Catalyst Coffee wouldn’t have happened if the World Barista Championship didn’t exist, because this is where Xin and myself, Hanna, met.
Just like bartenders and sommeliers, baristas also have competitions. The World Barista Championship (WBC) is the current premier barista competition, with the winners of each national barista championship (or an otherwise appointed competitor) competing for the world title. Competitors prepare and serve 12 coffee beverages in 15 mins - four espresso, four milk beverage, and four signature beverage (no alcohol allowed) for four sensory judges. There are three rounds of judging, preliminary round, semi-finals and finals round, featuring the top six competitors.
Competitors are required to explain why, what and how of their routine while they prepare and serve coffee on stage. Flavour notes for each beverage categories are essential otherwise no marks (zero) will be gained. Marks are based on the accuracy of the flavour notes, knowledge, professionalism, hygiene, technique and creativity etc.
No matter how much competitors are prepared, anything can still go wrong. Competitors’ performances are streamed live online, so risk management and ability to work under pressure becomes important. 0.5 points difference can separate them from becoming the world champion to a second place, which could be just one small movement what they do - or not do, like not wiping the table when the competitor has made a few drops of water, few coffee grinds around the grinder that needed to be cleaned or holding the coffee cup too close to the rim where judges drink from while serving.
WBC takes place each year at different hosting countries. This year has just past in Seoul, South Korea, during the Cafe Show (November 9-12) and our New Zealand champion, Dove Chen, the owner of Grey Street Kitchen in Hamilton, has represented us beautifully.
We got in touch with Dove after he came back home and asked him some questions of his journey to the WBC.
What did it take for you to win the national title?
It’s a team effort. I was so lucky that I have a great team supporting me leading up to the nationals. They are my coaches David Huang, Sam Low, and my roaster Scott Pepler. We spent a lot of late nights to refine my concepts and routine. Also my cousin Alex assisted me with my practice, and all my staff worked extra shifts and extra hard to cover me so that I could focus on the preparation. I couldn’t do it without them.
What did you gain from the WBC?
It was such an amazing opportunity to compete and represent New Zealand in the WBC. I’ve gained a lot of experience so that I could re-evaluate myself. I think the most important part of this trip is networking, I made so many friends from all over the world.
What was the best experience in Korea? (not coffee related)
The best experience has to be Korean BBQ. We literally just walked into any BBQ restaurants without recommendation, they were all damn good. It’s even more fun when the staff don’t speak English. It’s kinda adventurous, we eat whatever the wait staff put on the table. But everything was so delicious.
WBC is something very special for competing baristas. Meeting new people with same passion from around the world is rewarding and exciting, however, competition itself is a serious business and can only have one champion each year. Many different thoughts and emotions go through our mind in such a density that is almost impossible to process during the event period. We learn so much from these experience and makes us want to compete again because we know we can be better next time.
Watching Dove compete was definitely stimulating. We will be back in the game as Team Catalyst when the time comes.
World Barista Championship