Barista Interview: Cabell Tice, 2013 CoffeeFest NYC Latte Art Champion

Cabell Tice of Thinking Cup

Cabell Tice shocked the competitive latte art world when he won the Latte Art World Championship Open at CoffeeFest, NYC as a first time competitor. We sat down (digitally) with the reigning champ and asked him a few questions about latte art, being a barista, and where to drink coffee in Bean Town.

You won the Latte Art World Championship Open your first time competing. Did you expect that would happen? What’s it like pouring latte art in those kinds of conditions?
I didn’t expect to show up and win CoffeeFest. I was hoping to not lose in the first round, but then that turned into wanting to make it the next one and so on. On the final day I made it through the top 16. Thats when I thought to myself that maybe I could actually do it.

Pouring latte art on a stage next to some of the best latte artists in the world was definitely a big deal. I was nervous. I was shaking. The draw throughs didn’t get good until the final round against Kenny. It was a momentarily stressful and emotionally draining thing for me.

They didn’t announce the winner for four hours after your pour. What were those four hours like?

Oh man, I’m not even sure. Stressful. I had a few interviews and people kept asking if I thought I had it in the bag, I really had no idea. I thought Kenny had a great pour and the inner layer of my tulip was a little bit off, but my base really sat well in the cup. I had some people tell me their opinions, but I didn’t want to get too hung up on first or second. Kenny is a great guy so I would have been happy either way.

Do you plan to compete in future CoffeeFest events? Will we see you in Chicago or Seattle this year?

I’m still thinking about doing Chicago, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be at Seattle. I guess if you win one you get seeded pretty well too, so I might have to give it another shot this year. It’s also a great chance to hang out with friends I don’t get to see too often, so that’s always a plus.

You work for Thinking Cup in Boston. How does working in a busy cafe prepare you for competitions? How does competing affect the way you work on bar?

I do work for Thinking Cup in Boston. We sell a lot of coffee, I get to pour a lot of drinks. Probably more than most people do on any given day. That helps me work on consistency and speed. Two huge factors when it comes to pouring competitively at CoffeeFest. Plus the owners are big on pushing me to always get better. Their support for me at events like coffee fest has been huge as well.

How did you end up working in specialty coffee? Do you see coffee as a career or temporary gig until your big break?
 I think like most people I sort of stumbled into Specialty coffee. I needed a summer job and a cafe in my town (Street 14 Coffee || Astoria, OR) was just about to open. The owner kindly sent me to work with Matt at the ABCS in Portland, and I got pretty into it. After a while I took a leap at the opportunity to overhaul a few bars using y’know, 50 different syrups and 4 sizes of cappuccinos. Sharing the idea of specialty coffee with people unfamiliar with it is really eye opening, one of my favorite parts of the industry.
I guess it is a career of sorts for me. Now I’ve been in Boston with Thinking Cup for about a year and a half. It’s been a good experience.

At the end of the day I suppose I’d rather play music to people for a living, but who knows, “big breaks” happen to people too. I never thought I’d win CoffeeFest, so anything can happen.

Latte Art

There’s a lot of haters who think latte art is silly and superfluous. What would you say to them?

I guess to each their own. Obviously coffee quality isn’t 100% dictated by a good tulip or rosetta, but if your espresso sucks and your milk isn’t textured right you’ll get pretty bad latte art. It takes a good while to learn how to do it all well, so I think it’s indicative of how much effort is being given by the barista. I’d like to put two drinks side by side, one with latte art, one with none, what drink will get picked up by the consumer first? Granted if the drink tastes terrible, that won’t be good, but our job as baristas is to make sure we’re dialed in and serving delicious drinks. Great latte art is becoming more and more prominent, so it’s turning into a part of the experience that is no longer an option for the upscale espresso bar. If anything, customers love it and its really fun to do.

Where’s your favorite place to drink coffee on your day off? Favorite brew method at home?

I have a big coffee crush on Voltage in Cambridge, MA. They do such a good job and are real nice, genuine people. Either of the two Thinking Cups are always on my list. Mostly the north end location because I can chat up the barista and it’s a little slower than Tremont, but I definitely try to visit both shops when I can.  There is also a great crepery in Fenway called Neighborhoods. They’ve got tasty creeps and rock a mean French press.

  • Voltage – cappuccino or any espresso based drink
  • Thinking Cup – siphon or pour over of a variety of Stumptown’s great single origins, and baked goods like you won’t find anywhere else in the city.
  • Neighborhoods – French Press, crepes!

My home brewing goes as far as French press. I spend most of my time at work brewing coffee, so if I make it at home it’s for a couple people and myself which by volume is served better with French press. Always delicious though. I have a decent espresso machine too, but that goes mostly to hot chocolates.

Any non-coffee related dreams or ambitions?

I’d like to make music for a living. That would be cool. I’d like to build my mom a house. That would be cool too. Working for a travel magazine and traveling the world wouldn’t be half bad. When I was younger I wanted to be a national geographic photographer. Maybe I still want to do that.


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