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.
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 ;)