About mid January I played a game of scavenger-hunt-style BINGO from the Natvia booth at the Big Central Barista Competition. Little did I know that a few months later I would be winning the trip of a lifetime. The trip that would push me to keep pursuing my dream as a coffee professional. I went to Melbourne, Australia, to watch the World Barista Championship and attend the largest coffee expo of the year, the Melbourne International Coffee Expo, or MICE. I got back just three weeks ago, yet it still feels like yesterday.
When I arrived in Melbourne it was fall, so it never really got over 60 degrees Fahrenheit. It was gorgeous, the trees were a bright yellow green and a dark brick red to every color in between. I loved that I got to experience autumn twice this year. The city was filled with so much character with an eclectic mix of old brick buildings and modern glass buildings filling the Melbourne skyline. This city has such an appreciation for art: it’s everywhere, from statues to graffiti. This is what I picture a big city to be like: people walking the streets, riding bikes, riding the trams – yet all on the opposite side of the street and the sidewalk. Getting lost, many times, gave me the opportunity to experience how nice this city is and hear the accents. Absolutely beautiful.
The first day I arrived I went to the Melbourne Showgrounds to meet up with Maria from Natvia. I walked the unfinished show room floors to get to the room where the World Barista Championship would take place. The stage was set and the stands were empty, ready to be filled with fans and coffee consumers to watch the world’s best baristas take the stage to show off their skills; all anxious to see who will be crowned the World Barista Champion. I had the opportunity to walk the stage and I can say that I was definitely not ready for this kind of stage quite yet. I cannot wait to be on this stage, one day, representing the United States. As I walked I day dreamed about the week. Little did I know what all would unfold that week and what it would have in store for me.
The next day was the first day MICE was officially open to wander around. Wow! The transformation was absolutely incredible: when I saw it the day before it was still being set up but now it was finished – overnight. The expo floor was filled with many coffee professionals and local Australian shops. There were demos of the next big thing in the coffee making experience including the beautiful UNIC machines, the new La Marzocco Linea PB, and the many beautiful Synesso and Nuova Simonelli machines at their booths on the showroom floor. Also there were many custom WBC machines and the machine I have been eye balling since the first time I saw it in the Barista Magazine: a Slayer. It was so beautiful to see in person. There was so much coffee to try that you were likely to be caffeinated until the After Party ended. In the center of the showroom was the Brewer’s Cup event. Here baristas would use a technique that would bring out the best flavors and traits in their coffee, sometimes folding filters like origami.
While walking the floor not only did I get to see a lot of new products, but also to put faces and names with companies that I follow on Twitter or Instagram. Thanks to Maria and Natvia, I was able to meet so many awesome people including Sarah Allen of Barista Magazine, Reg Barber of Reg Barber Enterprises, Mike Phillips of Handsome Coffee Roasters and Marcus Boni of Kaldi’s; and so many more. Each and everyone of these people were easy to talk to, genuinely nice and interested in your questions and opinions. I gained so much advice on how to keep pursuing a coffee career successfully. It is meeting people like this that keep me constantly falling more and more in love with the industry. The further I went into this event the more it became apparent to me that what everyone said is true – it may be a business industry event, but it is so much more than that: it is a great big coffee family reunion.
Being at the WBC was a whole new experience for me. I had watched it for the time last year on the livestream. There is a lot of excitement following Sprudge’s live play by play on Twitter, but to actually be there in person the level is five times more insane. It was awesome watching the best baristas in the world showing off their skills and teaching about coffee, meticulously and beautifully choreographed to the music of their choice. There were many, such as Matthew Perger from Melbourne, who changed the way I think about espresso and technique.
I can say that I was definitely most excited to see Pete Licata compete. Not only because he is from the United States, but also because he is from Kansas City, the place I am so happy to call home. Watching Pete train at About the Coffee in Kansas City, in the same facility as me, he was always asking me if I had questions or needed help with training. I took him up on that offer. It helped and I appreciated it very much. To go on and watch him during regionals, then on the Boston livestream, and then to see him compete on the world stage was amazing. Not only do I think he represented the United States well, I think he did awesome at representing the ever-growing Kansas City coffee scene. To hear his name get called was just amazing. I was so happy, I was crying.
I had a day off in Melbourne so I spent that day wandering the city, getting lost, and visiting as many shops as I possibly could and buy as much coffee as I could to take home. I visited Proud Mary, home of the 6 group Synesso. It was a beautiful shop. There I had an amazing brunch: roasted wild mushrooms on a piece of thick, soft toast served with a poached egg, chipotle butter, and herbed cream cheese as well as a cappuccino. Then I was on my way to St. Ali, home of the World’s second best barista, Matthew Perger. There I had a Kenya shot of espresso and had the Colombia as a Lungo shot, or what Matt calls a coffee shot. Both were tasty. We went around the corner to Dead Man Espresso to have a shot of espresso of Burundi from Proud Mary.
From there I went to Duke’s Coffee in the Central Business District (CBD) of Melbourne where they had a Panama Mama Cata Geisha, aeropressed at $8 for a cup! But well worth it. My day ended at the Sensory Lab. I was definitely coffeed out from the day’s shop crawl but I couldn’t leave without tasting a friend’s cup of cold brew geisha and a tasty vanilla cupcake. I ran into so many new and old friends at many of the shops, and ended up having dinner with the Russia Barista Champion, the Brewer’s Cup Champion, and their friends and coach. During dinner learned I more about what it takes to compete at the world level.
It was time to leave Australia, but the adventure was not over. I brought a kilo of coffee back to Kansas City to share with all of my coffee loving friends, and show off the new tamper that Reg gave me. We tried the coffees together and talked about the coffee. It just so happens that the Kenya I brought back from the Sensory Lab was from the same region, but different lot, as a Kenya from Oddly Correct. At Quay we did a side by side of the two coffees and it was very interesting. We also celebrated that Kansas City is home of the World’s Best Barista, Pete Licata. Now not only have Pete and I been to Australia but now so has the Kansas City coffee scene. This experience was amazing and I cannot wait to see where I go from here. I’ve gone from that “little hipster that went into About the Coffee and the LAB that knew nothing about coffee” to knowing much more, but I still have so much more to learn.