Every year, thousands of coffee lovers from across the globe gather for what can only be described as the most distinguished and anticipated coffee event of the world – the World Coffee Championships.The World Coffee Championships (WCC) consist of two main competitions – the World Barista Championships and the World Brewers Cup. These competitions are the culminations of local and regional competitions, during which national barista and brewer champions are first determined and elected as representatives of their country before being able to take part in the event on the world stage. Needless to say, the WCC serves as a game of high stakes for many with not only the chance of individual fame and prestige being on the line, but the honour and pride of one’s country as well.
Despite such a premise, however, what we observed and experienced in Boston during the short span of the event was not so much an environment of tension and divisiveness between the various competitors, but one strongly imbued with a spirit of collaboration and celebration. The true power and nature of coffee was plain to see in its capacity to be enjoyed by everybody from everywhere.
Supporting Team SingaporeThe most immediate of our experiences involving the competition that exhibited this cohesive nature of coffee began even before arriving in Boston. Weeks before flying, our coffee studio manager Nicole, was placed under a short attachment to Homeground Coffee Roasters as an assisting hand to Elysia Tan, this year’s Singapore Brewers Cup Champion. Nicole shadowed the group as they made preparations for the competition in Boston. It is during this period, she began to witness first-hand the collaborative nature of coffee. Behind a single cup of coffee lies a whole team of individuals who gathered their time, efforts, experiences and knowledge in pursuit of a mutual goal of formulating the best and most ideal cup of coffee possible in the manner they believe in. At the local level, the ability of coffee to bring people together is already apparent. This spirit continued in fervour and carried forward across the globe as we travelled together to Boston.
Asia on the Coffee World Stage
While in full support of Team Singapore for the World Brewers Cup and delighted for the team to have attained a respectable 12th place out of the 40 competing countries, it was also impossible not to feel pride for the region of Asia in totality for the results achieved by the Asian competitors this year.
Both the World Brewers Cup (WBrC) and the World Baristas Championship (WBC) saw competitors from Asian regions emerge victorious, with Jia Ning Du of M2M Coffee from China and Jooyeon Jeon of Momos Coffee from South Korea winning first place at the WBrC and WBC respectively. Chikako Nakai of UCC Holdings CO from Japan and Hsu Shih Yuan of UCC Coffee Taiwan also grabbed the 4th and 5th place respectively in the Brewers Cup, while Mikael Jasin of Common Grounds Coffee Roasters in Indonesia clinched the top 4 in the Baristas Championship. Certainly, Asia’s credibility in the realm of coffee appears to be growing steadily.
Rather than a show of division and conflict between East and West, however, what this signals more is an increasing acceptance as well as recognition of the universality of coffee as a platform for cross-cultural communication. Coffee is no longer, if ever, a predominantly Western culture to enjoy. As evidenced by the multitudinous approaches of making, presenting and interpreting just a single cup of coffee adopted by the various champions from all across the globe, the flexibility of coffee bestows upon every individual who makes and presents it an equal power to express themselves. There is no single, nor absolute right or wrong way to do so because a good cup of coffee is simply what you make of it.
The Journey of the Competition
In this spirit, coffee can be seen as a highly versatile tool for the expression of the creative spirit, making the exploration and journey of each competitor in the tournament immensely interesting. Observing both the preparation of the local team here at home as well as the presentations of the competitors in Boston, the process of developing one’s ideal cup of coffee can often be broken down into three main stages: Selection, Concept and Execution. These phases, of course, do not only apply to the world of competitive coffee, but also outline the practices of all coffee studios that aim to serve delicious coffee synonymously.
First, the coffee beans are carefully scrutinised and selected by roasters and brewers alike so as to ensure the highest quality results in the emergent roasts and extractions. In order to do so, roasters and brewers often travel to countries of origin, visit the coffee farms and hand-select the beans they feel have the best potential for the coffee they have in mind to create. Apart from obtaining more direct information, however, these visits provide another means of ensuring the delivery of high quality coffee beans that truly reflects the nature of coffee at its heart – the building of relationships.
Such relationships between producer, roaster and brewer are highly important as each play a vital and impactful role in shaping the quality and character of the resultant coffee. All three parties must essentially work as a team and it is therefore only with strong and trusting relationships that everyone may work together with strong incentive and mutual understanding, creating the best cup possible.
After selecting their preferred coffee beans with their particular characteristics of choice, competitors must then develop a concept with which they may present their coffee. For instance, this year, Elysia of Team Singapore, proposed the idea of a Home Brewers’ Kit to present her selected Cerra Azul, Geisha XO from Columbia. The kit comprised of a homely wooden box of four compartments, each containing vital ingredients and instructions on how one may best brew the coffee to suit the character of the beans at home. The first compartment contained the coffee ground size comparison and the second contained the Aquacode mineral beads that, once placed in water, would endow the beverage with calcium and magnesium ions capable of enhancing the tasting notes of the selected coffee. The third and last compartment encompassed a piece of a V60 dripper as well as its accompanying filter paper, placed there for users to feel and understand the particular ceramic dripper and coarser filter paper needed to best brew the Cerra Azul with. Also with these core ingredients, instructions specifying the grind size, temperature and even the roasting procedure of the coffee.
It is with a strong concept such as this that competitors are able to mould their routines into informative and engaging performances for their audiences, creating experiences that complement and enhance the enjoyment of their presented coffees.
Lastly, once all preparations have been made and routines have been extensively rehearsed, it is in the final execution of brewing where the highly anticipated product will come into existence to be enjoyed. As mentioned earlier, there are many ways a single cup of coffee may be presented and interpreted and this certainly applies to its execution. From the type of equipment and pouring methods used to even the allowance of a single additional second or tenth of a gram, there is no end to the variations of brewing techniques a brewer may think up and therefore no ends to the variety of notes and flavours that can be enjoyed through coffee.
One of the competitors that we felt honed in on this notion and intrigued us was Patrik Rolf of Sweden. During his routine, he introduced a Flatbed Style Drip Brewer of his own personal design, custom manufacturing it for the purpose of brewing the coffee of his choice, a natural anaerobic Geisha varietal of Costa Rica. This custom dripper was designed not only to generate an even bed of coffee grounds in the filter, but also to allow for a greater flow rate of water for better control in pouring. It was with this custom brewing method that Patrik felt would best portray the qualities of his selected coffee.
Watching his routine, we were reminded of how coffee will never cease to be a work in progress. Brewers and baristas will always have the opportunity to propose and demonstrate new and innovative methods of brewing and extracting that will never fail to keep the world of coffee an exciting place with lots to learn. As the passion for coffee spreads further around the world and the creativity of baristas, brewers, roasters and producers continues to develop, we believe we need only look forward to the other ingenious ways to enjoy and celebrate the goodness of coffee that will arise in the years to come.