Calling Time.

I’m often asked what exactly is expected of a “World Barista Champion” and to be honest I couldn’t really explain it to most non-coffee people. Lately I’ve settled on suggesting that a WBC Champion is the person to whom the responsibility would fall should aliens invade our little floating space rock and ask for a representative to explain what this strange black liquid is.

Mike Philips is the man that we are all glad to fall in behind and push forward with the olive branch should the little green men appear. He is as skilled, passionate, hard working and inspiring barista as I’ve ever met and I think most people realised seconds into his finals routine that the title was his (probably around the bit where the guitar kicks in).

The competition from my own perspective was a relative success in that I again finished in 4th place and in doing so reached the finals of the WBC for a second successive year. I really believe that this years competition was of a ridiculously high standard, and saw incredible baristas such as Oda Misje Haug, John Gordan, Attila Molnar and Mie Nakahara fail to even make the semi final stage.

The real victory for me was seeing my idea and message validated by the judges. I understand that a signature drink composed entirely of coffee and water could very easily be interpreted as purist or unnecessarily antagonistic but seeing the judges accept the idea was really rewarding for me.

I’ve often lamented the fact that competition tends to impose a necessity for baristas to prepare coffees in a way that they disagree with but seeing the acceptance of my signature drink in London is an indication not of my craft or guile but the obvious willingness of the competition to embrace baristas ideas and perhaps move on from chocolate, cream and syrups (should the barista feel the want to do that. There’s no point replacing one coffee dogma with another).

There was an inherent risk in the drink but I’ve said all along that I didn’t have the experience or resources to win without doing something a bit risky. In fact if my score sheets were to reveal two “2’s” and two “6’s” I wouldn’t bat an eye-lid, it was that sort of drink and could be interpreted either way.

The only downside of taking this risk is that I also risked all the time, money and effort Steve Leighton has put into getting me here. My competition career would have been a flash in the pan had it not been for him and I only hope that I have managed to represent his coffee as best as I could. When I told him I was using water as my ingredients he asked only how hard I’d work at it and then never mentioned it again. His faith in me is as staggering as it is bewildering.

Anyone that has seen me since the final results has probably realised that I’m a bit down about the whole thing. This became quite apparent when coffee folk I met felt inclined to hug me rather than say something. Disappointment is a hard thing to hide I guess.

The disappointment is however a little misunderstood. I don’t in any way feel aggrieved not to have won or placed higher and I would be loathe to insult those baristas who missed out on a place by claiming that reaching the finals wasn’t reward enough for my efforts.

My disappointment stems from the simple fact that I’ve lived and breathed competition for just over 2 years now and it has been something that has occupied everything I’ve done. Once the final results were read out it dawned on me that competition was no longer a part of my life and it was time to move on and, to be honest, its quite a daunting feeling.

The feeling is something similar to what I remember when I left school and entered the big bad world, knowing it was time to stop dossing and get a dose of reality. I haven’t cried in over 9 years but once the cameras stopped flashing and the stands started coming down I was overwhelmed with a sense of loss and pretty much fell apart, but I know my decision to quit competition is the right one.

It is painfully obvious now that it is time for me to move on and begin to pay back the patience and faith a lot of people have shown in me. Its also about time that I really began to focus on my business and begin to look to the future.

The genius of WBC is a strange head-fake wherein you become so focused on the obvious things your learning; how to make coffee, learning about coffee and communicating your message, that you don’t even notice the the real lesson until you’ve learned it.

Competition has taught me, and every other competition barista, that working hard and being passionate about what you do will bring you rewards. That message is a simple one, but one we can all learn to apply to both our personal and business lives. That for me is the true benefit of competition and a lesson I will take great confidence from. Mike would be better at handling aliens anyway.

Thanks;

To Karl Purdy , Arthur Wynne, Paul Stack and Dave Walsh for not laughing at me when I dragged them into 3FE last Friday morning and fed them water. The latter two especially for donating their Fridays to sit around talking H2O. The electrolysis espresso is probably best forgotten though.

To Jessica McDonald and John Gordan for putting aside their own disappointment in the blink of an eye and devoting all their time and efforts into doing my dirty work for me. They are incredible coffee professionals, amazing people and a credit to the United Kingdom coffee industry. They are also coming to Dublin for many beers whether they want to or not.

To Steve Leighton, I’ve thanked him already but I can’t thank him enough.

To Yvonne and my Family for again taking time off work and incurring huge expense to come watch me make coffee. your support is incredible and I love you all dearly.

To Jackie, Joe and Damien at SCAE Ireland for all their support.

To all the customers of 3FE for coming back today even after we closed for a week ;)

To the people of the UK for always welcoming me and showing me amazing hospitality. Seeing a sea of green on Friday morning consisting of Irish support and British Converts was an amazing feeling, and one I’ll never forget.

Finally to Pete, Ger and Jordan of 3FE who I somehow managed to forget to mention on stage. They work tirelessly, always show enthusiasm and I’m proud to work the same bar as them. They will also rock competition in years to come ;)

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25 thoughts on “Calling Time.

  1. MKSwing says:

    As soon as I heard Money for nothing, I knew he would win, one can’t beat Dire Straits ;)
    You performance was great and I very much liked the way you relaxed in the finals compared to the 2 previous rounds. Comparison of the same coffee in 2 waters was, imho, brilliant.

  2. David Walsh says:

    Well in mate. Well in.

