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Last week, the coffee world was in World Barista Championship fever. Contestants from 57 countries gathered in Amsterdam. Days of final contestant briefings, preparation, and pre-competition nerves. From preliminary rounds, to semi-finals and the big day, the finals. The new World Barista Champion 2018 would be crowned, and the coffee world would celebrate all that is part of this competition.
Throughout the last 6 years, I have seen hundreds of Baristas participate in the competition. I will never forget the year I volunteered in Dublin. I was there, close to the action, preparing the competing stations. There I got a taste not only of the amazing coffees, but of the hard work and dedication that goes into the Championship. Months, years of dedication and training in order to present that ultimate espresso, cappuccino and signature drink. The Baristas are all briefed on what the judges are looking for. This includes what will score the most points, and what will give them the edge. Thought goes into not only selecting the coffee, but to selecting their milk. They carefully select every single piece of equipment, right down to their cups and spoons. Not to mention their apron and outfit for the day… and the hair. It is all part of their coffee story and the coffee experience that they want to create for the competition. For competing Baristas and the teams, coffee is their life. Here is what is was like back 2016 in Dublin.
The movement of speciality coffee over the years has really put pressure on Baristas to present not only their coffee, but their coffee knowledge. Some of the teams went for the most expensive speciality coffees on the market. Some for the elaborate signature drink, which ended up looking more like a science experiment, all to push the boundaries and get as many flavour notes out of the coffee. I often wondered whether this was almost going too far. Wasn’t this all really about getting us to connect with them and their coffee, more than taking us into the coffee lab? Why were they trying to impress the judges with the exaggerated smiles and all their highly technical and scientific coffee studies, when it really is about staying as authentic as possible and wowing them with the coffee and experience? I thought maybe it was just me who was thinking like this, and carried on.
2018 World Barista Championship arrives. Watching the competition through the live stream this year was captivating. From an outsider looking in, the competition had really moved on in 2 years to being more coffee experienced focused. Great coffee, professional and welcoming delivery, and passion. Back to basics of what coffee is all about. Connecting people through great coffee.
Watching the 6 finalists compete through the magic of technology was entertaining, emotional and educational. They took me on their 15 minute coffee journey. I would have loved to be there to try each espresso, cappuccino and signature drink. The coffee overdose would have been worth it! What makes them all winning Baristas for me?
- Barista Basics. They stared with the why. Why they fell in love with coffee and became a Barista. They bought in their story and their emotion. They focused on being who they are, being the authentic Barista, a lover of coffee. The hours of preparation was obvious. So too was their love for their selected coffee, and the team that stood behind them to get them there. They all became our Barista, our friend. You only have to watch Michalis Katsiavos (The Underdog Roasters) of Greece in action to understand what I mean.
- Customer first: They transformed the stage into their temporary cafe, where the Judges became their customers. Each competitor put thought into how they wanted to position the judges to create their cafe experience. They also thought about how they could connect with them within 15 minutes. Switzerland’s Mathieu Theis (MAME) did a personal introduction before inviting the Judges to sit down. Mathieu proceeded to remember them by first name throughout his performance. A nice personal touch.
- Forget the super fancy: For me it was about sleek, elegant, simple, professional, enjoyable. You don’t have to have the worlds most expensive Geshia coffee to win a competition, and you don’t have to have a complex science experiment on stage either. The winning performance of Barista Agnieszka Rojewska from Poland captures this perfectly!
- Fun: The Baristas actually looked like they were enjoying themselves! Lots of natural eye contact, smiles, exchanges. They were relaxed and I was capitvated. They gave us the technical input but made it education and fun. I am officially a fan of all 6 Baristas!
Long live all Baristas, their love and passion for coffee, and their ability to connect with us, the coffee lovers and followers from around the world.
Now, meet the crowned World Barista Champion 2018, Agnieszka Rojewska of Poland. The first female Barista to win the competition. If you haven’t seen her performance, I strongly recommend you make yourself your favourite cup of coffee, sit back and enjoy the show.