Team Talk – 25 Magazine: Issue 4

Team Talk – 25 Magazine: Issue 4

WWhen the World Barista Championships (WBC) took place in Seoul last November it was an exciting time for me – not just as I was there as a sensory judge, but also because I am part of the Evolution Group, a team of coffee professionals whose mission it is to oversee the continued development and strategic evolution of the championship. One of the elements to come out of the Evolution Group was the Team Competition and 2017 was the first year where one competitor could win a wildcard to the semifinal of the championship.

The Teams Competition has been an exciting evolution in the World Barista Championship. CERIANNE BURY talks to members of the 2017 winning team, Team Tamper, and learns how the competition has helped them grow as baristas in Issue 4 of 25 Magazine.

Of course the WBC is all about finding that one barista, one ambassador. However, winning is a team effort, as is the coffee industry as a whole. There are so many hands and so many partners to create one cup of coffee, from the farmer to the barista and beyond. The Team Competition was set up in 2016 to celebrate this partnership and the element of friendship which is so evident in the coffee scene.

So how does the Team Competition do this? Each competing nation is placed in a team based on historical performance data, where countries who have a high track record are mixed with countries who historically have a lower ranking. The team does not influence individual results in the WBC. Instead their individual performances contribute to an overall team score. At the end of the first round, the winning team is determined by the average of the individual team member scores.

Additionally each team has a designated shift at the Team Bar, where they work together to create a menu, decide on what equipment to use and how to structure their service. When asked about whether he enjoyed working on the Team Bar, Kenya Barista Champion Martin Shabaya exclaimed: “Absolutely! There is a lot of support while working with each other. I learned a lot from good baristas like Ben Put from Canada on slow brewing and Lavinia Toma from Romania on espresso extraction.”

China Barista Champion Jeremy Zhang agrees. “We had fun with coffees that differed to the competition coffees and we shared different techniques with each other.” An added bonus is that the Team Bar provides WBC visitors with the chance to order a cup of coffee from their favorite national champion and gives these star baristas the opportunity to showcase their on-the-job bar skills.

The teams are put into contact with each other ahead of the competition so they can connect with each other, align plans for the Team Bar element, and get tips, share knowledge and stories, or voice any anxiety they have about the championship with competitors who are going through the exact same thing. And that can have a lot of added value. “Since we formed a team long before the competition it was easier for us to work together at the same table. Even though competition solely depends on a barista’s own performance, our team members did help to soothe some pressure,” says Jeremy Zhang. Italy’s Francesco Masciullo agrees. “The Team Bar is about serving good coffee and talking with people about what you love to do in life: serving coffee. In some way this provides comfort; subconsciously your mind is getting ready and prepared for the WBC competition.”

Evolving the Competition

Many competitors will tell you advancing in the competition is not just about wanting to win. Often it is about learning – not just from each other, but from the feedback you receive from the audience and the judges. Receiving a debrief and sheets full of notes in the form of score sheets helps baristas advance in the WBC or other competitions in the future. The Evolution Group thought it would be appropriate to celebrate the winning team by giving participants a chance to learn. And therefore on the second year of the Team Competition we decided to not only give the best scoring team a ticket to an All Star Event, but also to give one team member a ticket to the semifinal of the WBC. This offers one standout competitor the chance to show their skills again, to compete among the best baristas in the world, and to receive more vital feedback to bring home. This extra feedback is important not just for the competitor, but also for the thousands of baristas and other coffee professionals who watch the live streams online and want to compete and better themselves in their respective countries.

And so, there we stood in Seoul. At the sidelines. Shifting our feet. Hearts pounding. Our eyes skimming all the faces around us. All the national champions competing at the WBC lining up in the arena, side by side, shoulder to shoulder. Waiting. Anxious. Trying to keep their cool. Who would win the first ever wildcard to the semifinal? And then the name, shouted by the emcee: the national champion of Kenya Martin Shabaya! The entire crowd, from audience to judges, volunteers and all of the best baristas in the world, cried out and cheered; the first African country to make it to the semis!

The members of Team Tamper, the winning team, surrounded and celebrated Martin, who was absolutely beaming for the rest of the night. All of them would go on to compete the next day. Getting to show their skills again to the world, and getting a chance to advance even further to the finals. Martin pays tribute to his team mates:

“Teamwork promotes a wider sense of ownership which really helped me own the stage during my routine, especially at the semis. My team was happy to assist me both backstage and in the arena. I felt I belonged. The game itself was bigger than the winning for me because I came out of Seoul feeling like a champion.”

So what does the future of the Team Competition bring? For Martin: “Talent wins games, but teamwork wins championships. If it were not for the brilliant, out of this world idea, I wouldn’t be where I am today. The team aspect has provided a super opportunity for all baristas in the world, something that has never been there before. It’s hard to believe I won the wildcard, even now! I feel privileged to be the first fruit of the team aspect. Rubbing shoulders with other champions at the semis was simply satisfying. It’s all about the coffee and the level of passion with intelligence that matters. The sky is the limit! I think it will be the next big thing in the World Barista Championship. It has created and will create more opportunities.”

It is these opportunities that are the backbone of the Teams Competition. It provides national champions with another way to introduce themselves to the audience, it brings them closer to consumers, it provides an informal education platform of knowledge-sharing, and allows these amazing baristas to bring home more experiences, for themselves, and all the other people in their coffee network. And with this in mind, we will pave the way forward for the Team Competition.

CERIANNE BURY is Quality Supervisor at Trabocca. She is a Licensed Q Grader, International Sensory Judge at World Coffee Events, and a member of the World Barista Championship Evolution Group.

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