Lick the Plate

Local barista takes top spot at Peet’s Coffee & Tea competition

I will be the first to admit that I’ve only recently been sucked into the whole gourmet coffee movement, if that’s what you call it. It’s hard enough keeping up on the ever-evolving food scene in San Diego so I’ve tended to stick with the basic brews, paying little attention to the nuances of the craft.

Robecca Moak — championbarista from Peet’s Coffee & Tea in Encinitas. Photo by David Boylan

That all changed recently when I had an opportunity to sit down with Rebecca Moak, the champion barista from Peet’s Coffee & Tea in Encinitas. Rebecca takes her coffee as seriously as a chef or accomplished bartender. I love that kind of passion and it really came through when I tasted her winning cortado served with blueberries and dark chocolate. It was like a perfect pairing of wine and food. Thanks Rebecca, now I have one more area of my life where the bar has been raised. Will ordinary coffee ever suffice again??

Here is the conversation I had with Rebecca.

Lick the Plate: What was your first experience with good coffee and was there an influence in your life that turned you on to coffee?

Rebecca Moak: I have a nostalgic first memory of coffee. My grandparents always made Chemex coffee before switching to an automatic machine, and I remember being fascinated with the brewing method. It always made a great cup of coffee.

LTP: There are a lot of coffee houses out there, what influenced you to work at Peet’s?

RM: The main motivation was needing a job. I didn’t know a whole lot about Peet’s before working here, but the more I learned, the more impressed I was with the company.

LTP: How long have you been a barista?

RM: I have been a barista for about seven years. I started at my college campus’ coffeehouse for three years, two years at an independent coffeehouse, and two years at Peet’s. Each experience has been totally different. In my first coffee job, we didn’t have a whole lot of training, so I really had no idea what I was doing. We used to drink shots of espresso as a dare because we thought it was so gross. At Peet’s a shot of espresso is what it’s all about, and with the right knowledge and skill it is amazing!

LTP: Did you realize early on that you had a special knack for this?

RM: I don’t think so; I would say that my skills have developed over a lot of time. At my second coffee job I had a lot of time to practice and to drink coffee, so I really started to appreciate the skill it takes to pull an excellent shot of espresso or make creamy, velvety foam. As soon as I started at Peet’s, my skills developed exponentially. It’s here that I’ve learned the most drink-making technique and background knowledge related to where the coffee comes from, how it’s processed, and how that contributes to the flavor profile.

LTP: Your winning drink is your signature espresso cortado; can you describe how this is made and what inspired it?

RM: Essentially, a cortado is a really small cappuccino, about 3 ounces. One ounce espresso and 2 ounces foamed milk. The way the milk is poured into the espresso incorporates all the elements together so you get a creamy, very coffee-forward drink. I served blueberries and dark chocolate on the saucer with the intent of bringing out the fruity/pungent/winey/chocolaty flavors of the Arabian Mocha-Java espresso I used.

LTP: You selected the Surfrider Foundation as the recipient of the $1,000 donation that Peet’s provides to the winner. They must have been stoked about that, what was behind that decision?

RM: Growing up in North County San Diego, the beach has always been a big part of my life. Surfrider is an organization whose values resonate with those of my local community, so I felt it was the perfect organization to pick. I’m stoked for them that I won!

LTP: So what’s next? Is there a higher level competition involved or a career in coffee?

RM: No competitions, but hopefully a career. I feel like I’m in a great place with Peet’s because they are so focused on finding the best coffees and teas from around the world. I just want to keep on learning, and eventually pass on that knowledge to others. Stop in and sample one of Becca’s award winning cortados at Peet’s in Encinitas located at 119 N. El Camino Real.

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David Boylan is founder of Artichoke Creative and Artichoke Apparel, an Encinitas based marketing firm and clothing line. Reach him at or (858) 395-6905.