WBC 2011 Wrapup

It is done and dusted – the 12th World Barista Championship has a new champion, and a lot of fun was had in the process. I’m not particularly good at these wrap up style posts, because it sometimes feels that there is too much to cover. Nevertheless – I shall try!

John Gordon made everyone at SQM incredibly proud. He took completely the right approach to competition – using it as a vehicle to learn, and I think because of that attitude has come away with a huge amount from it. His coffee was delicious (credit to Jess), and it was cool for everyone in the company to be involved in some way. I’m glad I overcame the nerves to watch him in the finals – he was great. Also – his signature drink is so tasty, shockingly so for something containing grape juice, hops, lime and espresso. Balanced, complex goodness and one of the few signature drinks that I could drink several of out of choice.

Making finals these days is a great achievement, a huge achievement. Making semifinals has become a challenge – the average standard of performances these days being much, much higher. Chatting to Matt Perger backstage he made the comment that every single barista was dialling in during their practice hour with a set of scales. (Essential for the weird atmospheric conditions). Speaking to a number of judges the average espresso was significantly better than ever before too. (Not that I am saying that they are linked…..) 1

The competition itself was also pretty incredible. Not since Japan in 2007 has there been a stage like that, and never before has there been an audience that much fun, that noisy and that supportive. Those who got to perform on that stage got an experience that was truly unique. I am not disparaging Vienna next year, but I think this one is going to be tough to top, the way that Tokyo was tough to top. 2

For the finals I really enjoyed doing the commentary with Peter Giuliano on the live stream. Took a while for me to get into, but I hope it was at least a little entertaining for the folks watching online (and there were a lot more of you than I thought!). Feedback on that obviously welcome, and I think it is likely to be something that becomes increasingly common. Thoughts on that welcome, as I am obviously completely biased.

Having the WBC in a producing country was definitely a good thing. The farm tour that the baristas went on seemed extremely well received and the vibe behind the competition was great too. I’m absolutely gutted for Lina from Colombia, clearly so strong in the first round and then a tough semifinals performance that knocked her out. In fact (going back to how big an achievement making semis and finals are) if you look at who didn’t make it through you get as clear an idea of how tough it is, as if you were to just look at who did make it.

We have, without a doubt, a great champion this year. He’s lovely, genuine, passionate, talented and will make a superb ambassador for coffee. I hope producing countries in Central and South America take full advantage of a champion who understands coffee culture in a producing country, and who speaks both Spanish and English.

His performance was clearly exceptional – he was the one to watch from day one. Despite missing the first day, when I asked around a lot of people were pretty excited by what he was doing. If you haven’t seen it then you should watch it online.

On twitter afterwards I saw a number of people describe this performance as a game changer. In many ways I think that is a fair description, but perhaps I see it differently to other people.

Alejandro’s routine was a near perfect demonstration of the possible connection between a barista and origin. (It should be noted that Pete’s stellar performance was incredibly well executed along those lines too). In some ways the theoretical barrier that stopped producing countries winning has been lifted, but at the same time I think some of their advantage has gone as well. The winning performance next year cannot be along the same lines as the one this year. There must be change, there must be evolution. The card has been played to perfection, and now competitors much take a different direction. Pete picked, pulped, roasted and brewed his coffee. Hard to top. Alejandro’s signature drink contained everything the coffee tree producers, and as he performed both the producer and roaster watched from the crowd. I loved it all! I think Alejandro’s win is the start of something exciting.

I think that for the first time everyone is back to a level playing field – regardless of whether your home country produces coffee or not. I hope this means that next year we see more risk taking, more innovation and bigger ideas than ever before.

So. Best WBC ever. Seriously. An exciting year for a new champion, and I hope a lot of people went away reinvigorated about competition. 3 Congratulations to Alejandro, Federico and all at Viva Espresso (Federico is somehow even more passionate about coffee than when I first met him 5 years ago – which is saying something!), and to all who competed. (edit) Also huge congrats to Steve Leighton of HasBean for consistently roasting awesome coffee – I tasted Alejandro’s espresso backstage and it was seriously delicious. Congratulations to the WCE and Cafe de Colombia on an incredible event. I’m missing loads of stuff out, but I figure this post is long enough.

Thoughts and comments on this very welcome and there’s a flickr gallery of iphone shots here.

  1. Actually, I might be saying that they are linked.  ↩︎
  2. No matter how much chocolate is involved  ↩︎
  3. I still plan on taking next year off and having nothing whatsoever to do with any competitor!  ↩︎

15 Comments

  1. My thoughts exactly: This WBC will be hard to top.  Looking back, this competition changes angles every four-five years; first the Scandos, then the Anglos, now the Latinos (to reference Paul Stack). I guess we won’t wait too long until we’ll have our first Asian champion. Miki’s presentation was one of my favourites of this year’s, and for a good reason – a totally different approach to the coffee that one would see normally.

    I’ve also noticed that competitors are more aware of how the scoresheets work, using it to their advantage, for instance when to say certain things, giving judges the right amount of time to evaluate, not overloading infos and such… maybe a reason to change the rules, giving future competitors a fresh challenge.

  2. I’ve watched numerous WBC performances online over the past few years and there have been a few game changers, but the difference about this winning performance was the sheer sincere passion Alejendro showed was inspiring. The live web feed was great, I know it was the WBC but bearing in mind it was in Colombia it put the ukbc to shame! Peter and your commentary really made a difference and gave an insight to the processes and thoughts of the competitors, I hope this will be mirrored in future web streams.

    A spectator it’s hard to see (as in get the taste) how well the drinks work and from a technical view point all the finalists ate obviously up there so it’s just down to the performance and Alejandro appeared not to perform, just gush with enthusiasm, it reminded me of a podcast comment by Stephen Morrissey regarding being charmed to death by a competitor. I loved the performance but am struggling to imagine what will happen next year, but can’t wait.

  3. The comments at the live stream were not only informative, but also entertaining :) Great Job!

  4.  Could you comment something about Spain 4th place, please?

    I was shocked when I saw Spain finish fourth. I’ve never had a good cup in Spain, so I find amazing the result and hard to understand how they ranked above Gordon considering that I find SQM coffee top world right now.  :-o

  5. Good round up James, John did us proud. All the baristas worked hard preparing for the competition and at the WBC, it was a pleasure to be there.

  6. I agree with Paul, the commentry was great.  Made it alot easier to follow what was going on as the baristas’ mics aren’t always that clear.

  7. Interesting to note thatAlejandro’s score in the finals and Pete Licata’s score in the semis were within 1.5 of each other, I think.  Both in the range of 711.  Those 2 guys were fabulous.  This is not to take anything away from the other 52 competitors!  There was some fascinating and creative stuff going on in Bogota…But what are those of us NOT from coffee-producing regions gonna do for routines?!

  8. The live commentaries were one of the highlights of this competition. Specially because they were always perfectly timed and explained really well to a wider and general audience exactly what the competitors’s presentation was about. Good job indeed and I really hope more of this is done next year.

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