Over the weekend, top baristas from 53 countries around the world competed for the title of World Barista Champion in Bogota, Colombia—the winner becoming the face of exceptional specialty coffee around the world. After a great all-around competition and an incredibly refined finals round on Sunday, Alejandro Mendez from El Salvador took the top prize with his stunning presentation. Big congrats to every competitor, who all exhibited incredible skill, craft and expertise in coffee.
World Barista Champion: Alejandro Mendez, El Salvador (710.5) 2nd: Pete Licata, USA (659.5) 3rd: Matt Perger, Australia (659) 4th: Javier Garcia, Spain (631.5) 5th: Miki Suzuki, Japan (629.5) 6th: John Gordon, UK (613.5)
Not only was this the first Championship held in a producing country* it’s the first time a barista from a producing country has won. Alejandro’s presentation showed his expert knowledge, not only of the coffee most consumers are familiar with, but everything else that is usually discarded in the harvesting process.
Alejandro’s signature drink was comprised of an infusion of coffee mucilage, a tea made with dried coffee flowers, and a tea made from cascara (dried coffee cherries). The espresso used, which was separated from the crema, was a single origin El Salvador, called Finca La Illusion. It was grown by Ernesto Menendez on the slopes of the Sanata Ana volcano and roasted by Steve Leighton of Has Bean Coffee in the UK.
After Alejandro’s final presentation, the internet lit up with excitement, claiming that El Salvador had won, even with several contestants left to compete. His presentation was remarkably calm, personable, and had a beautiful story. I can only imagine how great the drinks tasted. You can watch the final presentation below.
*While the US and Australia both produce coffee, I reserve the term “coffee producing” for countries who include coffee among their primary exports.
View videos of the all the competitors on Livestream
After taking four regional titles and coming in second place at the USBC finals twice, Pete Licata from Honolulu Coffee Co, is a prime example of persistence who has reaped the benefits of never giving up. There was an incredibly talented group of competitors in this years US Barista Competition, so it was no easy task to take the top prize.
Pete’s presentation, which shared his journey from fruit to cup, along with the quality of his drinks—prepared with self-picked and self-roasted Hawaiian coffee—brought home the US Championship title, making him the first to do so with Hawaiian coffee. I recently talked with Pete about his win and what he’d be doing if it weren’t for coffee.
It’s been over a week since winning the USBC. Has it sunk in? Are you ready to represent in Bogotá or have you re-immersed yourself into training?
I still don’t think it has sunk in yet. I haven’t really had time to think about being some champ, probably because there is another competition just 5 short weeks after the USBC! I have literally been running all over with my mind racing about all of the little details I need to take care of in order to be prepared for WBC. I feel I will be ready to represent in Bogotá, but my training mode this year is FAR more extensive than anything I have ever done before. As of right now I have hulled my coffee and roasted a sample batch. Next is going to be practice runs in between roast days, high altitude training (Colorado and maybe Mauna Kea), and finding the perfect touches in smallwares.
Will you be changing anything about your routine for the WBC or are you completely satisfied with it?I will never be satisfied with my routine until there is nothing negative that can possibly be said about it. I am taking in my judges’ feedback and information and going to revamp what I can. Obviously I feel good about my routine, but I am my own horrible critic.
Could you summarize your signature drink and the concept of your presentation?Let’s start with the presentation. The concept was to tell the story of the coffee, as well as my own, in the journey it took from the fruit to the judges’ cups on the table. I didn’t just want to say “look at what I did,” but rather “look at your coffee and what a fantastic journey it takes to get to you.”
Aside from telling the story, I tried to emphasize a balanced espresso by explaining each element and building the blend from the ground-up. This is where my sig drink came in. It was a highlight of the honeyed coffee I used in order to give a representation of my first tastes, as well as delving into the honeying process itself.
The drink was 3 tastes—a tea made from the cherry skins and parchment that the mucilage had dried onto (to represent tasting the cherry right off the tree), a French press of a lighter roast (to represent cupping the coffee for the first time), and a single shot of the coffee at a longer espresso roast (to represent pulling shots and understanding how the coffee would fit into the overall blend).
You harvested and roasted the coffee you competed with, which gives you a rather strong and unique connection with the entire process from fruit to cup. Was there anything during the experience that surprised you, that you weren’t aware of previously?I didn’t realize just how many spiders live in coffee trees in Hawaii.
If you could get consumers to understand just one thing about coffee, what would it be?That coffee is an agricultural product. It needs to be fresh (green and roasted). As economic and environmental factors change, prices will too. Just like the price of your milk or fresh produce.
Do you have any creative talents outside the realm of coffee?I am remarkably talented at consuming really tasty beer.
If it weren’t for your passion of coffee, what would you be doing with your life?Probably translating Japanese and raising a family…
A good friend of mine recently met Tim Duren at the farmer’s market in Tuscaloosa, AL. Tim’s normal fare are Snapdragons (the flowers) but he recently began roasting coffee to sell at the farmer’s market. This is great news for anyone in West Alabama, because it’s a coffee desert otherwise, with the closest quality roaster 70 miles away in Birmingham. So my friend kindly sent two roasts my way to try out, and to sum things up, Tim has a bright future ahead of him. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this new roaster, but Tim’s El Salvador is one of the best cups I’ve had since being in NYC this spring.
— Tim’s Custom Roasted Coffee: Organic El Salvador
Aroma: The ground beans were rich as Fort Knox with a sweet scent of chocolate and a handful of nuts. Once brewed the aromas became more complex and very sweet. Caramel and hints of vanilla were very present and the dry nutty scent was blended into the creamy aroma of peanut butter without the jelly.
Taste: My initial sip was met with a lively brightness, like a spoonful of grapefruit on a quite Saturday morning. The shine of the first sip smoothed into a nutty aftertaste that evolved more and more into dry cocoa as it cooled. A very pleasant and smooth, full body swells from the cup, filling my mouth as a warm marshmallow would after roasting lightly on a camp fire.
I’m generally not a fan of Colombian coffees, and while this was more enjoyable than most, it was still kind of boring.
Aroma: The dry grounds were surprisingly floral with hints of fruit and nuts. After being brewed the aroma was surprisingly dull without providing much of anything aside from a slight hint of orange peel. The cup became very flat and unexciting to me.
Taste: Though the aroma offered no enticement, my first sip was pleasantly accented with a citrus zest followed by slightly salted walnuts washed down with a nice slightly sweet finish. As the cup cooled the brightness was more pronounced and the flavors became much more complex with chocolate and a dry wine finish that rounded out this medium body brew.