  3. Jessica says:

    It’s a pleasure an a honour to beable to help a talented barista like you at such a important time. You are a inspiration, and we will be there to drink beer very soon ( lots of beer)

  4. Gouezeri says:

    As one of the “British Converts” (well I was always going to support both TMC members anyway… it was either that or Fra… nah, best not go there! ;-)) I can’t express how much fun it was to get behind a competitor who was clearly there to push boundaries, to make people re-think the whole process, and how we appreciate things we take for granted. (I’ve been thinking about buying loads of different waters to play with all day). That, and your truly infectious enthusiasm! The support you received was directly as a result of this enthusiasm. Whether you won or not, you’re a great ambassador, and I’m happy to let you fight the aliens on my behalf!

    Sorry we didn’t get chance to meet/chat properly, but you were often busy and I didn’t want to bother you. So I bothered Walsh instead! ;-)

  5. Paul Stack says:

    The hugs proffered by all were physical acknowledgement of how close we all feel you came to winning it. You have bequeathed wonderful ‘Colin-moments’ in the lexicon of WBC forever.

  6. Dale Philips says:

    Colin:

    I’ve greatly enjoyed witnessing your performance in Atlanta and online from London. I realize how the demands of competition can be mentally exhausting. I encourage you to not pass final judgement on any future participation until a several weeks go bye. To me, as an audience member and fan, you exhibited much diligence, professionalism, enthusiasm , talent and tenacity as anyone can expect. Keep your options open !!

    Dale Phillips (Mike’s Dad)

  7. Tumi Ferrer says:

    An inspiring entry as always, Colin.

    I enjoyed every second of your performance in the finals and I regret having lost the chance to tell you that in person. My hat is off to you. Good luck on taking on „this big bad world“ ;)

  8. Gary says:

    You were inspirational to watch over all 3 days.

    To watch you and the other competitiors is the reason I continue to want to push myself everyday as a barista.

    I wish you many years of success with your business.

  9. Mark Dunne says:

    Well said, your a good man and a great Irish champion.

  10. Deaton Pigot says:

    Hey mate,

    By default I feel like I probably know you better then I should, I love nothing better then a man who acts from the heart, you captured us all in your journey.

    I can’t wait to see what is next!

    Deaton.

  11. Karl Purdy says:

    Lovely post Colin. And as always your charm, dedication and passion shine through. Victorious or not, I firmly believed you (et al) have created one of those important moments that redefines how we approach and think about coffee. Truly inspiring my friend!

  12. mukmuk says:

    Beautifully said. It was an honor to be able to watch you up close and experience those drinks. I absolutely understood what you were doing and thought your sig drink is one of the most amazing I’ve ever had in a competition. That is the kind of sig drink judges who love coffee hope for.

    Thank you for sharing your experience with those of us who have been watching a love you from afar.

    xo

    Bfortch

  13. Andrew Duncan says:

    I will echo what I commented on David’s post;

    I leave this week both inspired and humbled by the talent and passion I have had the pleasure of encountering over the past few days.

    Thank you all.

  14. WACs says:

    Fantastic Colin. So well said. Congratulations Colin.

  15. Aaron says:

    Just wanted to chime in and thank you for your performance, the focus on water was a refreshing & intriguing twist and a good reminder that there’s still a lot of room for innovation even at the most basic level. What’s more, you presented it in a way that was not at all gimmicky or overly clever, as it could have been. Great job and good luck with your endeavors going forward from here.

  16. Niamh says:

    A lovely post with great insight. Quite inspiring.

  17. iamreddave says:

    Great post really heartfelt.

    It is a magical world Hobbes ole buddy
    let’s go exploring

    http://calvinethobbes.free.fr/english/c_der.html

  18. Arthur Wynne says:

    it was a pleasure to get up early to watch your comp run through.and the coffee was amazing

  19. Nick Cho says:

    Colin Harmon, you’re one of my heroes.

  20. alastair says:

    Well done Colin – whatever the next career/business goal is, I’m sure you’ll make it a mountain to climb.

    Now – if you’re willing to open yourself up to water as a signature drink element – why not push the boat out and embrace ice in the shop? ;)

  21. michael mc laughlin says:

    great post colin, thought your performance was great, and for the record i loved the signature drink, but you’ve spolied for the rest of us now noone can bring back to the basics!!!
    it would be a pity if you didnt compete next year as its always great to see how its supposed to be done but perhaps a move to judging would be a way of keeping the feeling going, and there should definetly be more barista/judges on the panels.
    anyway great work hopefully be in 3fe last friday in july so might see you then!

  22. Bruno Ferrer says:

    Collin you are now more then ever my inspiration! such nice words are a proof of the job and the efort that you put on that. You may stop competing but sure that all over the world there will be baristas, like me that will have you as an inspiration, a barista hero, you did great! I was very happy to be there recording your presentation, you staff suport, and the green shirt people, witch i’m very proud to wear one of those too! Thank you for the coffee, that was one of my favorite memories from wbc london 2010, i just felt like a luck brazairish bastard! Next time that i go to Dublin i’ll make sure to have my first coffee in 3fe.
    My very best for you and you’re future !!!
    Bruno F.

  23. I’m not a very a very patriotic person, and particularly regretted my nationality when I had to put your name down as a conflict for judging. I would have loved to be a customer for that routine.

    Watching your first round performance with Mike was inspiring and thoroughly entertaining. You’re irritatingly clever and kind and you understand this competition’s potential like few others.

    Mike and I will be visiting this year.

  24. Jackie says:

    Colin, your a pure delight in person, words & coffee. Thank you!

  25. Brock says:

    Colin, you are a gentleman, a perfect ambassador, both on and off the stage – nothing changes, you are genuine and always have time for everyone. For these reasons you put me through the emotional wringer, wishing for you, watching the results come out at the WBC.

    You also do good coffee ;)

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