It seems strange to be writing this at the end of it all. I hope that this will bring some clarity of events (mostly for myself). The last week has been an adventure. It’s not all been great but it has been an experience that allowed me to grow in so many ways.
Saturday May 10th, less than two weeks after winning the US Latte Art Championship I flew out for Melbourne, Australia. A day later I was in Melbourne and it was Monday morning.
Monday the 12th. I skipped Mother’s Day…I really love my mom though. A friend of mine picked me up from the airport. I was exhausted and thousands of miles from anything familiar. For two days my old friend chauffeured me around Melbourne and the bay. She showed me as much Australian culture as she could fit in two days. From local wildlife, to meat pies and coffee, to bath houses in the bay, to the rolling waves of the ocean. Driving on the left side of the road is still the hardest thing to comprehend.
On Wednesday I checked into my hotel and then set off for a throw down. I found a familiar face when I arrived and met up with Pete Licata. Also in attendance was our US Cup Taster Champion Amanda Juris. The throw down was a good time but adjusting to a new time schedule has been tough so I wasn’t able to stay out too late.
Thursday began the competition which was to be held at the Melbourne show grounds during the Melbourne International Coffee Exposition (MICE). Along with the World Latte Art Championship (WLAC) MICE would host the World Coffee in Good Spirits (WCIGS), and the World Cup Tasters Championship (WCTC). Also the Australian Barista and Brewers Championship was being held on site. For the WLAC the competition format is broken into two rounds. The first is split into two sections, the Art Bar and the Stage Performance. The top six competitors after round one move on to finals to do an extended stage performance.
Art bar makes up about 45 percent of the points in round one. Each barista is given 20 minutes to prepare and practice and 10 minutes to pour one latte to submit to a judging panel. The lattes are photographed and the judges score the pours without knowing the barista who poured. I had been scheduled to go first and so I went out there and gave it everything I had. I had an idea in my head and I wasn’t sure how it would come out but I got something very close and submitted a pour I called the rose. It’s a pour I will consider revising and using later. Then it was just sitting back and watching the other 31 competitors compete. I learned a lot in the next 6-7 hours. These competitors put a lot of creativity and time into designing these lattes. Creativity and originality are key to receiving high scores.
On Friday we began the performance stage of round 1. This would be combined with the art bar scores from the day before to decide the top 6 competitors from the group of 30, the top six would compete in finals on Sunday. I was the first competitor scheduled to be on stage. I love the stage, I love to compete, and the time to be on stage came and went to fast. I worked through a few mishaps and poured some of my best free pours on stage and called time in the fastest I had ever done it. I am happy with my performance and it was an experience that I won’t easily forget.
Saturday continued the stage performances for round 1. Another 16 artists would pour. I caught a few of their performances. One of my favorites was from Matthew Wooley of the UK. His designs were so precise and creative. I also watched my fellow teammate Amanda compete in the World Cup Tasters quarter finals and semifinals. At the end of the day she recorded the fastest time with the most accuracy. Her sensory skills are only rivaled on a stage of this magnitude. At the end of the day they announced the finalists. They called all the competitors on stage and after announcing six artists I knew it would be my last time on stage this season. Not making finals is no surprise. It was a sure sign that I would return to that stage. That night we attended a party put on by the wonderful folks of La Marzocco and then turned in early.
Sunday was a relaxed day full of tension as the finals for WLAC, WCIGS, WCTC, and Australia’s Barista and Brewers Championship. Each competitor on the three stages was a real treat to watch. I also was allowed to review my score sheets and found out my final ranking for WLAC was 19th of the 32 competitor field. Then it was time for the finals where tensions ran high. The tension was highest when Amanda took the stage for the Cup Tasters finals. After a grueling four minutes of slurping and spitting Amanda called time and we had only to wait on the last competitor to finish which took another four minutes. Then it was time to see how many dots each competitor had found. One by one the cups were lifted and each dot brought a ferocious applause and each miss brought a bitter sigh from the crowd. At the end of it all the score was obvious. Even tied with Taiwan Amanda’s time was just a few seconds behind Pang-yu’s. She had long passed the highest rankings achieved by a US champion in the event and to come in Second by one cup and only a few seconds was a feat. I’m proud of her achievement. We both vowed to return to these competitions and give it another go. The rest of the day flew by in a blur. We shared drinks at Gin Palace and attended the after party to MICE. There I congratulated Christian Ulrich of Germany for winning the World Latte Art Champion Title. I also met last year’s champion Hisako Yoshikawa and her coach Yoshi Nori. As the night winded down we said goodbye to the many new friends we had made at MICE. The atmosphere is more like a family gathering when baristas, roasters and farmers get together. It always makes you want to come back and feel that supportive and inspiring presence from such a congenial group of people.
For the past two days I’ve crawled the city searching for cafés and restaurants and sights to taste and touch and enjoy; Melbourne has so much of each to offer. I’m so grateful for the chance to come and compete, to travel and tour, and to grow as a coffee professional and as a competitor. I’m thankful for the support from my friends and family back home, The Roasterie has been huge in the development of my skill as a latte artist and in supporting me in the competition. Also,a huge thanks to the Specialty Coffee Association of America for allowing me to represent the US, and for giving me travel and lodging during my stay. I’m looking forward to returning to Kansas City. I promise to give you all pictures, stories and reflections on this experience in the coming weeks. For now I’m heading into the city for a last adventure.