Coffee Bliss as Close as the Glen Mor Starbucks

Creativity and a passion for coffee pay off for a UCR undergraduate

If you are looking for a way to spend that Starbucks gift card lurking in your wallet, look no further than the Glen Mor Starbucks at UC Riverside.

Allen Justin “A.J.” David, a 21-year-old biology major at UCR, has taken off the green apron. Now he wears the black apron of a Coffee Master. Like the black belt, it indicates extensive training, and proof of expertise in the competitive ring.

During the summer, he earned top marks against the most accomplished Starbucks baristas in Orange County and the Inland Empire. In other words, he is a certified Starbucks Barista Champion.

The competition is not just about the beauty of the design on the top of the café latte, or the peaks on the foam on the top of the cappuccino, although those are important.

“The judges actually score based on whether you can keep up a good conversation while you make great beverages,” said David, a natural extrovert. “They want to see that you know the coffee and the food.”

Allen Justin “A.J.” David, a 21-year-old biology major at UCR, wears the black apron of a certified Starbucks Coffee Master.
Photo by Kris Lovekin

A.J. David had only been a barista for 18 months when he won his honors. He said that Starbucks routinely offers extensive training, and he also happened to have a natural gift. Soon, he was coordinating the training for other student workers at the Glen Mor Starbucks. And he doesn’t mind giving away his secrets for the perfect leaf design on top of a flat white.

“That is the best thing about coffee,” he said. “It helps connect people.”

Starbucks manager Jami Entrikin worked with him to keep up his confidence for the competition, said Duane Gornicki, UCR’s senior director of dining services. He said UCR is always careful to implement the highest levels of training available from Starbucks and other national brands. “We take training seriously,” said Gornicki.

That is evident in how A.J. David can taste the difference between one coffee bean varietal and another, and knows from long experience which ones pair with which Starbucks cakes and snacks. He knows why the Kenya single source coffee beans taste best when paired with the lemon cake. “It has to do with the citrus notes in both,” he said. “I’ve developed my palate through coffee tastings.”

While he knows that the barista job is likely only for college, he said his customer service skills will help in any future career. He said he hopes to work in a career that builds off his training in biology.

“It would be an incredible opportunity if coffee somehow found its way back to me during my pursuit of biology,” he said.

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