ultimate Barista”, Heather Perry, thereby, becoming the next Ultimate Barista Los Angeles!  This no holds barred espresso & brewed coffee competition where taste, talent and speed earn high marks with the UBC Tasting and Technical judges.

World Renowned Ultimate Barista USA, Heather Perry successfully fended off three of four determined challengers.  Jeff Thomas of Coffee Klatch in San Dimas California won the Qualifying Challenge in Espresso Frappe. Jeff challenged Ultimate Barista Heather Perry who prevailed in the Ultimate Challenge unscathed and flawless in her performance. Janelle Bel Isle of Kean Coffee in Newport Beach won three of the four Qualifying Challenges and in one final match defeated Heather in the Espresso Cocktail Challenge!  Janelle’s winning cocktail was a delightful combination of espresso, roasted at Kean Coffee, spice infused port wine, and velvety chocolate to create a delicious aperitif suitable for any upscale café or restaurant. Heather’s cocktail, featured her own blend coffee roasted by Coffee Klatch of San Dimas.

UBC founder and Emcee Danny Johns of WholeCup Coffee Consulting, LLC presided over the Ultimate Barista Challenge USA with lively commentary and introductions as more than 15,000 attendees enjoyed the show and local cafes cheered for their favorite barista. Exclusive UBC Sponsor’s products and equipment were featured for audience members to enjoy and to witness the Ultimate Barista prepare their creative tasty coffee concoctions.


“This is a challenge where all the egos are gone and its pure talent and love for the craft of making great espresso based drinks”, states Cliff B. Young, Minister of Culinary Awareness for Let’s Dine Out Radio Show. Judge Robbie Lewis, Manager of Purchasing for Catalina Restaurant Group states “Participating in the Ultimate Barista Challenge is a wonderful opportunity for young people to get involved in our industry and to grow professionally in a fun, exciting and competitive atmosphere.” Ron Mathews, Event Director for Reed Exhibitions says, “The UBC brings excitement to the show floor side by side with the chef competitions.”  




Esteemed UBC Judges included renowned International Judge & UBC creator Sherri Johns, Gary Horne, General Manager of Astoria / CMA GEEC, Mrs. Robbie Lewis and Cliff Young of the “Lets Dine Out Radio Show” (food critic) KTIE 590 AM Radio.  UBC Judges found themselves drinking great espresso based drinks with a wide variety of alcohol, frappe, exotic ingredients & latte art!  This year’s UBC event brought 17 baristi from San Dimas, Los Angeles, Newport Beach, Venice and Temecula, CA! Congratulations to our new UBC Espresso Cocktail Champion Los Angeles Janelle bel Isle of Kean Coffee in Newport Beach, California and all of the participating Baristi!


OUR SPONSORS: The Ultimate Barista Challenge USA Exclusive UBC Espresso Machine Sponsor is GEEC / General Espresso Equipment Corp., Exclusive UBC Coffee Brewers and Grinders by BUNN-O-Matic Corporation, Exclusive UBC Syrup and Flavoring Sponsor Torani Syrups, Official UBC Blender Sponsor Vita-Mix® Corporation, Official UBC Media Sponsor; CoffeeTalk Magazine, Official UBC Specialty Coffee Sponsor for LA UBC Boyd Coffee Company, Diedrich Manufacturing, Inc. as Official Coffee Roaster Machines Sponsor and the Official UBC Exclusive Dairy Sponsor Organic Valley Family of Farms. Other sponsors include Reg Barber Enterprises and Joe Glow/Pallo.


The UBC is endorsed by the National Coffee Association of America and Presented by WholeCup Coffee Consulting LLC.  


About the Ultimate Barista Challenge®. Began in 2006, in the Pacific Northwest, long known as the country’s ‘coffee hot spot’. The Ultimate Barista Challenge (UBC) is an open competition. Barista enter one to four tasty bouts of coffee and espresso challenges: Espresso Frappe, Latte Art, Espresso Cocktails and Best of Brew Challenges. Baristi enter and compete in a qualifying round and those who win go on to challenge an Ultimate Barista of their choice to compete in a one-on-one dueling final contest of fast-paced espresso excellence.


The Ultimate Barista Challenge® is owned and produced by WholeCup Coffee Consulting, LLC, and endorsed by the NCA, National Coffee Association of America. Founders of the USBC and Barista Jams in the USA, now produce UBC at Culinary Shows worldwide. For more info, to register, or inquire about available sponsorships, please visit or call 1-503-232-1016.


The Western Foodservice & Hospitality Expo in Los Angeles, CA is produced by Reed Exhibition and sponsored by the California Restaurant Association. Reed Exhibitions is the world’s leading exhibition and conference organizer with 2,300 employees in 33 offices serving 52 industries worldwide. For more information visit or call 888-334-8705.


For more information:


Ultimate Barista Challenge;


The National Coffee Association of USA;


WholeCup Coffee Consulting; Danny or Sherri Johns,


The International Women’s Coffee Alliance;