Carson City’s Rizo-Pineda a Starbucks barista star

Ivan Rizo-Pineda pours milk into a flat white latte Wednesday at the north Starbucks in Carson City.

Ivan Rizo-Pineda pours milk into a flat white latte Wednesday at the north Starbucks in Carson City.

A Starbucks star, native Nicaraguan Ivan Rizo-Pineda is a Carson City resident and coffee shop manager who knows his java from the ground up.

He grew up on a coffee farm.

The Starbucks outlet manager knows coffee from beans to grounds, from earth to cup and now from the perspective of a barista champion. Rizo-Pineda, who runs the outlet at 3228 N. Carson St., blew through Starbucks competitions for barista champ recognition at the district, regional and division levels. The latter two victories included trips to Las Vegas and Denver, with the overall triumph winning him a visit to the firm’s Seattle headquarters.

“I won and got the opportunity to spend a week in Seattle at the (Starbucks) support center.” said Rizo-Pineda. There, he said, it wasn’t a competition; it was, instead, a chance to share techniques with other topflight barista competition winners on presentation and other aspects of knowledge about or passion for coffee. He said this first such barista champ Starbucks competition was a great experience for him and his colleagues.

The Carson City Starbucks manager notes being a barista is much like being a sommelier because coffee comes from all over the world and requires knowledge of differences and similarities.

“Coffee is like wine,” said Rizo-Pineda. “It gets its flavor from the place where it is grown.” He spoke with pride of a Nicaraguan coffee that has made the Starbucks menu.

“Last year we had our first Nicaraguan coffee,” he said. “It’s from the region called Matagalpa.” He said he grew up about two hours north of that area on a coffee farm, recollecting he was learning about his current trade from childhood on. At age seven, he said, he learned “washing” of coffee and at nine, he picked beans. He began college there intending to become an agronomist, but came to the United States in 1994 to visit relatives.

“I thought I was going to be here for six months’” he said. Instead, it’s now half a lifetime later and he has been a U.S. citizen since the year 2000. He’s married and has three children. He and his wife, Evelyn, took their kids — Ulani, 13; Ziah, 9, and Keani, 8 — to his Nicaraguan hometown of Yali last year for a visit. It was his first time back, he said. He’s from a small town in which his high school graduating class had just 19 members.

Rizo-Pineda was asked about his hyphenated last name and explained the first one is his father’s, the second his mother’s, as is traditional in his culture.

“When I became a citizen,” he said, “I decided to keep them both.”

Rizo-Pineda may have moved on from his intent to become an agronomist, but his current post still relates to the soil and what it can produce, and he hasn’t moved on from education. He took classes at Western Nevada College (WNC) last semester. Though he’s now taking a respite from course work, he plans to use the Starbucks educational aid program to continue his studies. He intends to work toward credentials in international business.

Rizo-Pineda, who is 40, began three years ago with Starbucks as an assistant manager. He has been a manager for two years and oversees a staff of some 15 part- and full-time baristas.


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