I just noticed the World Barista Championship is in a little less than three weeks, which means twitchy.org is a little remiss in the annual interviewing-of-what-competitors-I-can-get-to-write-me-back. Let’s start with an awesome chat with Yara Castanho, Barista Champion of Brasil, shall we?
Hi Yara! Do you live in Sao Paolo? What’s your background in coffee?
So, I live in São Paulo. I started working with coffee almost by accident. My sister used to work at a cofeeshop, Suplicy Cafés Especiais, and I worked at a skateshop, and studied Digital Design. So, I got sick of the skateshop and my sister told me they were looking for baristas at Suplicy. I went there and within one week I was working there. Didn’t have a clue about special coffee and barista! But when I saw that beautiful Marzocco, pink, I just went crazy! At Suplicy you have to wait like 2 or 3 months before you can actually be a barista, you have to learn some coffee theory first, then learn about the food, the cashier, all that boring stuff….
But, on my 3rd day working there, I decided to start working that Marzocco, and as I’ve shown great interest, people just let me make coffee. On my second week as a barista, I got lots of compliments from customers and staff.
After one and a half year there, happened the first regional barista championship 2006, to choose the top 3 from São Paulo and send them to the national’s. My boss asked me if I wanted to go, and of course I said yes! Were 4 of us competing from Suplicy, my friend Bruno won and I got second place. For that champioship, we had two Russian baristas helping us out, for 4 days, was really cool learning the Russian style!…
…2009, again, I went there not with my hopes too high, because we had some of the best baristas competing again, like Otávio, the brazilian champion from 2006. Gave my best, when they announced the final 6, my name was called and I got happy. Went to the finals but after my performance I got really worried, ‘ cause the other 5 went really well. But, they called number 6…number 5…number 4…number 3….was just Otávio and I standing there…I was so prepared to be second place again, because someone told me the champion would be a guy. I was crushed! But, as we held Stephen Morrissey’s hands, I completely forgot about that and was wishing my hand could be raised and he did! Stephen raised my hand! They said I wouldn’t win to see my suprised face! First I thought it was a mean thing to do, but in the end it was cool, ‘ cause my i can’t-believe-face was worth it! Definitely one of the best moments of my life.
What is cafe culture like there? Do you feel there’s a strong connection between Brasil’s cafes and the way coffee is consumed within cities, and the nation’s standing as such a shining producer of coffees? Living in the US, where we have a thriving cafe culture but where coffee is not grown, I wonder what it must be like to be passionately committed to the barista craft when your ties to coffee might be so much stronger.
Cafe culture here is big, there’s no way you go to a restaurant and don’t ask for a shot after your meal….we do drink a lot of coffee, but not good coffee though. I think the special coffee culture is increasing, but that started like only 5 years ago. It’s really fun when someone walks into the coffeeshop and asks for a short and creamy espresso, that shows we’re starting to pay attention to quality. I really think that our job as coffee lovers, or students, is to show people, to teach them about all the complexity of coffee. I think people have more respect for those who understand about wine because no one makes wine at home, but everybody makes coffee at home, not good coffee, but coffee though. When I say that I’m a barista, that I make coffee, some people think is easy, so you make coffee, how hard can it be??? God, I just hate that! Most people don’t see what happens before the espresso in the cup. How much time we spend getting the machine right, with the right temperature and pressure, clean, choosing a good coffee, tasting it as many times as we need to get the best of it, is a lot of work! Everyone should know that to appreciate a good cup of coffee. That’s my job and I love it!
Brazil being a coffee producer, actually makes that some of us just don’t taste much of coffees from all around the world, which is a bad thing. But even if we go for it, we have sooooo much bureaucracy to import things, so when the foreign coffee leaves the custom, it’s not so fresh anymore.
What have been some of your favorite Brazilian coffees in the past year? What about favorite coffees from other regions?
The Brazilian coffee region I loooooooooove is South Minas, typical South Minas coffee has the quality I like the most in coffee, acidity. Good acidity, fruity, citric, with a delicate sweetness in the aftertaste. Cerrado is great too, known all over the world as a base coffee, sweet, chocolate notes, full-bodied, velvety, really good.
What are you looking forward to doing in Atlanta besides winning the World Barista Championship? There are some pretty cool Whale Sharks at the Georgia Aquarium.
I have never been to Atlanta before, actually I never have been in the US before, looking forward to! I want to see some coffeeshops, some bars to listen to good music and drink a few cosmopolitans!
Why do you compete?
I compete because gives me the rush I love, I get so nervous yet the competition is the moment I wait for every year. I think that you get more credit to talk about coffee to people if you have a name in coffee, it’s stupid, but people are more interested in listening to you if they know who you are.
What would you like to see change in coffee culture in the larger picture? Either locally or globally.
What I’d like to see changed in coffee culture is the respect for the barista; it should be more like the wine situation I said before. We spend so much time studying coffee, talking about coffee, we even have our own barista’s jokes! We’re like a clan! But really, people should respect us baristas more, because we give so much of our time to learn and make sure that knowledge will be in those 25, 30 ml of coffee.
Does your family understand coffee and your role in it?
My family’s starting to understand the coffee in my life. My mother was a bit concerned, ’cause I’m not going to college this semester, I’m in Law School. But I need that time to practice. I talked to her, explained and she understood how important this is to me. I also had to leave the law office I was going to (you need to work in your study area to graduate from college, but I kept working at Suplicy once in a while, never quit the barista!). I think everyone who’s around me knows how coffee affects me, I get the chills just talking about it!
You get to work in the morning. What drink do you make for yourself?
In the morning I like to drink filter coffee or latte, the latte made with espresso of course!
Thank you so much, Yara!