Welcome back guys! Have you recovered yet?
Matt: Only just, silly season is upon us and we’re straight back into full on work. It’s nice to get a chance like this to reflect upon the experience properly.
LL: I think so. It’s actually quite good to be back and catch up with life and work, not to mention having the full brain capacity to do so.
How did you go about all of this? How do you prepare for the world stage?
LL: How the hell do you prepare for the world stage? That was the big question after winning the UK Brewers Cup back in May. We had all summer to practice and train for this - train hard, because the world stage is a league above.
So I started by asking myself how I could bridge that gap. I sat down and studied my scoresheets, tried to figure out where and how I could step up my game. It was case of questioning every single component of the brewing process and finding out what it was doing to the cup.
Matt: From my point of view, I was also approaching this as a first timer at the worlds, albeit as a coach. I started from the mindset that LL was already the UK champion, so we were doing something right, therefore trusting our instincts and the process was important. As LL says, we looked at every part of the brewing process and tried to turn it up to 11 and the same was true of her presentation style and tone. We worked really hard on just standing still (true fact).
What were the biggest challenges during the preparation period?
LL: The hardest thing is making final decisions and locking things in. The time we had to prepare sometimes felt like an eternity.
Matt: Conversely, with all the preparation needed it often felt like we had no time at all. Confusing.
LL: There are a lot of things that you need to leave until the very last minute, the taste descriptors you’ll give the judges for instance. Even the choice of which coffee I was going to use, we left until we got to Brazil. We narrowed it down to two coffees, but decided there and then on what tasted best at the time. So up until the last day, you are making constant changes, until you know you’ve narrowed it down to the most interesting and best choices.
But this leaves room for second-guessing and that doesn’t sit well with me I think. I like to see results and absolutely love it when months of training finally come together on stage!
Matt: Aside from juggling preparation and work (Thanks C&S team for picking up the inevitable slack), it was a real challenge to make sure LL didn’t fall into the coffee competition “voice”. Over the years we’ve noticed a certain way of talking, and moving appears across almost all the routines we’d watched (I can now do a cracking generic impression of a standard routine) — I felt that one of LL’s key weapons could be her ability to bring herself to the routine.
This was especially challenging though. Between fitting in all the info and the seemingly irresistible lure of the competition tone of voice, we had to find moments and nuggets of personality. I think that’s something LL achieved especially well in the end.
Tell us about the coffee you used.
Matt: It was a Natural Sudan Rume from Cafe Granja La Esperanza in Colombia. LL had the choice of three coffees from there and, as she says, we actually took two coffees to Brazil. However, in my head, it was never going to be anything other than the Sudan Rume. An elegant natural with clean, fruity, sweet acidity always floats my boat. The best part about the coffee was the dynamic way it changed as it cooled. The notes we had when it was hot remained but were joined by others. There was a note of strawberry yoghurt in the aroma, but on your first sip, that became wild strawberry. That really sums the coffee up for me.
LL: Oh my god, it’s probably literally the best thing I have ever tasted. When choosing the coffee, our head roaster set up a blind cupping table, and I picked out three coffees. All three from Granja La Esperanza. One was my winning UKBRC coffee and one was the natural Sudan Rume. I’m usually not a huge fan of anything natural, but this coffee was so incredibly clean, crisp and bright, that it was right up my alley anyway. I think it’s important to choose something that truly represents what you love about coffee — rather than a good competition coffee.
What difficulties did you face once you landed in Brazil?
LL: Well, it started off great. I literally forgot one of my (many) suitcases full of equipment at the airport.
Matt: The hardest part was essentially recreating everything we’d had going in London. Getting the coffee just how we’d tasted it before was so hard. For example the distilled water we eventually got our hands on, we had to source from a dentist. You can imagine how difficult that was!
LL: We packed the coffee in three different ways, we had no idea how the long flight would affect it.
What was the atmosphere like backstage?!
LL: Think it’s fair to say that this was one of the things I was looking forward to the most. Sharing this experience with 41 other national champions who all have been working hard and looking forward to this. 41 other people from all across the globe who all share the same love for the craft that is filter coffee. Yeah, that’s just pretty cool. It was super amicable and fun in the backstage.
Matt: Every competitor had their own tiny space on a long table, so we were all packed in pretty tight. We were sandwiched between Japan and Singapore and directly facing Denmark. It was like the UN!
Tell us more about the expo?
LL: So the competition was held at the Brazil International Coffee Week at Expominas in Belo Horizonte. Kind of like a London Coffee Festival, but very different. Being in Brazil, everything was very producer-orientated.
Matt: The whole expo was very keen to let everyone know that Brazilian coffee isn’t just chocolate and nuts, I’d say that was a running theme. Wherever you are in the world though, coffee expos give you the same feeling. Artificial lighting and too much coffee makes you crazy. Anyone who’s worked the London coffee festival knows what I'm talking about.
How did the routine go?
LL: To this day, I’m not entirely sure of how to answer this question.
Matt: Okay, I'll try.
The routine was fantastic, engaging, full of passion and personality. LL properly took you on a journey through that cup of coffee. You could tell she was enjoying every second, maybe a little too much given the 28 seconds over time!
