one week after the world barista championships feels a bit like i had a hazy dream: in my dream five coffee producing nations rose to the top ranks of the semifinals, second place in the world was awarded to a guatemalan heartthrob, and the winning trophy was sent on a plane back to my hometown of chicago, illinois, with a certain mike phillips who, now freed up from competition rehearsal forever could be be an even greater threat to dance floors internationally. oh wait, though. not a dream. this really happened.
54 nations sent worthy and worldly competitors to london last week to make better espressos, cappuccinos and signature drinks than anyone else on the entire planet, and from those 54 came some memorable routines. oda haug of norway may not have persuaded the judges with her daring scandinavian roast profiles, but her performance showed amazing skill and love…attila molnar performed a signature drink à la “man behind the curtain”, hiding the entire preparation and even visual appearance of his drink behind a small black baffle and then instructing the judges not to look in the cup (!)….scottie callaghan asked his judges to rise from their table and hull some seeds for him (he suggested the ladies could have the “men do it for them” if they preferred…when is faux-chauvanistic sexism going to leave the competition floor please? and can we just serve drinks left to right?) and then had them squat under the espresso machine to watch his extractions up close and personal…yara castanho transplanted herself from brasil to denmark to serve beautiful coffees from estate coffee and be one of only two women (ana lucia hawit, protege of heather perry, being the other) to make it to the semifinals…colin harmon opened with a welcomely nerdy dialogue on water science and taste by using different waters to brew in different parts of his routine, london water being a theme of cloudy discussion throughout the weekend among everyone…alejandro mendez and his shower of honey…stefanos domatiotis’ maniacal grin…soren markussen extracting material out of a tree stump…the list went on and on and on, yet somehow got packed into only three perfect london sunny midsummer days.
off the floor, coverage was loosely organized, i kept bumping into sprudge and oliver strand and al jazeera and whoever else scrambling about with cheap SLRs and notepapers trying to make sense of the international melee. there were parties attended (and afterparties unable to be evaded) and parties skipped for ironing duties (and if you’ve never been to finca lasagne, ask the US team about which off-license sells the best lasagne-and-chips combo in the west end). mornings started at whole foods, evenings ended wandering the streets with scandinavians, and everything in between was coffee and pure love.
before you knew it we were on to the finals. repeat national champions all — colin harmon of ireland, scottie callaghan of australia, mike phillips of the usa and soren markussen of denmark, all two-time national champions. raul rodas from guatemala, a three-time national champion (and only age 23!), and stefanos domatiotis, barista champion of greece four times. over here in blissfully ignorant america we tend to think mikey phillips worked pretty hard at getting where he is, but when you’ve competed at the WBC level four times… you have been putting in some really serious hours. scary opposition, anything could happen. but some of us had our hunches.
and lest we forget to tell it, mike phillips — america’s sweetheart? — almost crippled his own chances here. it wasn’t funny at the time, but certain blogging members of team USA assured him “it will be fine” and “it will make a good story when you win”, after our nation’s kid blew out his friggin pinky finger in a moonlight game of kickball in the short weeks between the US championship and making a second stab at the world title. would a hand cast accommodate a portafilter? could the champ learn to tamp ambidextrously? can you make coffee with an atrophied pinky dangling into your signature drink? is it okay if you don’t practice for the most important contest of your career for like, I dunno, a month or so? did his team at least win the kickball game? yeah, mike got the cast off in just enough time to act like nothing happened, but if you squeeze his hand too joyfully be careful…it still hurts.
though i took more pictures than notes this year, the high points of this year’s competition will stay etched on my brain (and into my forearm) for a good long time now. to see so many amazing ambassadors of coffee, particularly those from coffee producing nations, perform at such a high level, is so promising for the future of the industry, and the future of competitions as communicating vessels between us geeks and the outside world. mike’s position with intelligentsia coffee, surely one of the loudest megaphones in the industry, should allow a great deal of opportunity to learn, liaise, discuss and inspire from his new position as our representative and (is that how colin harmon put it?) um, king. but in the afterglow of this year’s happiness, though, we need to open the gender question (and indeed i have with a few of you already) as to how we can build and encourage more female leaders in specialty/whatever you like to call it coffee. year after year of massively male-dominated finalists and going into our eleventh year of male world champions embarrasses me, and should be looked at carefully. what are we doing to make talented women not feel welcome? as we make our slow strides towards equity and fairness in the producing end of coffee, making gender balance visible at the cup level should be a priority too — it’s not like girls can’t make coffee, okay? anyway, a question for the coming year, and one i hope many of you will want to solve with me.
in the meantime, i love you team USA, and though i’m sorry we don’t get to do it again in exactly this way, i’ll see you on finca lasagne anytime.