WBC – Thoughts and Thank Yous

August 4th, 2007

It still hasn’t sunk in, perhaps because it was beyond my expectations of what could happen in Tokyo.  Regardless of this I am still a very, very happy person.  I am very aware, however, that there are a lot of people to whom I owe a great deal, who have given a lot to help me and have been instrumental in my success in the WBC.  (this may end being quite a long post as I have a lot of people to thank – I hope I don’t miss anyone out!  And yes, there are a lot of Stephens)  All the thank yous below are heartfelt, yet woefully inadequate:

Starting with the biggest thank you to Anette.  First of all for roasting the coffee (though I will get to other thank yous there also).  For putting up with me, for supporting me competing for the last couple of years.  For the endless nights in the training room over those years patiently watching, tasting and cleaning.   I’ve learnt a great deal from you, you are amazing in every way.  I could not have achieved any of this without you.

Stephen – thank you for the time you’ve put in, for seeing all the detail, for being a great sounding board, for always pushing me forwards, always asking the right questions and for being a great friend for the last couple of years.  I am looking forward to working with you very much.

Jenny – I am so glad you were there with us, both in Tokyo and for the UKBC and I am so grateful for your incredible help, especially with all the thankless tasks that surround barista competitions.  I think the four of us made a great team this year.  Thank you thank you!

Peter and Elliott – for your gracious loan of your roasters, as well as sharing so much of your knowledge when it came to the coffees and the profiles.  Without your input I don’t think the coffees would have gotten me the top spot, you are both inspirational roasters to us and we really can’t thank you enough.

Steve Leighton – for roasting amazing coffee for me for the last two UK Competitions and for Berne.  For tolerating my endless absurd demands and always pulling new and amazing out of the bag.  Your generosity with coffee, knowledge and everything else is incredible and I have been so lucky to have a friend like you in coffee.

Steve Penk – as an employer who acted as a catalyst in my education in coffee, who quickly became a good friend.  Without you and Chris giving me the freedom to learn, as well as putting a lot of your own time and money into my education I would have found coffee much harder work than I do.  The hard work you have put in to changing and improving the UK coffee scene is extraordinary in the truest sense – you have changed what it means to be a barista in the UK, and I am sure I am not alone in feeling grateful to you for that.

Stephen and Flori – in the last two years you have opened my eyes to the possibilities of how good coffee can be and then gone further by putting stellar coffees in front of me and giving me access to so much and so many.  I have benefited hugely from the invitations to your cupping table and sharing your vast wealth of experience and knowledge.  Thank you also to Grant, Jose, Gayle and Hayley at Mercanta who have always been great friends, supporters and willing guinea pigs of my experiments!

A huge thank you and my complete respect to all the other competitors because you make the craft of the barista something to be very proud of, and you are inspirational to me and many others and I hope I can live up to your expectations of a representative of what we do.  I hope to see many of you again over the coming months and years and you made Tokyo and incredible and humbling experience.

Hermanos Barrantes Zuñiga and all those at Herbazu for an amazing coffee that I think confounds expectations of how a single estate Costa Rican espresso should taste.

Mr Harries, Mr Ngungute and Mr Gitonga who managed Gethumbwini, and all those who work their that produced one of my favourite coffees of the last few years.  I am drinking a cup as write this and I hope one day to see the place this stellar coffee comes from.

The experience of competing is terrifying, but I have to thank the two people who work incredibly hard behind the scenes with the competitors and make us feel welcome and relaxed do so much to help in any way they can – Michelle Campbell and Cindy Chang are both awesome, utterly awesome.

Thanks too to Jay and Bronwen and the people who volunteer their time and hard work doing a pretty thankless and unpleasant task, and doing it incredibly well.

Nick Cho also deserves a huge thank you, not just from me but from everyone who attended this year.  It might have been me but Nick’s name seemed curiously and disappointingly absent from the speeches before the announcements and he did a difficult job for three very long days and did it exceptionally.  I think his introductions and his attitudes made every barista feel proud of their country and their craft.

There are plenty more people that deserve recognition – the people who work behind the scenes of the UKBC and WBC.  The SCAE, SCAA and SCAJ all put a lot into the biggest ever WBC and I am not sure when the WBC will next generate an audience the size that it did in Tokyo.  A lot of people have worked a similar magic on the UK and I thank them.  I’ve probably missed lots of people but I hope to thank most everyone in person soon.

As for my thoughts on the competition – It was amazing.  I have no idea if I will every make coffee in front of that many people again and maybe I won’t ever again.  I really didn’t think I had won before the announcements, and I am happy that from a technical standpoint I managed to get out of the way and get a lot of what is great about those coffees into the cup – I’ve always maintained that all my potential lies there, and any barista is only as good as their coffee.  I knew this year I was working with amazing crops and I am glad I could get that to the judges.  I am not sure if I will ever be able to watch the videos up on Zachary Zachary – maybe when I am an old man reliving past triumphs!  Actually they deserve a huge thank you – Katie and Zachary have done a great deal for the competition and being a barista.

I barely looked at my scoresheets during my post match chat with Matts – though I did see that I was rightly slaughtered on one set of capps for not enough foam – I think a lot of people have spotted that one.  (I think my attention was so focused on my 2nd set of shots that my milk suffered a little).  What really delighted me was that I think I did a good job of my espressos.  Backstage before hand they were tasting so good, compared to the ups and downs of the practise the day before, and that let me relax and get on with things.

I will post more, maybe a nice round up post once I have had a chance to relax and wind down.  I’ve uploaded a whole bunch of photos to Flickr – here is the set.

Thanks again to everyone, I am humbled and grateful and really want to do the best possible job I can between now and Copenhagen 2008.

James

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