There’s a reason first-time competitors tend not to win though, and it’s because there are so many variables, even once you get on stage. For example, LL’s music didn’t come on, so I ran like the wind over to the side of the stage to press play. The latte art stage also made an almighty roar halfway through the routine which seemed to last a full minute. All these things are impossible to prepare for and LL did really well to not let it affect the routine.
LL: Some context, you are only allowed ten minutes and every second you go over that you lose half a point. I was obviously really really gutted.
In hindsight and after the debrief, I realised I can’t be anything else but proud and happy. My open routine actually got the fifth highest score in the world. I delivered, just took my time to do it, haha. I know actually what to do and what to improve upon if I do it again.
What was your favourite moment?
LL: One of my favourite moments was when Dan became the World Coffee in Good Spirits Champion. Everyone from the UK had gathered by the stage and we were all so nervous. Hopes were high, his routine was flawless. We definitely produced a lot of noise when he got announced as the World Champion. Brits abroad!
Matt: When we eventually got the coffee tasting exactly how we’d had it in London. At one point it seemed a long way off, so to finally crack it (with only a day to spare) was an exciting moment.
LL: I also really enjoyed walking out on stage, having all the competitors lined up next to each other for the announcement of the six finalists. I knew I wasn’t going to make to cut, but what a proud moment that was, to be standing there. I welled up a little, not going to lie.
Did anything from any of the other competitors’ routines stand out?
Matt: During competitions, there always seems to be a certain momentum behind one competitor and you could feel it behind the eventual winner, Switzerland. A very comfortable, confident and present performance. Worth a watch if you’re an interested future competitor.
Tell us a bit about the trip to Daterra, how did that go?
Matt: To see everything we talk about in our trainings first hand was the real treat. We really can show our customers who use the Baron the full journey that their coffee takes, from the million baby plants in the nursery to the way we roast. We were shown around by Juliana and Jessica who were fantastic, so thanks to those guys.
LL: Second that. What an experience. We talk about and drink coffee from Daterra on a daily basis. It was really special to be there, see the whole operation behind it and meet all the hands that have touched it before it gets to us, and eventually to our customers. We love you Daterra!
What did you learn on the farm?
Matt: I learned the value of experimenting properly. Daterra have areas of the farm they use specifically for experimental varietals, many of which may not make it through to the main part of the farm. Lessons get learned though and you get a coffee like the Laurina, a naturally low in caffeine variety that won the Brewers cup! It tasted like purple and green.
Other than the Sudan Rume, what was the best coffee you had, and what did it taste like?
LL: When we got off the plane, we went straight to Academia do Café. Julia who operates the cafe made us a brew with a coffee called Lua, a natural Yellow Icatu picked bio-dynamically under a full moon, tasting like the sweetest Medjool date ever. The coffee is from her dad’s farm, Bruno. We could literally write up another blog just about Bruno and Academia. Absolute legends, heart!
Matt: Laurina, purple and green. Mmm.
Anyone you’d like to thank? Ahem.
LL: Hey Matt?
LL: You go first, I’ve got a long list.
Matt: Haha. Everyone at C&S for helping us through, supporting and picking up slack where needed! Much appreciated. Bruno and Julia at Academia in Belo Horizonte for being so hospitable and kind. Team UK for the vocal support and fun! Also my girlfriend Emily, always!
LL: Matt, I’d like to thank you! For your patience, your dedication, and sometimes you make funny jokes. Thanks for getting me back on track when I drifted off or was fed up with it. Oh, and thanks for grinding my coffee!
Thank you to everyone at Climpson & Sons for the input, the feedback, the encouragement. Thank you for picking up where I left stuff when I was busy “pouring water over coffee”. A special shout out to Simon for roasting the Sudan Rume to perfection. You revealed all its potential.
Thank you to Beyond the Bean, for making me their BTB Barista Bursary winner this year. Thanks for the support throughout every single round of this competition! The bursary is an amazing initiative - taking away any financial strain from competing baristas. I hope this can further encourage people to compete in the future!
All credit goes to Cafe Granja La Esperanza, the producers of both my UK and World Brewers coffee. So clean, so crisp, so perfect. I hope I did all your hard work justice.
Thank you to all the SCA UK and the sponsors. Looking forward to next year - just so you know. Thank you to everyone who sat in on my run-throughs and helped make final decisions easier on me. Also a massive shout out to Team UK, who we spent a lot of time with in Belo Horizonte. Thanks for being amazing professionals, each and every one of your constructive comments was massively appreciated. And we had fun too! Ain’t that great?
Thank you for being incredible hosts, Academia do Cafe and Daterra. Missing all the cheese bread.
A big thank you to all the people we got to meet at the expo. Seeing so many people, all so passionate about coffee refuelled my own love for it. 100%.
Sam! For letting me jibber jabber about coffee all the time. The biggest of all thank you’s for your unconditional support. From you and everything that comes with you.
Fiona! For seeing life in pastel. Thank you, to you and your other half for dragging me back and guiding me to an industry I came to love so much.